When the little dude was a baby and I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time, I suddenly found that I couldn’t imagine the future. I would lie in bed and whisper to my husband “tell me a story about us”. I needed to see that things were going to get better, but I couldn’t picture it for myself.
It’s a sunny day and we’re at the beach. We’re teaching the kids to make castles out of dribbled sand.
I clung so firmly to the idea that things would get easier, better, easier, better, easier, better.
It seemed there was all this stuff in the way of me enjoying the baby and I didn’t know whether other people felt like that too. I wondered whether things would be better if I’d had a different birth (and I wondered too, how bad was it relative to others – was it as bad as I thought it was?). I wondered whether I’d feel better if the prolapse wasn’t so severe, because I couldn’t comfortably do things like carry bub around all day, take the pushchair in and out of the car, bring shopping into the house, stand up for long periods, and stay on my feet even for short periods at the end of the day. Other things too, like my husband’s long hours, made life feel extra hard. Adjusting to one income. Our cold house that could be heated only with the pellet burner, which was good except I couldn’t lift the bags of pellets. The bad start to breastfeeding straight after the horrendous birth, feeling like I had a lot to recover from but no space to recover, because of the baby. The isolation – none of my friends had kids yet, I felt like there was too much at stake to risk opening up to new acquaintances. Not wanting to talk about things being hard too much because I didn’t want people to worry about me. And, wrapping around all of this, a fear of my own inadequacy: what if I screwed up, what if the baby didn’t like me, what if there was no silver lining, no pay off.
Having now talked to more other mums, it seems like most people find the first year especially hard. Many of us find ourselves dealing with a whole lot more than we bargained for. For me it was mainly the awful birth and associated problems; for others maybe a child’s health condition, living away from family and friends, an unsupportive partner, too little money, the list could go on and on because in that vulnerable first year, any additional challenge can make things overwhelming. The inherent shifts are shattering. Somehow, while pregnant first time round, I had failed to fully appreciate the permanence of the baby. The way my whole sense of self would be dismantled and rebuilt, the way the dynamic of my relationship with my husband would have to adapt. None of this happens overnight, there is a gradual rearrangement, and then another, and another, and another. You don’t become the parent you want to be straight away – I feel I am still becoming that parent, and forever will be.
Yesterday Facebook invited me to revisit a memory shared a year ago. It was a photo of the little dude at Te Papa in a lava lava, with flowers in his hair, at a Samoan themed interactive exhibition. I remember that day well. He was 15 months old and starting to say a few words, he had dropped to one big reliable nap and the night sleep was much better, I had just gotten a promotion at work, he was enjoying his creche and I felt fine leaving him there, things were generally good. He was completely adorable that day, dancing to the music, and in the evening my husband and I reflected on how well the outing had gone. One of us, I can’t remember which, suggested that maybe this meant we were ready to think about having another baby.