I’m feeling good. Pre-baby good actually! Since Louis-James was born I have felt a multitude of emotions but honestly, I have struggled alot. I have experienced periods of depression, anxiety, stress and of course, sleep deprivation (or maybe all of it has been sleep deprivation).
The truth is, I had a very different idea in my mind of what being a mother would mean. And the contrast of reality with that idea floored me. I recently read in Phosphoresence by Julia Baird that the happiest people are those who have low expectations. I read this and instantly understood why I have struggled so much. It was revelatory and actually made a lot of sense. Like most tasks I embark on, I had very high expectations of what having a baby would be like.
Of course I expected no sleep, but I didn’t actually know what that would feel like. You just can’t, until you experience it. And let me tell you, for anyone who hasn’t experienced it, it is brutal. Worse than brutal. I can see why sleep deprivation is a torture technique. Because it’s torturous. Horrendous. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. For me, gathering any semblance of positive mood on the days when I had barely any sleep was impossible. And low mood just tends to beget low mood doesn’t it? You see the world through a negative filter and it becomes very hard to see the positive.
Of course I expected it to change my relationship somewhat, but I didn’t really know what that would look like. I didn’t expect a pandemic 5 weeks into motherhood, and so being locked at home by myself all day meant I was incredibly jealous and resentful of my husband who “got to” work. And there was alot more resentment towards him for the unfairness of our roles – I breastfed and co-sleeped in a separate room to James because he had to go to work at 3am, and so I felt like I was with the baby 24/7 and doing everything. It wasn’t a feeling, I was doing everything, and I’m sure he also had resentment about the fact he was working and I wasn’t and his life changed in many ways too. But the point is, it really shone a light on the gender inequality in our home and I found that very difficult. Luckily for me, I had a very loving and caring husband who adores his family and we worked together to balance things out. But it was a tough 6 months initially.
I didn’t expect to feel so purposeless. I was doing the most important thing in the world, raising my son and a future citizen of the planet, but I had been so driven to finish my psychology degree before he was born and I’d been working in an incredibly rewarding but intense role as a support worker helping people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues who had contact with the justice system. Now I found myself at home (stuck at home thanks to covid-19), feeding, changing and getting a baby to sleep and perhaps doing a splattering of house work in between and it felt so mundane. I couldn’t find myself. I didn’t know who I was. Where did I go? I mourned the old me, my old life. I felt guilty for feeling this way when I had a beautiful, healthy baby and I compared myself to other mums who seemed to just love motherhood and all it entailed and were perfectly happy being at home with their baby all the time.
At five months I decided to start a course to become a Meditation Teacher and honestly that probably saved me, it definitely saved my marriage. A commitment to meditating daily and practice all that I was learning meant my struggles and challenges became incredible lessons I could learn from. No mud, no lotus as teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says. Instead of resisting them I began to use my difficulties as lessons – to see my triggers, and avoid ‘biting the hook’ as my favourite Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says. I’m slowly learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s really hard, that’s for sure, but the discomfort is there anyway- no amount of resistance or wishing it away, no amount of crying or throwing essential oil diffusers across the kitchen will help, and certainly I can eat my bodyweight in icecream but that also doesn’t make it any easier, I just feel physically uncomfortable while dealing with the emotional discomfort that just doesn’t go anywhere. Trust me, I know.
But that’s the funny thing. Once I started accepting the discomfort – the sometimes hourly wakes at night, the sometimes hour long rocking to sleep sessions, the teething and tantrums and having no time to shower and cooking with one hand and missing sleeping next to my husband and all the frustration and sadness and loneliness – once I accepted all of it, well, it got alot easier. As Pema Chodron tells us, when you spend enough time outside of your comfort zone it slowly becomes a new comfort zone.
I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t have bad days. I told my dog he was a f’ing C the other day. It was a low point, but I was glad it was my dog and not my son. Meditating and doing all this work hasn’t suddenly made the problems of motherhood and parenting in a very lonesome, individualistic society go away but it has helped me to understand that life is always going to be hard, but there’s only so many things in the external realm I can change so acceptance just makes life so much easier. Most of all I just have to change my reaction to all of it, and really, how good is that – it’s totally within my control!
But it has created space to see things as they really are, and not through the filters of stress and frustration I was looking through before. It has created space to pause before I respond, so I don’t react, and just throughout the day spontaneously to notice the most incredible things – like the colour of the sky or patterns on a leaf or the way my son rests his hand. These moments get me through in a big way. And by creating a pause I’m able to also take time to think of all the other mums and parents going through the exact same thing and feel some unity and connection. Here we are doing the boldest and most daring thing you could possibly do – raise a human being – and although we stumble we get up and we stand and we just keep going.
And so I see that’s all parenting is – stumbling, falling and having the courage to stand back up and keep going. All with moments of pure bliss in between.