Sunday, March 18, 2012

This One's For The Mums

On this day that is specifically for us Mothers, I thought I would share with you an article I wrote for this month's Irish Parent Magazine. It's my musings on the whole motherhood experience - warts and all! I hope you enjoy it and I hope you have a wonderful day all you brave, strong, funny, wise Mums out there...You are amazing.

I have recently given birth to my second daughter Anna and Lulu, my original daughter, is almost three. This is wonderful but, Wow! It is hard work. Seriously hard. As if I didn’t feel stretched to my limits already, now I’m beyond my limits. I’m wobbling on the tightrope. I’m holding my breath and muttering ‘three hours till bedtime’. Am I sinking or swimming? Only Time will tell. And tell it will, as Time rules our little operation these days. In fact, if I get the timings wrong in any given day I’m screwed; there are tears and tantrums, strikes and strops. And that’s just me!
I like to think about the entire parenting experience as a wonderful, messy, beautiful thing. I’ll break it down into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…

Let’s start with The Ugly. No book, friend or mother can truly prepare you for what being pregnant and giving birth is actually like, and it’s true that there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the proceedings. Not complete withholding though; you can easily arm yourself with the facts. Your doctor’s appointments and the various pregnancy bibles that we all inhale for information are great for keeping you informed of what to expect while you’re expecting. But still nothing can really prepare you for the pure physicality of pregnancy, labour and then motherhood itself. Being pregnant is lovely but oddly uncomfortable. Labour hurts like Hell but if you choose drugs, it doesn’t. That’s it – pure and simple. The choice is yours. But don’t rely on yourself to make clear, sane decisions whilst huffing and puffing. You’ll be making very strange noises as well as wishing death on your partner; so your mind is rather compromised.
When your baby is born (aw!) there is blood. A lot of it. And it continues for quite some time along with all the rest of the fluid that needs to escape your body. You have absorbent pads everywhere and are aching, swollen, engorged and weeping… See? It’s physical. And never before will you have been so conscious of everything your body is doing. But what an amazing body! After giving birth, you gain an incredible respect for women and what we can do. It’s awesome. In the true meaning of the word; not the ‘aaawwsome’ that accompanies a high five on American TV. It’s awesome in the proper ‘take your breath away, can’t speak, might need to cry’ way. It changes your life. Nothing is the same.

This brings me to The Bad…
Sleep deprivation. It’s the worst thing in the world. It taints everything with a slight shadow and leaves you questioning your abilities as a mother. In fact you question lots of things and it makes you feel removed from your instinct. It impacts on your relationship, your sanity, your sense of self and it leads directly into the second worst thing in the world – worry. And worry, you will. From the moment you really feel the weight of all that responsibility for this vulnerable, precious little creature who relies on you for their very life. But the thing is this – sleep deprivation gets easier to deal with. You become remarkably able to handle it (eye drops and concealer help!) and you get through it. And eventually the babies sleep. All of them. And don’t listen to the people who claim that their babies are sleeping through the night from four weeks, or even twelve. They’re probably not sleeping every night and they’re not really helping by saying that are they? So put your blinkers on and focus on your own baby and your own situation – they are all that matters. That’s another really important point in parenting – do not covet anyone else’s supposed bliss – it’s hard for us all.
The other dreadful bit is when your babies get sick. High temperatures mean a very miserable baby and frequently the whole house gets sick. At times like these you have to grit your teeth and just get on with it. It’s remarkably hard to administer medicine to tiny people – syringes are easier than spoons, but it still goes everywhere and you will most probably break out in a sweat while you do it. You’ll be constantly worrying about all sorts of horrors when your poor little one just has a rotten cold, but that’s the territory. That’s what we signed up for.

Another difficult adjustment is introducing a new baby to an older sibling. You feel almost guilty for stealing your first child’s thunder, so to speak. Their world is rocked by a new arrival and trying to impart the joy you feel onto a smaller emotional system is sometimes hard. They revolt, they regress, and they need you to baby them. All of which is a huge drain on you as you are now a Mother of Two (or more) something you also find new. And scary. Battle on soldier, it gets easier!
No matter how many children you have and what ages they are you have to become accustomed to The Stuff. Your house is full of it. Even if you lived in a mansion it would become full because it grows with them. The Stuff expands into every available (and not so available) space. Buggies, prams, changing bags, nappies, toys, clothes, baby slings, baby swings, baby gyms, baby baths…baby everything. You may start out with the greatest intentions of being a minimalist mum, but I don’t believe that truly exists. Perhaps in some parenting Utopia somewhere but not anywhere I’ve ever seen. Your nice grown up’s house that you used to have cool parties in becomes a kind of crèche/laundry hybrid home.
And speaking of laundry, you will have never seen the like, let alone thought that a few tiny people could generate so much. Like millionaire divas with nothing else to do, they change their clothes all day. They can change up to ten times per day – babies are very leaky! You may have the washing machine on twice a day and sheets and towels hanging from any available door in your afore-mentioned grown up’s house that has been invaded by small people.
I should also point out that you have approximately 7.5 minutes per day to spend on yourself. Invest in multi –purpose beauty products and manage your expectations. More time will come and your dark circles will lighten. In the interim, Clinique’s Airbrush Concealer hides a myriad of woes!

Sometimes, all this sleep deprived chaos combined with sickness and cabin fever makes you feel too far removed from your old life and who you like to think you are (not just a feeding, cleaning robot). Watch out for these times because they can escalate into The Very Bad segment of parenting; depression. This can hit either straight away after birth or anytime within the first year. You must be watchful as these dark holes are harder to climb out of than they are to get into, so ask your friends for their opinion on how you are doing; sometimes you need an outside perspective. I wholeheartedly recommend having ‘a committee’ on speed dial. Mine is made up of my mum, two of my oldest girlfriends and my gay best friend. They are the people who tell me the truth, listen without judgment and advise without reservation. They are worth their collective weight in gold and they get me through the hard stuff with just a phone call. Try to laugh as much as you can. It’s tricky to raise a smile sometimes but I find dancing to Wham with my toddler gets me grinning. It’s the little things – mind them and mind yourself.

So that’s fair warning about the bad stuff, now let me tell you about the good…
It far outweighs the bad. The instant you set eyes on the product of your pregnancy, the very moment that little, tiny person is put on your chest, will be the single most significant moment of your life. It’s like time stops. There was your life before and your life now. You are a mother – it begins. And never ends.
You fall in love. Maybe not straight away – it is real life after all, and real emotions are complex, but you will fall and fall deeply. Deeper than you’ve ever known.
You will realise that you are a life support system to this beautiful, vulnerable person whose whole life is ahead of them but for now all they need, all they ask for is your love. It will be the most wonderful thing you have ever been asked to do.
It will also be the hardest thing, but please know you can do it. You have an instinct that is always right. Don’t get too bogged down with what Gina Ford says or The Baby Whisperers whisperings – they don’t know your baby -you do. And as the saying goes ‘mother knows best’! Don’t forget that.
You will be surprised at how well you cope. You will surprise yourself on a regular basis at how you manage to multi-task; at how you keep all the balls in the air. You will find the time to have a shower, pack the enormous baby bag with the necessary kit, lunches and dinners will get made and you will eventually get out the door with your new crew. Yes, it takes longer, much longer, and not many of your trips to the toilet will be solo affairs anymore but you get used to it. And believe me – you will even enjoy it! Some of the balls you are constantly juggling will drop from time to time, of course (that’s part of The Bad Stuff) but you pick them up and carry on. Always. (And if you’re finding it a bit too hard – call the committee).
In truth, the bad stuff becomes the good stuff because as draining as it is, for the first time in your life you are so necessary. So essential, so vital.
Your children are your new friends and they are fun! You get to share in their sense of wonder, their silliness and their openness to the world. It is brilliant and refreshes any jaded demeanour.
So when it’s a bad day and I’m in doubt and on the verge of screaming, I try to stop for a minute and tell myself I’m doing just fine. I pick up my babies and drink them in… their beautiful eyes, their creamy skin, their amazing smell. Then I really see them. My girls. And I remember my extraordinary fortune…

There is nothing as thrilling as this. Nothing.

(me & my girls!)

And what of my Mum you ask? Well last year's post still reads true...
(and she's through the chemo - legend that she is!)

(images from wit&delight, rachel swan)


Simone G said...

Ellie, this is just beautiful.As I'm about to go down this route myself it's refreshing to read such honest writings on the subject on both the run up to and the result of being a parent. I'm currently putting together my own committee but this piece has made me realise how important they actually are :)
Kudos to you xxx

Ellie Balfe said...

Thank you Simone, so glad you liked it. Are you pregnant? HUGE congrats if so (and also if you're at the planning and waiting stage too) it's a rollercoaster, but a good 'un!


CherrySue said...

What a beautiful post, Ellie and refreshingly honest, which we don't see a lot of when it comes to Mammydom.

Hope your having a wonderful day with your girls - it truly is the little things that make it all worth while xx

Rosemary said...

I love every word of this post - and I am not a baby person at all. My sister's baby is now one and I just wish you'd written this before he was born so I could have sent it on; I'm sure it would have assuaged a lot of the worries she's had since learning she was pregnant right up to now.

Mrs Lister said...

Great post for a 16 week pregnant first-timer to read. Thank you. Hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day :) x

MummyPages said...

What a beautiful, fabulous and heart touching post. I swear you must have a secret insight into our house. No one warns you about the worry but I had heard about the joy and selfless love. Thank so much for sharing your post - your last photo is strikingly similar to one I took of our girls x

marina said...

Ahhh, Ellie, so true! One thing I would add, motherhood made me realise just how much my parents loved me and still love me.

Sharon said...

Ellie.. A great post & very honest. Also love love the photos you have included. Hope you had a great mothers day too

Sarah Gordon said...

You put it so beautifully, and it rings so true. Thank you.
Sarah x

Sarah Gordon said...

You put it so beautifully, and it rings so true. Thank you.
Sarah x

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