It’s been two years since we were neither a Mummy nor a Mummy-To-Be. Two years ago our body began that everyday miracle of growing a little life, and then a few months later we finally got to meet him. Over a year down the line, and our identity has forever changed. I wanted to take a moment to address my former self, with a few warnings.
First of all, I would like to tell myself to stop taking offence when parents talk about the deep love they have for their children. When you don’t have children, you still experience love. You love your family deeply, you love your partner passionately, you love your pets protectively. I used to hate it when parents would bang on about how much greater the love you feel for your child is. It implies that the childless are somehow lesser, that they are missing out, that their feelings are shallow and weak. NONE of this is true. But what is true? That the love you feel for your child is something completely unique, and impossible to feel or imagine before your little cherub arrives.
Never before have I been completely and utterly responsible for the life of a human being, and I think that’s the basis of it. I love my husband, but he is a grown man who managed perfectly well for 18 years before he even met me. I love my parents, but they have always been the ones to look after ME. I love my sister, but she is my peer, my equal. I love my cats, but they would be perfectly happy with the neighbours if they still had food and cuddles. Whereas to my son, my husband and I are the only ones who loved him before he was even born. Being the one to incubate him, I am the single human alive who had responsibility for him before he existed to anyone else. My heartbeat was the first thing he heard. My voice, the first he grew to recognise. When he arrived, I fed him from my actual body (another everyday miracle) and gave up the life I had known before.
So, former me, stop getting so butthurt when parents love their kids. You haven’t experienced it, you can’t truly imagine it, and that’s fine. Even if you never have children, you are a human being capable of immense love, sacrifice and contribution to those around you. But you have not experienced the love a parent feels, and nor will you until you become one – and that’s OK!
Secondly, I would like to tell myself to go take a nap. They’re amazing. And you’re not going to have many for a while. I read an article recently in which the author stated something along the lines of ‘parents laugh when non-parents say they’re exhausted’. This caused a lot of offence, and I can understand why. Of course non-parents experience exhaustion. Think of the shift-workers, the insomniacs, those with multiple jobs, or those who work and study. It is condescending to imply that those without children are snoozing their lives away.
However. I believe what the author intended to express, was that the sleeplessness you (may, depending on your baby!) experience when you become a parent is a particularly unique sort of tiredness. It’s a tiredness where you never get to ‘catch up’. I have worked long shifts before, on my feet for hours and hours. Then I’d go out drinking afterwards and dance for a couple of hours. Then you know what I’d do? I’d go to bed and stay there until I felt like getting up. So, pre-baby me, enjoy your sleep…because now that’s not an option!
In the worst phase of my son’s sleep, I would sleep for perhaps three hours, spread across an entire night. This is very unpleasant. But you know what’s worse? Doing it again, and again, and again, for week after week after week. The insomniacs and others who sleep poorly long-term will know what I mean when I say that lack of sleep is most certainly a form of torture. The hardest thing was that I couldn’t ‘sleep when the baby slept’ during the day at that time: he didn’t. So there was no catching up. There was no flopping in front of the TV for a few hours to refresh my brain. There was no hot chocolate, film and snuggling up in a duvet on the sofa. Every. Single. Minute. was spent feeding, cleaning, comforting, entertaining, or attempting to sleep that child.
There are those who would say, “Well you chose to have a baby, suck it up.” And to an extent they are correct. But it’s a little harsh, considering that it is COMPLETELY and utterly impossible to imagine what your life will be like when baby arrives. Pre-baby me, you idiot, you genuinely thought your life would be essentially the same but with a cute baby crawling around gurgling and pooping itself. I can handle a demanding and exhausting job, I have worked long shifts before, I have never been a great sleeper, surely…SURELY, I can handle a baby? Hah.
There is something particularly unbearable about spending an hour feeding your baby to sleep, rocking him, transferring him to his bed and sneaking from the room like a ninja to finally cuddle down in your own bed, finally close your eyes, finally feel yourself drifting…to be woken five minutes later and know that there is nothing – nothing – you can do except get your backside out of bed and trudge back to that baby. Thinking you’re about to sleep and then sleep being torn from you is bad. Real bad.
The thing is, lots of people know that. The people I mentioned, who have spent years suffering poor sleep. The key is that everything in life is relative to your experience, and if you slept reasonably well beforehand (which you probably did, whether you think so or not), then the sleep deprivation a baby brings will hurt a lot. If you already experience poor sleep, it will get worse, sorry. The worst nights I had were when the baby had finally settled and I couldn’t get to sleep. Honestly. You want to suffocate yourself with a pillow when that happens, just so you can get to sleep. Watching the clock, knowing, ‘Now I can get a maximum of three hours sleep…now two…now one…now he’s awake again” is horrific.
So, former me, have that extra hour in bed on Saturday morning. Enjoy that afternoon snooze on a Sunday. You will have that again…but not for a good long while! And when people say they’re tired? Just believe them, they are.
Finally, pre-baby me, I would like to warn you about a trap you are likely to fall into. As the last point touched on, a lot of people see life as essentially competitive. And you are (we are? Whatever, I can’t remember which person I’m speaking in now) a competitive person. Monopoly does not go well. Sports Day is painful. Anything less than top of the class is an insult. So I’m warning you now…don’t try and win the Mummy Wars. There are greater players out there, greater than you can imagine.
Your baby weighed 9lbs? She pushed out an 11lb-er. You had an epidural then a section? Lazy, she laboured for two days. Your baby’s 75th %ile? Hers is 99th. You breastfed for 10 months? Slacker, she did it natural term. You coslept? She coslept longer. The list goes on. Pretty soon it’ll be school time, and I can imagine it getting worse. There will be women out there who hand-sew nativity costumes, bake the bread for their children’s sandwiches, and so on. None of those things are bad, you ladies keep doing that! I love a make or a bake. But if you want to feel like a good mother by being better than others? Good luck with that.
Parenting is not the place for competition – not that you’d think so. Of course you want to feel that you’ve made the best decisions for your baby, in your life. You probably have. But you’ve also made a bunch of rookie errors, compromises and experienced failures and disappointments. So have the hand-sewing, bread-baking mums. We all have.
So my final warning to myself is this: don’t be that competitive mum. Be proud of your son and the life you provide for him – you’ve earned that right. But be supportive and loving to other mummies who are doing the same.
Oh OK, one more thing. Let me warn you now: you are going to love til it hurts, cry til you’re empty, laugh til your sides ache and smile til your face is sore. This child will be perfect, this child will be precious, this child will be life-changing. Just like every other child this wonderful planet produces.
Keep going, parents, you’re doing great. And non-parents? Normal human beings? You’re doing great too – and we need you to keep us sane!