Seven years go I was on maternity leave, heavily pregnant, due any day with my first baby. My life wasn’t perfect but it was ok. I had desperately wanted a baby for as long as I could remember. It had been the number one, top ambition of my entire life. More than being a doctor, more than having a husband or a house or savings in the bank or to travel the world or to save the world, I wanted to be a mother.
Shall we just say that the entire experience has not been anything like I expected.
I don’t feel like I was overly naive about it. I had read loads. I had worked with children a lot in the past, been a nanny, worked for a year in a nursery, changed my fair share of nappies and bounced around with my share of screaming babies. I had my little nephew who I adored and spent a lot of time with. I had been to NCT classes and watched a lot of One Born Every Minute. I had decorated the nursery and bought a load of Stuff.
Strangely though it turns out that I wasn’t prepared at all. I have written before about the impact that my first child had on my life. I’ll simplify that to one sentence. It was like having every single part of my life exploded into a million unrecognisable pieces. I realise that it doesn’t feel like that for everybody, but that was definitely my experience.
Seven years and another baby later and it feels like I have managed to take all of those fragments and build them back together into a shiny new life. I feel like a completely changed person now, but I’m pretty happy with that. I have learnt sooooo much, about my children, myself, my husband, what really matters, what I really want, how I want to live my life.
I wont lie. The first six years were pretty tough. Even with an endlessly smiley second child who slotted happily into every nook of the life we had already made as a threesome, the polar opposite of my first child. But neither of them slept. I did not get a regularly good nights sleep for six entire years. I also did not have a conversation where I was not continually interrupted for that entire time either. Both of these things had a profound affect on my brain functioning.
For the first six years of parenthood this is a rough guide to my brain activity:
Thinking about sleep
Not getting any sleep
Worrying about something terrible happening to the children
Worrying about the impact that every single little parenting mistake, every raised voice, every moment of impatience would have on the eventual mental wellbeing of my child
Worrying about what values and beliefs I was passing down to my children and whether they would grow to be adults who would do good in this hard world of ours
Worrying about too much TV, too much junk food, too little time in nature
The overwhelming, terrifying, earth shattering, amount of love I had for these people
Thinking some more about how little sleep I was getting
All of these thoughts came to me in a really disjointed, fragmentary way though. I wasn’t able to hold onto any of these thoughts for more than a moment. They would flit in and flit out with no order or control. Anytime I did manage to hold a thought for more than a moment or two, a child would pull at me, “Mummy, Mummy”.
For four of those six years, once my maternity leave had all run out, I worked full time. When I was working I scraped every last scrap of energy and mental focus to get through my ten hour shift, often having had only an hour or twos sleep. Almost every shift felt like a battle to hold my mind together to make the important decisions I needed to make, to stay safe. And the second the last minute of my shift ticked past my mind collapsed back into jelly.
Then, after six years, they both started to sleep, not perfectly every night, but enough to make me feel human. And now they need my undivided attention every ten to twenty minutes, rather than every 10-20 seconds. My brain has started to become more coherent again finally. To be honest I still have all the same thoughts, worries and fears that I did when they were tiny, but now my functioning brain also has room to think about:
What I want to do with my life, what things I enjoy and care about, how I want my future to look
What things I want to do, just for me, just for fun
Learning new things, achieving something, pushing myself forward and challenging myself
It is nice being able to think and plan for the future again at last, being able to focus my mind on more than the next ten minutes. I have some pretty grand plans right now, most of which are probably totally unrealistic but I have no intention of letting realism stop me from pursuing them. I am again enjoying the pursuit of my goals, relishing the challenge and the growing and the learning. Don’t get me wrong I learnt more than I can begin to express becoming a parent, but this new phase is pretty wonderful.
I’m happy with the new form that mothering shaped for me. I am more grounded and settled. I understand the value of things in my life. And now I understand how I want my future to look as well.
Saying all that I have been interrupted continuously as I have written this so I apologise for any spelling/grammar issues. My three year old is riding his bike round and round the kitchen and has just fallen off. He is demanding on a plaster for his bike now, so I’d better get back to my real responsibilities!