Don’t call me Mum. (The Journey.)
‘A woman with a child rediscovers the world. All is changed – politics, loyalties, needs. For now, all is judged by the life of the child… and all of the children’ – Pam Brown.
Yes thanks Pam.
Anybody who has ever had a bump the size of Albania bulging from under their t-shirt will be able to attest to the fact, that when you are visibly pregnant you seemingly and against your will, become public property.
If you don’t believe me, I absolutely recommend you take a small dog, or perhaps a bean bag, and shove it up your jumper and head to the shops (Maybe not a small dog, the whimpering and squirming may put you off your stride) to test the theory.
Having a rather large bulge just above your nether regions (and I don’t mean a hiatus hernia) in simple terms, must just give the impression that you are simply desperate for everybody to come over and touch it, and/or offer you unwanted and mostly unwarranted advice.
Out of nowhere you go from not showing and having a romantic little secret, to showing and having every man and his dog run their hands/paws over your growing uterus while offering you words of wisdom and tiny pearls of poo. (I call them pearls of poo, because a lot of the advice I heard off strangers while pregnant, really wasn’t advice at all, it was poo. Pearl sized poo.)
Don’t reach up or the baby will be strangled on the chord… (Really, Aunty Pat?)
Try not to eat so much… (Rip, Sarah.)
There is no such thing as a due date… (Huh? I think you will find there is old woman!)
Don’t call the baby a stupid name… (We like Radiator Leak Doyle, what business it is of yours?)
You are huge, are you having twins?.. (SLAP!)
The list is endless, but the one which I heard, interestingly enough, from people who both knew me well and were mothers themselves (so I felt I should listen and believe them) was;
‘Motherhood will change you.’
‘What?’ I would stutter ‘why does everybody keep saying this to me? Do you think I need to change? You don’t think I’ll be a good mum as I am now? How will it change me?’ Was usually my nervous, insecure, blimp like and panicked reply.
‘Mwahahahahahaha’ they would cackle as they threw their heads back with evil glee ‘you will see! You will see!’ And with that they would sweep their flowing black capes from out behind them, with all their children clinging on for dear life and disappear in to the night, like terrifying visions of the ghost of Christmas future.
In fact I heard this phrase so often, combined with its partner in crime; You will feel a love so overwhelming you won’t remember life before him, that Leading up to my due date (that didn’t exist) I actually became rather worried that as soon as I had given birth, my memory of life pre-pleb (as we had nicknamed the bump) would be completely wiped out, and I would wake up as an entirely different person. Bette Midler maybe, but with a bigger nose.
Lifting my half numb legs, an hour post birth, up on to the bed that was to be my home for the next seven days, and with the little ferret parked in a plastic basting tray next to me, all wrapped up and looking like a cute prune, I began to worry, that other than being a little bit teary, absolutely knackered and in a huge amount of agony, I still felt like me. I was officially a mother now, wasn’t I supposed to be a changed person?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I had just had a baby, so of course I was over the moon, overwhelmed and overweight, but other than the obvious changes to my anatomy, including far too many stitches and a drain, I had to be honest, I didn’t feel any different, and upon further examination, I could still remember my life before birth too. What was wrong with me? Wasn’t I supposed to have forgotten my entire life leading up to this moment?
‘Would you like some tea and toast?’ the floating head of a midwife appeared from behind my curtain and kindly asked me in a soft, sleepy voice.
‘No, but could I please have a strong black coffee, a bag of square crisps and a pillow?’ was my reply.
Definitely still me then.
Maybe I will feel different in the morning, I thought to myself after spending an hour and a half trying to have a wee. Maybe you have to sleep on it.
We hadn’t been home for long before I was feeling intensly sleep deprived and hugely grumpy. Visitors came and went and for a while I wondered if The Irish One had started a guest house without telling me. I just wanted to shower, to sleep and then sleep some more.
(Wouldn’t it make more sense if the visitors came at least a month after you are home? Because seriously, the last thing you want when you are having to walk like Jon Wayne and every second step makes you screech like a banshee, is a coach load of distant relatives traipsing through your house and man-handling the goods, you know?)
But anyway, moving on, The Irish One was constantly professing to me, his love for Newborn Woo. He was a doting daddy and it pissed me off. (I can’t explain this. It just did.)
‘I know,’ I would mumble, irritated, from underneath the duvet (the guests had got bored of me whacking my breasts out while they were trying to drink a brew and eat us out of house and home, and had finally buggered off) ‘I know, yes’ I would repeat as he droned on about knowing the meaning of true love ‘I love him too, but don’t tell me he is awake again, is he? He isn’t is he?’ I would panic, terrified the next round of nipple torture was about to start.
‘If you feel like that about him waking up to see you,’ he said pointedly, removing his (ginger) head from inside the moses basket, ‘Maybe it is time to stop breast feeding! He isn’t taking enough anyway and you don’t seem to have any coming out, so what harm can it do? Let’s give him a bloody bottle.’
‘Shut up!!’ I raged back! ‘How dare you!’ The pressure I felt to succeed at everything was immense. I resented his insinuation that I was failing. As it was, I am not sure that The Irish One even knows what the word insinuate means, never mind having had the energy or inclination, at that time, to follow it through! He was just worried about me, but I was too scared to see it.
Did I feel different when the decision to stop breast feeding was made? Nope. Stopping breastfeeding just confirmed my failure status. I had gone from probable failure to failure absolut with one sweep of a plastic teat. (The lanosil, is still in the fridge as a constant reminder of what could have been. I can’t be arsed to take it out. It’s next to the Jam that has been there since 2002. Some jobs I just never get round to.)
I was officially a crap mum, who could remember her past, and (shock horror!) even missed the easy going way it used to be!! I would have killed for an hour in front of the telly uninterrupted! I also wasn’t sure I was any different at all, other than my inability to hold my bladder when I sneezed, or stop eating mayo by the ton, motherhood hadn’t changed me at all!! And Yes I loved my son but (are you ready for this?) it wasn’t overwhelming!! (MONSTER!!)
I loved him because he was mine, sure. I loved him because he was gorgeous and I loved him because he was cute, and sweet and tiny. I loved him because he was my son and I had to love him didn’t I?
I felt like I had to love him because if I didn’t who else would?
This is extremely hard for me to admit, and I have tears rolling down my face as I write this. Not because I still feel the same, but because nobody told me this could happen, so I thought I wasn’t normal. I beat myself up, and I broke my own heart. I became convinced I didn’t love him enough and there was something wrong with me.
Every new mother I spoke to would go on and on and on and on about how much they loved their child, and how easy it was, and how natural it felt to them, and how they had whipped up some mange tout while expressing breast milk in to a pre warmed bottle, while cooking a roast for their husband and then pleasuring him while changing a nappy. The pressure for ‘motherhood to change me’ and for my love for him to be ‘overwhelming’ was too much. It hadn’t happened overnight. So I was officially a horrible, nasty, selfish freak of a person.
The health visitor arrived 8 years later, after many calls from the Irish One reminding her I still existed, to examine ‘A.J’, as she infuriatingly kept calling him, and to check on me. She obviously had a thing about abbreviating and changing names as she surprised me by calling me ‘Mum’ while examining him. I was caught off guard and somehow ended up blabbing that I had stopped breastfeeding because of the pain. She shook her head in disappointment and said ‘That’s a shame Mum.’
Who me? I thought? Don’t call me mum! That doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t fit with me yet. I don’t feel like a mother or a mum. I can’t even breastfeed right can I? I am not his mum. I am just the person who cleans up poo, spends 40 minutes of every hour chasing an elusive burp and who will never again, drink a hot cup of tea.
My name is Lexy. Not ‘Mum!’
‘Do you feel depressed?’ she asked in response, using a totally inappropriate sing songy voice.
‘Me?’ I asked, while wiping sick of my filthy t-shirt with yesterdays knickers, ‘No! Not at all! I can’t believe he is here! He is amazing! Isn’t he beautiful? I love him so much. I think my heart may fall out. It is just overwhelming!’ I cooed while staring at him in pretend awe.
She left happy enough, after clearly ignoring all the signs, and the next time I saw her was 7 months later, when she was knocking on my door, because my Dr was concerned, I may be a potential suicide risk.
Addison had been very poorly for a good while, and I was exhausted from fighting with Dr after Dr to get them to listen. I wasn’t suicidal. I was just knackered and pissy, but nevertheless she left happy that day too. She hustled in, and hustled out. She didn’t want to help. One day I will write her a letter and tell her to get a job as a clown. She would be much better suited to a role with barely any responsibility, and her lipstick was always all over her face anyway, so it would make for an easy transition.
He is my son, and nothing will happen to him on my watch, I would profess to the Irish One during the endless days in hospital, all the while mistaking love for duty.
It was 3 months on from Allergy-Gate (as I now call it) when Addison was 10 months old and still had a grizzly bottom, that I finally snapped.
‘I bet you can’t remember life before him can you?’ My aunty Kathleen gushed at a family gathering ‘He is just simply gorgeous isn’t he? Isn’t it an overwhelming love? Motherhood just changes you completely don’t you think?’
At the time, in fairness, Addison has just shat up his back for the third time in a three hour period and I wasn’t in the mood for a gushing, drunk relative, no matter how well placed her intentions were.
‘Actually Aunty Kathleen,’ I said bluntly, ‘Yes, I do remember life before him; it was only 10 months ago for Christ sake!! I had a baby, not a lobotomy!! I remember life before him, very well in fact! I used to get some sleep! And while we are on the subject, yes he is cute, and yes I do love him, but is it overwhelming? The only thing which is overwhelming to me currently is the need for a lie in!’
She stood glass in hand, staring at me, like a rabbit caught in headlights. (She has big teeth.)
‘And as for motherhood changing me?’ I raged in her face ‘the only thing different about me, is I am four stone heavier and my nails are constantly caked in crap!!’ And with that I flounced out of the room in search of the changing bag. (And a big glass of wine.)
It felt such a relief to finally be honest! Although, thinking about it now, I should probably ring my Aunty Kathleen at some point and apologise.
My first Mothers day was possibly the darkest and most painful day I have experienced since having Addison.
‘Don’t give me that sodding card!’ I screamed at the Irish One, holding my beautiful boy ‘I am not a mother!!! I am just a babysitter!!! This is nothing to do with post natal depression!! This is because I am a freak!! I don’t love my son enough!! I can remember what happened before he was born!! I don’t feel changed!!! I am still Lexy!! I am not a mum!! I am a letdown!! A failure!! I hate you, I hate myself and I hate mother’s day!!! Just piss off and leave me alone!!
It was awful for everybody involved.
And then something began to happen, much like the phoneix rising from the ashes (you godda love the drama!) I slowly began to enjoy waking up at the crack of dawn and seeing my son’s face, instead of it being a chore, I began to enjoy the moments we spent laughing and watching him grow.
Instead of waiting for the light to switch on at the end of the tunnel, I began to run towards it. It happened naturally. My self-hatred slowly began to thaw and in its place something else arrived.
Last night, exactly four hours before we were due to leave for the airport, on a holiday we have been looking forward to for months, Addison was sick. He was clinging on to me for dear life and burying his head in to my shoulder.
‘We are going nowhere.’ I told the Irish One instinctively ‘There is no way I am putting my son through this journey when he is feeling this poorly. I am absolutely gutted, but he comes first.’
Strangely, and without even properly thinking about what I was doing, I put my feelings of disappointment over a missed trip, to one side and got on with the job of cleaning him up and consoling him. He was broken, and it was my job to fix him, just like I had done all those times before.
And then, even stranger still, while walking in to the Dr’s office this morning, thinking about how I should have been landing in Spain and hugging my dad, I pulled my son to me, inhaled the smell of his head and was hit by a bolt of lightning. (Not literally, but if you had seen my hair you may have thought this was the case.)
The only thing that mattered was Addison. I loved him more than life itself. The love I felt was; dare I say it?
‘Are you his mum?’ The locum asked while feeling his tummy for swelling.
‘Yes,’ I grinned back proudly, while kissing his forehead (Addison’s, not the locum’s) ‘Yes. I bloody well am.’ And against my will I puffed my shoulders out.
My boy is beautiful! And he is all mine!
I walked back to the car, dancing on air, clutching my son’s small head, to my bursting heart.
So as it turned out, motherhood did change me. It made me a better person. It just took me a while longer to feel and recognise those feelings. Yes I can still be a grumpy moose, but I am making progress.
I loved my son, I did. I just didn’t bond the instant I saw him. I loved him, but it wasn’t overwhelming from the first instant we met.
I see now, this doesnt make me a freak. This is just my journey. Everybody is different.
It took me a year to see what it is all about. It took me a year to recognise something I knew all along.
I forgive myself for that. (Except based on the fact, I did always love him, I did always care for him and I did always ensure he was happy, safe and fed, I am not sure there is actually anything to forgive myself for…)
If I was to see a pregnant woman in the street now, I would be unlikely to approach her and jump in to motherhood 101, but if she struck up a conversation with me, my advice would probably be;
‘Don’t pressure yourself in to feeling anything more than you do, in the moment. Everything you feel, at every step of the way, is unique to you and no matter what happens, the bond will grow and emotionally, so will you. Everything will turn out alright… oh, and good luck…. and join Twitter.’
‘When you are a mother you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.’ – Sophia Loren.
Now that, I can finally agree with.