6 months

Our son is six months old today. Six months. It’s not really that long in adult time, but when it’s the entire length of your time on this planet, it’s quite a while. It’s also quite a long time when you consider that in those six months someone has gone from quite literally sleeping, eating and pooing to seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, communicating and everything in between. The sleeping has taken a bit of a drop but the eating has increased and the other thing has stayed pretty much the same. Our little man came into this world screaming, and he didn’t stop screaming for near on three hours then he slept, and my husband and I spent the better part of our first night staring at him wondering what the heck just happened. A lot has changed in six months, we’ve learned a lot and we’ve grown a lot and everything is completely different and yet oddly familiar. So I figure there’s no better time than the present to share some of the things that I have learned over these last six months.

  • The first few moments after you’ve given birth are soooooo not what you expect.

Everyone says having a child is the most incredible thing you will ever do, they say the moment your baby is handed to you, you experience a love like you never thought possible; that it feels as though your heart will explode and you just know what to do. Sounds almost magical right? Like the most natural and instinctive thing in the whole world.
Too bad it’s utter bullshit.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that there are women out there who 100% experience that and just fall so madly in love with their child and are calm and peaceful and content and everything else all in one and that’s awesome. Me? I was handed a screaming, slightly purple, child wrapped so tightly in a blanket that he looked like the smallest doll in the babushka dolls and I went completely blank. I had blood on my face from where my son had been put against me, I couldn’t feel my lower body, I was fighting the urge to vomit (turns out that’s a side effect of the drugs you’re given) and there was this… tiny… little… foghorn… screaming in my face. After about an hour my first thought was not “oh my God, this is just the most beautiful and incredible experience of my entire life.” That was jumbled in there somewhere I imagine, but I can remember very distinctly thinking… “How… exactly… do I get him to not make that noise?”
The overwhelming love and sense of completeness and calm comes later. The calm comes MUCH later (I’m still waiting for that one to kick in fully).

  • The births on TV shows and movies are all dirty, dirty lies.

The woman always looks a little bit drowsy but totally miraculously wonderful, ‘glowing’ some may say. Nine times out of ten she is sleeping whenever other people walk into the room, she’s happy and completely mobile wandering freely about the room like a small watermelon did not just exit her body. The baby is all snuggly and warm and remarkably alert for someone who has just been yanked into a bright, loud, cold world. So… Lies.
Here’s what my reality was like: Those first few days in the hospital room were a blur.  I think more people have seen my privates in those first few days than my entire lifetime and, more amazingly, I can remember not giving a damn. Sporadically nurses would come in, lift the sheets and my gown, check my bits, inject me with something or other, then ask me to make sure my next toilet trip was made into a pooper scooper that sat on the toilet seat and to call them so they could “check it out”. My dear little boy certainly wasn’t all big eyes and windy smiles. He was puffy, he resembled an angry, pink old man and he spent the entire first night looking like he was foaming at the mouth as he got the remnants of amniotic fluid from his tiny little lungs. I didn’t sleep, I spent the whole time staring at his little cot at the end of the bed watching as more fluid leaked out of his mouth. Of course, because I couldn’t move and randomly couldn’t hear him breathing I would smack my husband across the arm and force him to check that our little boy was okay. The next few days were filled with tears (mostly mine), exhausted smiles, welcome visitors, break downs (again, mostly mine) and a sense of both fear and excitement for the next stage of our lives. When it came time to be discharged I was equal parts terrified, unprepared, excited and all ‘I’m gonna be the most badass mother there ever lived!’ This is true to this very day (last part still pending of course.)

  • If one more person so much as uttered the words “sleep when the baby sleeps” I would have gone postal.

The sentiment is a good one. It’s utter bollocks, but the concept is good. Sleeping when the baby sleeps is by far and large a learned skill. The first few months when the baby slept I spent my time staring at him making sure he was still breathing. Then when I started to get comfortable with the fact he was breathing I’d close my eyes and he’d wake up. Because that’s what babies do. They wait, right until you’re about to lie down and have ten seconds to yourself and they decide sleep time is officially over.

  • Tired has a whole new level of intense… and it’s okay.

I used to think I was tired before. I hear people tell me they’re ‘tired’ now and I think, “Aw, how sweet. You only strung together a solid six hours last night instead of your normal eight and you think that makes you tired.” No discredit there, I remember what that level of tired was like, it sucked. But this sucks more. There are days where I am certain I have had at a push maybe two hours of (broken) sleep. There are nights where I am awake every. single. hour. There was a whole month where I had so little sleep that I had convinced myself that was how I was going to die. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. You start to go just slightly insane. Your brain plays horrible, horrible tricks on you. Don’t panic. This is entirely normal. It is entirely normal to visualise yourself tripping and dropping your precious baby onto a tiled floor head first. It’s normal to have full blown conversations with yourself, and think you’re talking to your partner. More importantly, it’s completely and utterly normal to burst into tears at any given moment over absolutely nothing. What’s not normal is pretending that everything is just fine. Sleep deprivation sucks. It’s painful and it’s upsetting and it makes you feel sick, but what got me through was the realisation that a) it wasn’t going to be forever and b) it really really wasn’t going to be forever.

  • Family and friends are worth their weight in gold.

I think that one pretty much speaks for itself. I have laughed with, cried with, cried at, leaned on, relied on, cried on more of my family and friends in the last six months than ever before. If you’re lucky enough to have good people around you that are willing to help you out or sit with you, or whatever it is you need, use them. They are irreplaceable and they make everything feel just that little bit less chaotic.

  • It’s okay to want some time out.

Being a parent is draining sometimes. It’s exhausting and sometimes it’s utterly demoralizing. When you’re into your twenty-seventh hour of unrelenting whining or crying or screaming or whatever, you do have a moment when you think, I can’t do this. I don’t know what the hell my baby needs and I’m a terrible parent. That’s okay. It’s okay to not want to sit and stare at your child every second of every day. On the flip side, it’s also completely normal to spend an hour just watching them do absolutely nothing at all.

  • Stand by your style of parenting and for the love of God do not Google

Co-sleep, don’t co-sleep. Your child should only be dressed in organic silk that’s been dipped in hummingbird saliva and woven into a beautiful ornate garment made from baby monks living at the top of Mount Everest, your baby shouldn’t wear anything that wasn’t mass produced in a sweat shop in China. Breastfeed, bottle feed, disposable nappies, cloth nappies, routines, no routines, prams, strollers, baby wearing, baby yoga, baby yogalates, baby rugby… okay maybe not that last one. Whatever the hell it is that you choose to do, if it’s working for you and your family and you’re getting some peace and some happiness and some rest by doing it… keep doing it. Also, do not judge another parent for doing something you chose not to do, or not doing something you do. If their parenting style isn’t harming or neglecting their child and doesn’t affect or interrupt your parenting style, then it’s not your place to judge… But the reality is every mother judges someone else’s style of parenting against their own, for better or worse, it’s what happens. That’s cool, but don’t ever make another mother feel bad for what they’re doing. That’s not cool.

Parenting is a whole other world. It’s full of ups and downs, good days and challenging days. For me, it’s been full of new surprises and it’s hands down the best adventure I have ever had. For one emotion or thought, there is always the opposite. I have moments where I get so utterly tired of hearing my boy whinging over nothing that I can barely stand to even look at him, I have moments where the only thing I want to do is stare at him even if it means I miss out on precious sleep. Hearing his laugh for the first time made me cry, it was the most fantastic sound I had ever heard. Seeing my husband with my son still makes me feel this insane, intense love. It makes me want to smoosh both of their faces with never ending kisses. Being a mother has turned my whole life upside down in the most wonderful way. It would be unrealistic to say it hasn’t changed me because it definitely has, but it’s made me grow. It’s made me realise things about myself that I didn’t know before. It’s solidified my values and my hopes and ambitions. Having my son has changed my marriage as well, it’s made us stronger. It was challenging at first because we both felt disconnected for a while like we were just two ships passing in the night. But having our son has made both of us value the time we get to spend together, even more, it’s made our conversations richer, our emotions stronger and our world that much brighter.

Parenting is exhausting and overwhelming and wonderful. It’s intense and beautiful and challenging and every single day is new and different. These first six months have taught me a lot, most of all it’s taught me that despite appearances, every single parent out there is 100% winging it. There is no rule book, there is no definite ‘correct’ way of parenting. There’s just you and your child and in the end, that’s what matters.

And finally because this guy seems to be popping up in my feed more and more lately I wanted to leave you with this little vibe:

I want him to grow up knowing he’s the shit. I mean, sometimes he pisses me off. He’ll throw something across the room or he’ll keep me up all night, but then he’ll wake me up and say ‘I love you like the ocean.’ And you get up and do it again. It’s the best thing ever – Norman Reedus (on son Mingus)

Being a parent is easy, being the type of parent your children hope they’ll be one day… that’s the bigger challenge.

E

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All these emotions

So today, I sat in the carpark in the Baldivis shopping centre and cried whilst my son sat happily playing in his car seat. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure, wipe my eyes, turn the car on and head back home. As I drove along the freeway, wishing that my already over tired son would just fall asleep instead of playing with the teething bug he was holding, I realised something rather interesting. I have for the better part of my life (read: up to this point) always felt as though I should ‘hide’ any strong emotions that I had. Predominantly the less amiable emotions (sadness, fear, hurt, anger etc.) but all emotions in general. It struck me as strange that I felt as though I needed to hide or rein in something that every single person on this planet experiences. Isn’t that just a little bit backward? Surely I have just as much right as anyone else to feel that way and not have to hide away in my car to express whatever it was I was feeling. Of course, all of this got me thinking even more about quite a number of different things. I remembering hearing phrases like “no one wants to hang around someone who is always depressed,” and “boys don’t like overly emotional girls,” or and this one is my personal favourite “real men don’t cry.” Of course I’m not a man so the last one doesn’t exactly relate directly to me but I thought it pertinent to add it in here just for that extra bit of emphasis. I can’t recall who said these things to me but I remember thinking at the time that they were correct, that I needed to adjust my emotions in order to fall into line with whatever this little expectation was.

 

Let’s start with the first one; “no one wants to hang around someone who is always depressed.” Okay, so to a degree this one makes sense to me. It’s true being around people that are constantly negative and quite down can be very draining and make enjoying situations incredibly challenging. However, saying something like that to someone who is simply having a bad day, or week, or whatever is actually detrimental to their overall well being. Take my situation, for example, currently, I’m having a challenging few days. My boy’s teeth are on the move and he’s going through a growth spurt and as such he’s been cranky and rather difficult to look after. He hasn’t been sleeping as well as before so we’re all tired, he’s decided this week solids are absolutely the last thing on the planet he wants to try and is generally just being a bit ratty. Now, me? I get up and I look at myself in the mirror and I think “wow, you look like you could be a zombie on The Walking Dead and you wouldn’t even need makeup.” This is closely followed by “oh God, we can’t have another day like yesterday, please, please, please don’t let us have another day like yesterday.” Positive right? Cheery and happy right? Of course it’s not. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be that negative forever. I know my son will settle, I know his teeth will calm down and he’ll be okay and we’ll go back to having the same fun we used to have. If someone were to say to me now that “no one wants to hang around with someone who is always depressed,” I may actually give them the biggest serving right then and there. This sort of thing makes people who are having a bad day feel as though they aren’t allowed to have a tough time and should hide it or lie about it and cover it up. It also makes people who are genuinely suffering for a long period of time feel even worse about themselves and could potentially lead to them clamming up entirely and not talking and letting things fester.

 

As for the other statements “boys don’t like overly emotional girls” and the ever wonderful “real men don’t cry,” they are just as ridiculous as the notion that people should hide their feelings. For starters emotions, be it over the top or as simple as a grown man crying are powerful in every form and as such should be respected. I’ve seen ‘real men’ cry, it’s heartbreaking of course, much the same as it’s heartbreaking when anyone cries but it didn’t make me see them as anything less than human. If someone even hints at the notion that being overly emotional will result in not being liked then that person deserves to be shoved into a sea container and dropped to the bottom of the ocean instantly. Emotions are a universal thing. They are one of the very few things in this world that the human race has in common regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or culture. Being emotional is a part of being a human and the reality we are faced with here is that for some reason people feel as though they need to suppress any strong emotions they may have for fear of being ‘judged’.

 

I worked with a gentleman who was always so incredibly vibrant and bubbly regardless of what was going on. He was almost always cheery and had one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. If he was having a bad day or something wasn’t quite working out the way he had intended it was blatantly obvious to everyone around him. He wore his heart on his sleeve and I never considered it before but I admire him for that. We had had many a conversation about different life experiences and one of the conversations we had was about being able to take some time to look after yourself. At the time I had gone through a rather rough patch in my own life and he said simply “if you don’t look after yourself then who will?” Let me reiterate that… if you don’t look after yourself then who will? If looking after yourself means that you start crying when a water bottle smashes on the floor in the middle of a food court then do that. If it means you say to your family or friends “I’m having a hard time, can we have a chat about this,” then do that. If it means you lay on the couch all day and watch reruns of Bold and the Beautiful then do that. Do whatever the heck it is that you need to, to look after you; because at the end of the day you have to live with yourself.

 

This notion that emotions need to be suppressed, reined in or expressed in the relative privacy of your car is archaic and damaging. Emotions are there to help in the handling of different experiences. The feeling of overwhelming joy can be expressed in so many different ways, tears, laughter, kisses, hugs; much like overwhelming grief can be expressed in so many different ways tears, silence, insomnia, sleep. None of these things are right or wrong, they just are. So feeling as though you shouldn’t cry when you’re happy or feeling as though you shouldn’t smile at anything when you’re sad is obscene. Whatever it is that you’re feeling should not be suppressed. It shouldn’t be held in to be experienced in private because you feel as though expressing it in public is inappropriate. Of course, there’s always a flip side to every argument, I mean, if you’re angry at a sales clerk it’s not exactly appropriate to punch them in the face, or say stab someone because they make you feel sad or self-conscious. I’m not talking extremes here, I’m just talking about the fact that everyday emotions aren’t something we should feel as though we need to hide.

 

I will leave you here (because my child has managed to go to bed and I’m going to take advantage of the sleep) with a final little vibe that was said at a convention I attended many moons ago:

I’d rather walk around feeling like complete shit for a few days, and feeling like God the rest of the time, than walk around feeling ‘just okay’ all of the time. – Norman Reedus

 

So, go, be emotional, be open and honest and hope that somewhere in amongst all of that you give other people the strength to do the same.

E