No Parent is an Island

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‘How can someone who is never alone feel lonely?’

 

There has been much talk recently about the subject of loneliness amongst mothers, particularly new mothers. It is an important subject and one which is rightfully getting air time. After the initial fuss – the excitement, the visitors, the interest – tails off,  reality kicks in. Partners – if there is one – go back to work and the mother embarks on a new normality with her baby. Often, especially in those early weeks, this will be spent in the home trying to make sense of this new world order, trying to interpret those screams, trying to understand baby’s needs, and trying not to feel completely out of one’s depth. It is a scary time, and a lonely one too.

 

I certainly recall feeling isolated at times during those early months. This was for two reasons. Firstly because of my own – incorrect – perceptions. I believed I wasn’t that good at the job, that everyone else was a better mother than me, that I was an impostor into the role. This was despite the evidence to the contrary – my daughter was thriving, she was happy, healthy and flourishing. Yet I was still hung up on an inferiority complex which made me feel isolated – because, surely every other mum knew exactly what she was doing at all times, right?

 

The other reason for my sense of isolation was that my husband and I did things slightly differently. After a few months, I returned to work and my other half took Shared Parental Leave. For us, it was the right choice and we both benefitted from building our own bonds with our beautiful daughter. There was though an element of isolation in what we did for each of us. This was due to some of the responses we got from others, and I also had a sense of not quite fitting in:  I felt like I was half in the work world, half in the parenting world and at times, I felt isolated.

 

But what helped me were the kind words of friends who were also mums. When they told me ‘you’re doing a great job’ or ‘your baby’s such a happy baby because of you’ my spirits soared. And with each positive comment, my confidence started to build and those self-imposed perceptions started to crumble until eventually I started to see things differently. I was doing fine. I was a good mother. What I learnt from that experience was the importance of a gentle, thoughtful word for a mother – it can empower, support and inspire self-belief. I purposefully want to encourage other mums with my words.

 

The other thing that helped, unexpectedly, was feedback I received online. I started to share my thoughts and experiences in a series of posts and some of the supportive opinions shared made me realise: I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Lots of parents struggle with a sense of being torn between our varying roles and responsibilities – and, however we parent, we are all doing our absolute best.

 

Isolation and loneliness can really challenge mothers, and indeed, fathers, particularly at a time when they may already be feeling vulnerable and emotional. We can all help to overcome this by supporting each other so we as parents know: I’m not on my own.

This first appeared on http://www.meetothermums.com

The Woman Who Disappeared

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I had disappeared. And I didn’t know where I might be found.

‘I just want to feel like me again,’ I said, tearfully, two weeks into motherhood. Perhaps a wander out alone might help? But the half hour spent loitering without purpose at the shops just left me feeling anxious. As I meandered the aisles, I felt bereft, as if part of me was missing. Who was this impostor purporting to be me? The woman I had known before would never have felt a lump form in her throat over such an innocuous task as choosing a shower gel.

‘Starting to look like me again,’ I said as aesthetically I took control with straighteners and eyeliner and mascara. But even the successful donning – albeit with effort – of a once favoured pair of jeans, rediscovered after nine months without wear, didn’t bring me back. The person I saw in the mirror, staring intently as if searching for recognition, was a stranger.

‘An evening out will do me good. Like old times.’ But old times had never been like this. My eyes fixed to the screen of my phone, wondering if it was too soon to call again, before flickering briefly away to my watch, silently willing the dinner to be served quickly and bring about a swift conclusion to the evening. And the wine, which used to make me giggly and chatty and merry and glad, just made me feel tired, and more than a little despondent.

‘It will be nice to get back to normal.’ Yet this felt anything but. The once familiar seat, the desk still piled with notes scribbled in my handwriting, the keyboard upon which my hands used to dance easily, felt alien. How can just a few months create such a distance?

I didn’t feel like me anymore.

And then I realised: this was me now.

The person I had been before had gone and she was never coming back. How could she? Where once I had carried my heart around in me, now it existed outside, encapsulated in my precious daughter. And nothing would ever be the same again, not now I had the consciousness of my child with me at all times. I would always be checking my phone, thinking about her, worrying about her, missing her and carrying her with me. Which meant that never again would I feel as I once had. Whatever I was doing, be it working, socialising, or simply going about the mundane chores of my daily life. This search for me was fruitless as that ‘me’ didn’t exist anymore.

This is me. And as soon as I recognised this fact, I could stop looking and relax, accepting myself for who I was now without worry or fear or regret. I didn’t mourn the loss of the person who had gone before, the person who had disappeared forever in the moment my daughter was born, though I was glad that she had existed. This now, this person, was who I was always meant to be; mother, above all else, at the core of who I am. All the other things that used to define me – work, play, likes, dislikes – were still there, just less important.

I’m not searching anymore for that woman. I don’t need to.

Because this is me, now.

The Pramshed

Rediscovering the Magic of Christmas

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We had become jaded, the two of us. The cost, the stress, the hassle. The overindulgence and the nauseating hangovers. The songs which jarred, the garish decorations, the embarrassing jumpers. The joy of giving, which could only be achieved via a painful, directionless, bad-tempered shopping trip. The warm fuzzy feeling, all too fleeting, replaced swiftly by a lingering guilt over excessive spending. The pleasure of a full tummy, accompanied by a wistful remark about ‘three hours cooking for twenty minutes eating.’ And once the main day was at an end, we’d be itching to get back to normal.

 

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be.

 

But then you came along.

 

And suddenly, it’s different.

 

Your sweet-sounding ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ of excitement as you haphazardly pull back the window on your advent calendar. Each day you are even more happy than before to discover your chocolate treat, the smile upon your face as broad as if you have stumbled upon a great treasure. Your energetic moves to the Christmas songs on the radio, your knees bending in time with the music. You have no self-consciousness as you shake your limbs clumsily; you care not a jot who’s watching. The way you point to the lights. ‘There,’ you say for emphasis, in case we’ve missed the glimmering beams which cut through the gloom. Your first taste of a mince pie, the way you screw up your face in distaste before deciding that actually, it wasn’t so bad after all and yes please to another bite. The way you stare transfixed at the snow globe upon the shelf, your eyes wide at the tiny winter scene playing out within.  And your first meeting with Father Christmas, a bemused visit, but the present he gives you so very well received. You tear at the paper with an urgency, an eagerness to get to the cuddly toy within which makes you grin cheekily.

 

And as we watch you, the joy, the excitement, the curiosity dancing in your eyes, your emotions spread to us by osmosis. Our hearts leap like yours at the sight of a beautifully decorated tree. We open our mouths and let our voices ring out to join in a festive song, whilst you babble along contentedly. We excitedly write our Christmas cards, a task made even more special by the fact that they have been ‘designed’ by you. And we look forward to the 25th with joyful, almost childlike anticipation, knowing that that date will bring a beautiful perspective as we watch the festivities unravel through your eyes.

 

You’ve given us back the magic. You’ve reminded us that the season isn’t all about the shopping, the spending, the cooking, the cleaning, the task. Rather it’s about the laughing, the playing, the dancing, the singing, the loving, the feeling. You’ve given us a joyful gift – the gift of feeling young and carefree again. As we watch you, we are transported back to our own childhoods; every now and then, we will catch a faraway look in each other’s eyes, and as our vision fogs, we are reliving the same feelings that you, our darling daughter, are experiencing now.

 

But, the magic isn’t just for Christmas; it’s for life. It’s in the ordinary every day. It’s in your first bite of cake, a delicious treat to be discovered. It’s in the way you look on in awe at the bubbles we blow together. It’s in the way you kick out your feet excitedly as you fly high upon a swing.  It’s in the way we pull funny faces together in the mirror. It’s in the way we break into your favourite song in a busy restaurant, just to make you laugh. It’s in the way it feels to just live, without self-consciousness, without self-censorship, without fear of the judgement of others.

 

Being an adult is tough, and some days it can be lacking in joy. But you’ve helped us to rediscover the magic, the sense of wonderment that can be found in the simplest of things. Through your eyes, the world is a kaleidoscope of beauty.

Hot Pink Wellingtons

I Didn’t Sleep

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I didn’t sleep.

For the two nights that you spent making your descent into the world, your pushes and shoves becoming more insistent as you drew ever closer to your journey’s end. ‘Mummy,’ your sharp movements told me as you determinedly moved forward. ‘I’m coming. I need you.’ As you made your tricky traverse, your progress felt keenly throughout my body, slumber eluded me. And so I stayed awake, waiting eagerly, to see your face, ready to scoop you into my arms and give you succour and comfort as you transitioned from the dark to the light with an earth-trembling shriek of confusion.

 

I didn’t sleep.

The night we brought you home, your precious, tiny body so small and alien within the four walls of the home that had once only provided shelter for two. Uncertain and anxious, I drifted in and out of slumber constantly, waiting for you to awaken and let me know, with your vociferous cries, that you needed me. I stayed beside you, watching you, a faithful servant, ready to do your bidding, even if I wasn’t quite sure what that might be.

 

I didn’t sleep.

For the six months that you lay beside me in your crib, wrapped in the bedding that I hoped would replicate the warmth of my arms. I woke night after night and watched you breathe, my hand gently hovering above your chest, feeling the soothing rise and fall, and the sweet wisp of your breath on my arms. It gave me peace and comfort, at least, for an hour or two, when I would jump up again to feel that unmistakable movement and allay my constant concern, for a while at least.

 

I didn’t sleep.

When you moved across the landing and into your own room, into a cot that seemed too large for you, so different from the crib in our room that you’d easily outgrown now. How could you be so big and so small all at once? I’d wake in the night and look around for you, panic gripping my heart until I saw your blurry face on the monitor. I’d lie for a while and just watch you, watching the grainy motion of your chest. But it was never enough and I’d tiptoe into your room and stare at your face just to reassure myself that you, magical you, were real.

 

I will not sleep.

When you stay away from us with friends for the very first time. I will fret that you’re remembering to brush your teeth and are being good for your hosts. And I’ll worry too that you’re getting along with the others, that you’re not being teased or bullied in the way that young girls can. I will hope that you’re not awake all night yet my own eyes will struggle to close as I worry for you on your big girl adventure, so grown up but always my little one.

 

I will not sleep.

When you pack your bags and leave for your own home. ‘Finally. Dad and I get the house back,’ I’ll laugh. But inside my tummy will churn and the worries will flurry around my mind like a thousand fireflies flashing across the sky at sunset. Will you have enough to pay your bills? What will you eat? Will you remember to lock the doors? But most of all I’ll think about how much I’ll miss you, the beautiful girl who has been down the landing all these years. I’ll tell you though: ‘It will do you good to be independent,’ and you’ll smile a gorgeous, proud smile as you take this momentous step into your new life.

 

And I will not sleep.

The night that you’re awake waiting for the arrival of your own child, knowing that you’ll be feeling every movement he or she makes as they travel along to meet you, their mum. I will be hoping for you, my girl, to stay safe, and for the new life to arrive quickly, minimising the pain for you. And my heart will burst with pride, knowing how fortunate your precious bundle will be to have you as their mother.

 

And now, at the end of each day, we three seek out slumber; you exhausted by the sheer effort of growing and your daddy and I overcome by the tiredness from the busyness of the hours preceding. But the welcome of sleep is temporary as it’s a bridge that keep us at a distance.  And as I watch you snoozing contentedly, I look forward to when you will rouse again, so I can see your smile, hear your voice, feel your strong little hands grip onto my neck. I feel like a child the night before Christmas, waiting for the glorious gift of the morning when I will wander into your room and scoop you up into my arms and see my world light up once more.

Dear Bear and Beany
Prose for Thought