I’ve had this post on my mind for weeks. In my head I started it a million times in a million different ways. Nothing sounded right. Everything was too cheesy, too bleak, too over-the-top, too unrealistic. And then there was the issue of time. Every evening I promised myself, I’ll get to it tomorrow. There were a couple of half-hearted attempts before I sat down, with baby strapped to my chest, and got serious about putting to words what had single-handedly changed everything.
And that’s such a cliché, isn’t it? Of the million ways to start this post, I chose the one that everyone starts with. Everything you know will change. It’s what everyone told me too. And I thought I got it, or at least, I understood, from an objective point of view, just what an incredible shift my life was about to take. I braced for it, like the well-trained, well-read woman I was, and I waited.
The birth – a prologue
The day Benjamin was born marked me profoundly. It’s hard to put into words something that is at once commonplace and special. For all my plans and all the literature I read, it still swept me away. It is raw and intimate and there’s a sense that something is happening that goes beyond you and the other people in the room. Something overpowering that leaves you numb and speechless, except perhaps to say, Did I just do that? Except perhaps to look into a mirror when it’s done and go Is that me? In a sense, it redefines you. For me, that little prologue was a summary of my experience with motherhood so far. Intense, painful, beautiful, overwhelming.
Mothering. Or trying to.
So yes, my life did change, but there are so many different hues to it, so many shades you don’t usually get to see, that saying everything will change, just doesn’t cut it. There’s the obvious, the visible threads in the fabric of our lives – the career you have to put on pause. The plans and projects you might put away for a few weeks or months, the feed-change-sleep routine that exhausts you to the point of delirium. Then, there’s the less obvious, the chemical reactions in your body and the emotions that swill and bubble and overflow. The hormones that come crashing down almost instantly after you give birth. Feelings previously untapped have you reeling from the impact they leave. The constant concerns; am I feeding him enough? Is he sleeping enough? Am I stimulating him enough? Am I overstimulating? Is that sound he’s making normal? Is he breathing?? Life becomes a series of questions that are at times very hard to answer. So you trust your instinct, only to start questioning that too.
I will be honest – I have felt inadequate as a mother at least once every single day since Benji was born. Like maybe I wasn’t good enough because other mothers seem to have it all figured out. I wasn’t good enough because I – the mother – could not get my son to stop crying. Because I had no idea what was wrong. I started comparing myself (the thief of all joys!) and came up short.
Then comes the guilt. For me it looked something like this, scrolling through photos of previous summers. Those long days by the pool, wine in hand, the workout sessions and how proud I had been of what I had achieved. The carefree sunsets and the late mornings and I find myself reminiscing, nostalgic… maybe even wishing I was still living those days as I sat at home, trying to get a baby to sleep that clearly doesn’t want to sleep. My clothes don’t fit – I grew wider, in places I doubt will ever go back to how they were before. Hell, even my feet got bigger.
Suddenly, this incredible sense of guilt settles on me. How dare I wish it were otherwise? When what I have is already a miracle? I feel bad about feeling so wretched over clothes, but I do, and that makes me feel worse.
And then come the good days.
Those moments when he looks at you, really looks at you, for the first time, through those big dark eyes that contain all the stars and all the galaxies. He curls his little fingers around your own. His face splits into the most cheeky of grins for the briefest of seconds but it’s enough. He shrieks in delight at something you do. And nothing, nothing matters anymore. Not the pain while you nurse, not the long nights, not the clothes that hang uselessly on the rack. Nothing. And you realise just how much love resides inside you, that it takes a single smile for it to burst forth and erase everything you’ve been feeling that was dragging you down.
And then come the good friends.
Those who have been through it and will make you feel normal. Will make you feel like you’re doing a great, GREAT job. Those who will tell you their stories that puts yours perfectly into perspective. The ones who check up on you randomly, the ones who ask HOW ARE YOU? before asking about the baby. The ones you’ve never even met but who reach out with words of encouragement. The ones you’ve known your whole life and even though they’re not mothers, they’re with your through and through.
The ones who will make you realise that just because you had a child, it doesn’t mean that your previous life, what you enjoyed doing, your lifestyle, is erased, no longer valid. Of course it still is. You are still You, even though your priorities may have changed. And it’s ok to feel bad about the clothes and the shoes and the belly that still protrudes. When you’re ready, there will be time to work on that but in the meantime, you’re not meant to fit into clothes, clothes are meant to fit on you.
And then comes family.
My mother (and sometimes my father) comes twice a week to help me with household chores. My mother-in-law comes once a week to stay with the baby so I can have a good nap. My husband runs around the house after me in the evenings, picking up the stuff I drop, tidying up so I’m not triggered by a mess of my creation. My siblings drive around doing errands for me. I would have been completely and utterly lost without every single one of them. It certainly does take a village to raise a child.
Benjamin will be 7 weeks old tomorrow. I still feel inadequate sometimes. My confidence still shakes, especially when we’re out and he fusses for no apparent reason other than feeling overwhelmed. But deep-down, I know I’m what my baby needs and wants. I know I’m the only person able to calm him down when no one else can, and when I manage to access that knowledge, it brings me peace. He is teaching me something new everyday, about him, about me.
Being a mother is tough. It’s the easiest, most succinct way of putting it. It’s a struggle that will leave you drained, physically, mentally, emotionally on a level I previously did not experience. I’m not here to fluff things up or to tell you – “Insa li se terga torqod! Forget about sleeping!” – as I’ve been told countless times, by way of congratulations. It’s definitely not easy, at least, it isn’t for me. But having the privilege and honour to give life to someone, to nurse them, to raise them – I will never be able to express exactly how that makes me feel, except that it has blasted a hole in my horizon and opened it up to unimaginable new meaning and purpose.
Simply holding his gaze makes me the happiest woman on Earth, and that is worth everything.