The night marches

Bubba kept me awake until 3.30 am when I finally caved and took her to bed with me. I don’t want to make co-sleeping a habit, but have to say, last night I took it on with not much more than a wry smile: Ellie 1, Jackie 0.

I manage nights like that now by viewing each attempt to get her to sleep as an experiment, rather than with the wistful hope, gradually deteriorating into desperation, that this will be the One – the time that she will calmly and quietly fall asleep. By 2.00 am, I took a deep breath and tried to reframe my view of the night as one that may contain sleep to one that was unlikely to.

I find that this is somewhat more helpful than other strategies I have tried before, such as begging her to fall asleep, praying to the Stork God that she will fall asleep, and finally crying and laughing at myself for crying, just a little, when I pick her up for the twenty somethingth time. It’s not that it hes to get her to sleep better if I am more relaxed, but it makes my night somehow less exhausting. At the least I have managed my expectations, accepted the reality, and acknowledged that she is, after all, a baby. My baby.

When I got up a few hours later for the next feed, I texted a couple of friends and took comfort in solidarity. I felt surprisingly OK. I know from past experience that by the third night of sleeplessness, I hit a wall and demand help. But on the first, it’s sort of like, I feel OK because I have faced the worst and got through it.

The idea of a hard baby is a strange one. Some might call her that, but she is just a baby, my baby (i am repeating myself – sleep deprivation does that). And when she blinked sleepily at me, and finally drifted off because she could see me, lying next to her, it was a special moment of our own. The night had the quality of quiet that only 3.30 am can have, when the world seems all in deep slumber, the vibrations of their dreams creating a velvety blanket for us. My baby saw me, and was at peace. And I curled around her, and knowing myself a light sleeper, prepared to wait for dawn, tucking a blanket around her little body to keep her warm.

On the joy of making a person

It’s a lovely thing, having a baby. You have created a little person! It’s amazing to hold your baby in your arms and think, you didn’t exist before. You didn’t exist at all. And now here you are, a human in the making. And you’re mine.

Not that Ellie feels like “mine;” – when I had her, I felt more like she was a person who had come and taken residence with me, choosing to stay with me above all others. At first I could not believe that I had created her with my body, and continued to do so every time we fed her, changed her, kept her warm.

I love holding Ellie in my arms as she looks out on the world. After nursing her, she might rest back in my arms, content, and take in her surroundings, looking around in a lazy, accepting kind of way. She feels soft and warm and alive. She moves her head against my arm and I marvel at the feel of her fine hairs against my sleeve. What is she looking at? And what is she seeing? Shadows and light morphing into objects that exist outside of her? Or does she still feel like the lines between herself and her external reality are blurred, like the lead-pencil smudges of an artist on paper?

When she cries, and I pick her up and she is still. And when she wakes from a sleep and just looks at me, takes me in, and closes her eyes again, knowing she is safe, and held, and all is right in the world.

It is necessary for her to take me for granted. She should take her mother for granted. It means I am doing my job.

My heart is bigger since I had Ellie. My world has changed and my life is a completely different set of hours and days to what they were before. It is an adjustment to think of someone else constantly and always. It is change. But what else do we do with the hours? What else would I have done with my life – had a nice time, I suppose, thought and pondered and had friends and my husband, love of my life. This is a different sort of love, to love someone you are wholly responsible for. It is not easy and it is not always fun or enjoyable in the way that I may have measured other experiences in the past to determine whether to repeat them. It is more of a vocation than anything else I have done before.

The wonder of holding my baby in my arms. And she looks at me and knows she is safe. It expands my heart like a thousand flowers opening in the sun, like a trumpet calling for dawn, like a baby crying into the darkness and finding she is answered. Coming my baby. I’ll always answer.

On sleep

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks. But I have been too tired.

Every new mother knows why sleep deprivation is included in the UN Convention Against Torture. I don’t need to elaborate on that. Instead, I want to write an ode to sleep – because as Sophie says, the world cannot have too many odes.

Sleep – how I never really appreciated your full qualities! I used to take you for granted, a steady companion on life’s road. Sure, I was always a light sleeper – I used to get up, even before pregnancy, to go to the loo a few times a night. And I can’t remember the number of times I would wake with anxious thoughts swirling through my head, or I would be too excited to get to sleep for hours on end. But that was never your fault, oh sleep. You were always there for me – and now I can only regret that I wasn’t always there for you. Alas, the past one cannot retrieve, and all those hours of sleep I would gladly accompany to your dark, unconscious home if only I had known how short our journey together truly would be.

Now that I can never predict the time I might have in my own bed, I can appreciate the luxury of simply lying down and knowing that this could be my sole past time for the next eight hours, should I so choose it. Alas that I did not know it then!

Oh sleep, my dear friend, my confidante, my journeyman! Oh sleep, my long-lost partner on this, the newest phase of my life travels when I miss you most! Oh sleep, oh ancient companion, oh mender and dreamer and connector of the disparate threads in my brain! Too long did I take you for granted; too long did I imagine my awakened brain was superior to the quiet labours you took, unnoticed, unthanked, to keep my mind together and process the day’s messages. Now I have you not, my memory is lost, my vocabulary dispirited, my writing one-sided.

Oh sleep, whenever you feel it is time to return to these forgotten shores, I will welcome you back with the fanfare you so fully deserve – a sigh of contentment, a nod to your necessity, and an absence of all calculations as to how long it might be that I can stay with you this time.

On loving my baby

I did not love my baby the first time I set eyes on her. The first time I saw her, the main impression I had was, “Whose baby is that?” My husband and I both said the same thought out loud: “She doesn’t look like either of us.” Yen actually went so far as to say she had wide eyes like a girl who had always secretly freaked him out, because her eyes were “so far apart they made him think of a bug.” (No one likes to admit they have thoughts like that, but there you are.) We giggled and said that this was karma.

They brought my baby out (“they” – the doctors, the midwives and the other 15 people who seemed to be bustling around the operating theatre) and she was wide eyed and observant. like a little alien who has first set foot on planet Earth and is busy taking it all in. She was too small to have the human emotions and too new – so instead her face was just all darting eyes. They carried her to a table where they did the Apgar test and my husband proudly told me that she got nine out of ten – already a high achiever ;-). I craned my neck to look at her – I was immobile on the operating table, and desperately trying to keep my wits about me. I was groggy from the spinal block and my blood pressure had plummeted the moment they took the placenta out – I had an emergency cesarian due to pre-eclampsia, and one of the nurses told me cheerily if I had been standing up, I would have passed out. “But we don’t worry about that.

Then they put my baby on my chest. I couldn’t move my left arm as it was tied up with all sorts of tubes, so my baby kept rolling forward on my chest towards my chin, making it a constant balancing act using my neck muscles to keep her in a place where I could actually see her. Her eyes were still darting – she must have been on an adrenalin high. She was not crying – she did that once, obligingly, when they did the Apgar. She was just soaking it all in – the bright lights of the operating theatre a stark contrast to the womb, no doubt.

I waited for the rush of love, but the main thing I felt was stunned. And desperately drowsy (the low blood pressure again) but unable to sleep – the first of many days where sleep would be impossible (another story, another post).

A friend had told me not to expect to fall in love with my baby instantly. She said she had never got the rush of hormones that other women described. “It was more like, I now have a baby. All right. I also have a dog.” Another friend had the following experience: ” I think it took me about a month to love my baby. Until then I did not really see him yet as a separate person. He was still an extension of me.”

I did not love my baby. But in the first weeks, I sometimes I felt a deep, physical anxiety if she was not in contact with me. They checked my blood pressure the morning after the birth, and it was still pre-hypertensive, but after an hour of having my baby on my chest, skin to skin, it was back to normal.

When we came home, I needed to sometimes at least wheel her bassinet into the same room as me before I could feel complete and calm. I think she was feeling the same anxiety, in those first few days when my baby, like all babies, cried inconsolably at night and I just needed to hold her to let her know she was OK.

I knew I was not supposed to pick her up too much, in order to let her sleep and get her into good habits from the start. But it is nice to hold your baby, and not just when they are crying or when they are feeding. So I sometimes sneak a cuddle-sleep in the afternoons, and I cuddle her for a while before putting her to bed, and I don’t fret so much about keeping her awake the entire time of her feed – it’s nice to just snuggle a bit. Once I fell asleep and my Kindle fell on her face, causing a minor uproar. But it is nice to watch her sleeping patterns, and become familiar with them. It makes me less worried when she is sleeping in the next room, as I now have a sense of what all those noises mean.

I started to love my baby after about four weeks. Before that I had been desperately protective of her and anxious about her safety; maybe that was already love. But love didn’t come in a gush, a flood of positive emotion. Maybe it was the cesarian so I didn’t get those hormones people talk about; maybe I had to recover from the shock of having a baby before I could feel anything other than desperately tired and scared. Or maybe that’s just how it works for some women. I didn’t love my husband at first sight, either; but I find that with each passing year, and each shared experience, I love him even more when I thought I already loved him completely.

I love my baby now. Love, for me, is a journey. My love gets deeper, broader; I become more trusting, more frighteningly vulnerable as time passes. I love my baby now, and for me that means that I will keep going along the path with her.

On being a “mother”

“I am a mother.” I read those words, and I hear them over and over again. Before Ellie (shorthand maybe should be B.E?), I never really thought twice about them. But now I “am” a mother, the question of what that statement actually weighs resounds in my skull, like a bowling ball ricocheting down the aisle (bowling ball analogies are on my mind, now that my baby is starting to feel as heavy as one).

I don’t think in terms of “I am a mother.” I think more in terms of one of my new functions or roles as mothering, or parenting. It’s like saying “I am an arts researcher,” or “I am a writer.” I am not either of those things – I do those things. Similarly, I do mothering – that does not make me a label.

I don’t mean to offend anyone here. I know that being a mother is an incredible responsibility and task and job and life choice. It just confounded me to think in terms of this new name for who I am.

Perhaps it is a cultural evolution – we Gen X and Yers refuse to be defined by our roles, but prefer to think of ourselves as individuals, functioning in different ways in different settings. We like to think of ourselves as having something fundamental at the core of all our fleeting journeys – a sort of modern, ego-based Western take on the Hindu “atman,” the constant consciousness that underpins all else.

That said, I think it has always been a gender thing too. My husband is a “father,” but he pointed out that society does not define him by that, but rather more by his job.

When I had Ellie, I had a crisis. I really do think of having a baby in those terms, even though it sounds melodramatic, but really it is just a definitional issue. Not all crises are bad, but they are nevertheless major events which change everything. That was Ellie.

As a woman in her 30s, I long had the reins over my day. I knew when I was going to eat, how long I would have to sleep for, what I was going to do. I had a sure sense of myself as a writer, a well respected policy consultant, an good friend, a kind wife, an interesting individual worth getting to know.

And then Ellie came. Suddenly, I did not know myself. Part of that may have been the intense sleep deprivation of the first couple of weeks, which made me feel a little crazy (another story for another post). My identity had fundamentally shifted, and I didn’t know where to.

After the third day at home with Ellie, I spoke to my husband. I had always thought I would take a year off and be with the baby. I had always thought I would relish that year off, and I still may. But I had to say some things out loud, things I wasn’t sure it was OK to say as a mother – but there they were.

“I am not sure this full-time mothering is for me. I have realised something about myself, and that is if I am only doing one thing, I tend to obsess about it. I need more than one focus. I may want to go back to some part-time work in a few months.”

It was hard to admit that I may not be cut out for full-time mothering. It’s not that I don’t love my baby. It’s not that I don’t enjoy her. But I also enjoy my mind. I had long drawn (partly unbeknownst to me) a lot of my identity from what I did. Like a doctor from the 1950s, I had become what I did and now that I didn’t do it any more, I was at sea. Maybe for me, the Gen-X/Gen-Y evolution really just meant that women as well as men are now defined by their work, and now that I wasn’t, I didn’t know where to draw my sense of self any more.

I think it was more than that, though. It was deeper – it went further than changing my idea of myself from worker/breadwinner to mother/carer. It was taking on the responsibility of a whole, separate life, one I would now have to care for, for the rest of mine. In practical terms, that meant a vast portion of the time I used to have completely at my own disposal would now be dedicated to another individual’s needs and activities. For now that meant her sleeping and feeding. In a few years it will mean her soccer and playgroups, doctors and schools, camps, and eventually her own life crises, which I hope to be there for. In identity terms, that meant working out who I was in that bigger picture of our lives together, with my new job as mother.

I thought I had been ready to give up my time. I had had my fill of time to myself, and being selfish ( in the sense that I had only my own self to think about). I was ready to give. But when Ellie came along, the reality of the hours and energy that would take came home to me and I guess I quietly freaked out.

Now that I am getting more sleep (we have devised a night shift system which makes me feel guilty but better rested – I said to my husband yesterday, “I’m still exhausted, but I think I am nicer to be around,” to which he assented), and some time has passed, the crisis is settling into a life shift, as all crises do. I am getting used to my new role, and the new pattern to my days (which is basically, do what the baby wants to do). I am writing tentatively, here again, which helps my brain. And I am still thinking and pondering because how could I not? In short, I have started to assimilate my new role as mother into my other roles as thinker, feeler, ponderer, wonderer, reader, writer, lover, political unit of democracy, tax payer, friend.

I would really like to know what other women have thought about this topic. I know so many other smart, do-ing women who have had babies and who must have some fascinating insights for me and others on the shift in identity and how they manage it daily. What happened in your minds (and bodies) when you became mothers? How did you “become” a mother?

On death (and other, cheery Sunday morning topics)

I waa thinking last night about my own mortality. Fun times, I hear you say. What else does she get up to on Saturday nights?

When I was pregnant, I found that the reality of my own mortality really hit home. I mean, I have always, intellectually understood and contemplated death. It’s what morbid teenagers Do, after all. It’s what all the fuss is about with those movies, the Twilight series (that and sex with vampires, of course – or is it unconsummated sex? Probably the latter….far more compelling, as anyone who has stopped watching a sitcom the moment they get married knows).

I digress. Really, truly felt it in my bones. That was the difference. It hAd something to do with creating a new life; one that was just about to begin whilst my own is half way over, failing youth enhancing drugs coming on the PBS in the next 20 years. I thought of my nephew, Andrew, about to start law at UQ, which is where I was myseld, 17 years ago. When he was born. I thought, or more than that, I felt I was handing the torch on – as I procreated, I felt my own ascendance shift, and my own centrestage role in my life subtly, but forever, change to that of support.

That is the challenge now – to find ways to live a life more fully,before it is over.

I was thinking of my dad. He died when he was 62, after a hard life of raising 7 kids, working multiple jobs around the clock, with never a spare dollar. He went to war and suffered PTSD untreated for most of his life. He did not have a loving marriage. He must have drawn some satisfaction from knowing he was a Good Man; knowing he had done the right thing by his family. But my god – his life was over at 62. I don’t believe in an afterlife. So for him, that was it cialis super active 20mg.

I was thinking of my anxiety. I was thinking of how much of my life I have spent, literally expended, being scared. I don’t want to live my life, afraid.

What does that mean? And how to balance the responsibility of having a child to raise with what else I might want from life, so I share that centrestage rather than forfeit it all together (because no one needs a martyr for a parent. My poor dad.)

So far I have worked out that for me, it means travel. I want to see some things before I die. Not original, but true.

If I found out i had cancer, I would not waste my time finishing my novel. I would get on a plane with my man and my baby and visit – the world and the people I love, probably and preferably both at the same time. I might write, but in the way old women tell it like it is once all their peers and husbands are no longer around to judgethem – with as much chutzpah and acerbity as my little time required to get my thoughts across.

Most of all, I would live fearlessly. That means for me, looking things clearly and truthfully, and doing. Being with those I love and ditching all the rest.

So how do I balance that with the day to day fearlessness required to live a life fully when I do still need to plan ahead?

Well. I think it means not obsessing about perfecting my job, words, or life. It means doing things poorly rather than not at all. It means making lists of what I want to do and planning to do them – like travel. It does to some degree, mean earning and saving money. And it means living the examined life. Not so that one day I can look back and have no regrets. Life is too short to wait for that day of judgment (and memories are not what constitutes a life). But so thst every day or week or month I do not feel like time is slipping away.

On babies

I just had one. A baby, that is. Six weeks and three days ago, to be precise. This is the reason for not blogging for an age … That and procrastination of course.

And can I just say that one of the very first, clear things I have learned about human development and evolution from having a bay is this: the way we do it here in the west is all wrong, wrong, wrong.

What I mean is, after the first week of sleep deprivation and issues with milk supply, it became rapidly obvious that this is not a system which evolved in the type of social isolation that women in Australia are expected to raise their children.

Women have incredible variation with their milk. Two women I know in the same family are opposites – one with oversupply issues giving her bub reflux, the other with undersupply, which any woman can attest is incredibly traumatic in an age where breastfeeding has become culturally (and cultishly) synonymous with good parenting, to the point of ignoring the mother’s wellbeing.

But that is the topic for another post.

Back to the example of milk. Does any other human organ so vital to survival have such variation? Is thr incidence of defective hearts, say, or kidneys, or livers, as high as the variation in milk supply? Besides which, is the sleep deprivation which is the norm for breastfeeding mums really the way it was meant to be? After becoming so sleep deprived that I became a little crazy, I really don’t think so.

Which makes me think that the way humans have and raise babies must have evolved in a social setup. Otherwise, the race would never have come up with such a risky model. There would have been a group of women to help out. There would have been other lactating women to assist if one woman’s supply was low, or if that woman died in birth – another incredibly risky strategy for evolution, if not for the social setting of child rearing.

But nowadays, we do it like this : one woman and a baby, alone for hours a day and then solely responsible for the long, night marches as their partners (if they have partners) go to bed for the work day tomorrow.

It is a feat worthy of long odes. It is requiring endurance beyond that required to scale Mt Everest, to do this, day after day with little sleep and very little payoff but the hope that the baby will grow. And it is simply expected of ordnary women to just get on with it.

As one woman I know put it, “there’s been a mistake. surely it can’t be like this?”

I am six weeks and three days in. I love my little baby (that too, cannot be takem for granted – another topic for another post). But I am absolutely convinced that this is not the way it was meant to be. No number of midwife visits, early childhood centres and other institutional attempts to replace the tribe can actually replace the tribe. And so I wait for my baby to wake for her next feed, alone in my apartment like the woman in the next building over, and the next building over, and the next building over…..

If no one else will write the ode, then here it is from me: all you mothers, I salute you. We have great blessings from our individualistic culture – it is in the act of child raising that we come undone.