When our first child, Liam, was born, I had a pretty clear idea about how things were going to go: Perfectly.
I would breastfeed exclusively for 6 glorious months, keeping to Gina Ford’s totally reasonable and do-able schedule. I would go on long walks with my baby in his/her stylish stroller, serene and deeply fulfilled in my new role as Mother. I would catch up on photo albums and home cooking. I would do Ashtanga yoga and write a very well-received children’s book and Baby would coo and smile and be just a little ahead on all milestones. And when night would fall, my husband and I would gaze at each other lovingly, Baby sound asleep in the sleigh cot.
And all would be good in our world.
Except that it fucking wasn’t.
Me: Doctor Booth….Liam is bleeding out of his gastrointestinal tract.
Dr Booth: No he’s not.
Me: Yes he (fucking!) is! He won’t eat and he’s crying non-stop and he has blood on his tongue! You have to help me! I can’t get hold of David and my child is dying!
Dr Booth: Your nipples are cracked.
Me: (pause to regroup) ‘Scooz me?
Dr Booth: Your nipples are cracked.
Oh. That would explain the sensation of jumper cables on my boobs every time he latches. Super.
My mom & MIL: We think Liam’s room is too hot.
Me: It’s not too hot. It’s 20 degrees. I have a room thermometer and a book that says 20 degrees is optimal.
Them: Well, we’ve managed to raise and keep children alive and we feel that it’s too hot.
Me: It’s fine. I’ve researched it.
Them: Joanne – when we were young, we didn’t have all of these books and the Interweb and we knew how to raise kids. Trust us when we say it’s too….
Me: It’s 20 frigging degrees goddammit! The only reason you two bats think it’s too hot is because you’re going through fucking menopause!
This was a high point for me, as you can imagine.
As for gazing lovingly at my husband, it was more of a Death Stare. My micro-managed life had become so small and unpredictable and unproductive and my husband’s had not. The only logical conclusion I could draw at the time was that he was obviously scum. And then after a few months of fractured sleep and frayed nipples and mind-numbing monotony, I extrapolated this insight and concluded that indeed, all men were scum.
It took me four months to bond properly with my baby boy and I felt perpetually anxious, guilty and deeply, deeply inadequate – a puddle of self-doubt and breast pads and panic. Most of the time, nothing felt familiar. Nothing felt natural.
Nobody told me that this was all normal. That it was supposed to be messy. That I was okay. Instead, they said things like, “I don’t know how you juggle so much”, when in fact, the only reason I was working again was to fill the colossal crater that was my self worth.
Other mothers seemed to have this thing taped. They would swan around Hyde Park with their Bugaboos and their contented babies, who seemed quite happy to sit still and fiddle with a Tiny Love toy while mom drank decaf skinny cappuccinos with her perfectly coiffed BFF. Other mothers went to Moms & Babes and LOVED it. I tried to be like other mothers. I went to Moms & Babes. Once. Shoot me. Seriously. I felt like I was in a Monty Python movie. Except less funny.
I dragged us to the only-just-bearable Clamber Club, where the other babies would sit on their moms’ laps and sing ‘Jog the Frog’ and clap their pudgy baby hands. My boy, hyper-baby that he was, was about as interested in that gangly frog and his antics as I was. Every Wednesday morning at 09h45 when the singing began, Liam would crawl up to the other babies and whack them. In between attempts to control this ‘sensory seeking behaviour’, I would fantasize about Jog the Frog coming to life and gunning us all down, Tarantino-style.
I probably should have been medicated.
Liam is 10 now and whilst he is a pretty awesome human, his impulse control still leaves much to be desired. But it’s part of what makes him sparkly and exuberant and courageous. And it’s also the part of him that teaches me the most: I have had to learn to stop giving so much power to what other people think and that has been hugely freeing for me.