Since returning to work from maternity leave I’ve been taking Fridays off. This generally means that I work pretty intensely from Monday through to Thursday. By the time Friday comes around, I’m ready to switch into a different mode. I’m ready to press pause on the many demands of my work, and focus my attention entirely on my little girls.
On Saturdays and Sundays Andrew and I will be parenting together. We’ll each be able to pop in and out, do some bits and bobs around the house, head out to meet with friends even, all while sharing the parenting between us. But Friday is my day, and after a busy week of work I lean into being nothing but a parent for a day. It wasn’t quite the same when I went from working in a full time job to all at once becoming a full time parent.
One thing that I never really grasped about babies was… just how much they need to be held! Having children for me has never been about having babies. It’s been about having kids, little people with their joys and sorrows, who’ll grow into adults as time goes by. But certainly, while I was pregnant, I dreamt of holding them. I imagined the pure bliss of the cuddles and snuggles and the realness of their little bodies in my arms. I just never realised how excruciating it could sometimes be.
It turns out that babies don’t want to be held in accordance with their parents’ schedules. In fact, sometimes, it seems it’s quite the opposite. I have never truly known the experience of being interrupted, continually, until my bundles of joy were in this world. I have never felt such desire to do the most mundane tasks. Bottles left abandoned, partially washed, would bob in agonising circles in my mind, when my excitement at completing just one task, any task, was dashed once again.
Pasted to the couch with a baby in my arms, thoughts would run through my mind of every other thing I could be doing at that time. I could be reading my book, and I could do that now, but I’ve left it on the other side of the room, just there, and out of reach. The TV remote is only just ever so tantalisingly out of reach of my hand. My phone might just, if I just reach over that way, but no – she makes it clear that I will not get away with moving that way. I’d hear something coming through the letter box and I’d know exactly what it was – something for them, of course, something I’m excited to set up for them. It falls to the ground, where it remains.
I’d see snippets of a whatsapp chat scrolling on my distant phone and catch the gist of the conversation. I’d think of a response which would turn out to be the wittiest thing I’ve ever come up with in my life. But the moment’s passing. Other comments are coming through. It won’t make sense any more by the time I’ve got my phone back in my hand. The moment will have gone.
To anyone looking in it would look the perfect picture of bliss. A happy mother holding her beautiful, healthy newborn. From the inside, it’s incredible what captivity can do to the mind. With arms full and decommissioned, thoughts of every other thing I could possibly be doing would invade me and fill me with urgency. Once released, once finally free to do whatever I should choose, the ridiculous thing is that I could easily have sat right back down in that very spot again.
When I was pregnant I was told, time and time again, “you’ll be busy!”. This didn’t concern me. I like to be busy. In the run up to their arrival, I was running at double speed, polishing and handing over things at work, and getting everything at home ready and organised. There was still plenty of organising to be doing with the girls now here. Yet I was going nowhere. Stuck to the couch, I was stopped in my tracks. It was not the sort of busy I’d been expecting.
I gained some important life skills in that time. I got better at stopping, remembering that what I was in the middle of doing or about to start, could wait. Remembering that I don’t get to choose to have a lovely snuggle in 15 minutes time, that that’s not how life works. Lovely snuggle is happening now, and I’d be fool not to soak it in. That she’ll never again be smaller than she is right now. And how unbelievable her little fingers, just so teeny tiny small, and so to just breath in this moment.
This is what you have to do, I’ve come to realise, when you’re in the role of carer. You need to put your own shit aside, and get right into the moment to be there with the person that you’re caring for. The only trouble with this is that having got yourself into that zone, a passing other, like say, a husband figure, will see your blissful calm and smile sweetly at you, and to himself, as he walks on by to go about his business. “Noooooooooo!!!” you might want to call, as you watch him get away. “I’m happy, but I could use a break!” “A wee would be nice!”. But you can’t raise your voice and your whispers will go unheard.
My urgency, in those moments, did become about little things, like looking at my phone, and sharing a joke with my friends. Larger than that, the change from being productive in a busy and fulfilling job, being self sufficient and in control of my life, my actions and the space I live in, was quite a drastic thing. Having a baby is challenging whatever way you look at it. But it’s when all the caring expectations fall to one person that it can become devastatingly hard. If the load was shared, if each person could have balance, the ability to split their time between caring for the baby and doing other important things, things could be very different.
I reflect a lot on why we don’t see more women speaking out for gender equality in parenting. One theory that I have is that we don’t want to be ungrateful, for what is, after all, the most wonderful gift. Becoming a parent is hard, and should not be taken on lightly. I waited 6 years for my family to start, and have been so incredibly grateful since that day when I finally learned I was going to have children. Having them in the world has been the greatest challenge and the most amazing, life affirming, fantastic thing I could ever imagine.
There is a separation though, between the wonderful thing of having children, and the broken system in which we are supposed to have them. Maybe there is a way that we can better enjoy the wonderful thing for all of its joy. Maybe having a baby doesn’t have to be torturous at all.