One thing I am learning about being a parent is that you don’t get a smooth run. There is not a milestone to get past and then you get a certificate that guarantees you for easy parenting for the rest of your life. I am sure my own parents will vouch for this even now, when I’m being a stubborn cow or something along those lines.
Today I am a bit broken by parenting.
We have managed and coped with so much over the past year or so, but now the dust is settling I find myself completely questioning myself as a mother.
I don’t know how to make my baby girl happy at the moment. She is fussy, clingy, and refuses to sleep. The logical part of me reasons that she has just had surgery and spent a rather horrible week in hospital. But that part is very rarely heard above the noise of The Worrier, who panics over everything, and The Judge, who likes to tell me that I am useless, most days.
I try everything I can. And I know recovery takes a while. I know that her stay in hospital has left her frightened and unsettled unless I’m nearby. But why can’t I fix this? As I have fixed everything else before?
She slept through a couple of nights in a row just recently. After nights by her bedside and the patience of a saint from me. And I allowed myself to be lulled away on that false sense of security that it was all going to be better now. I tried so hard. I did every technique in the book. I researched it. I changed routines. And changed them again.
But last night, in our messy bedroom, we played hot potato with inconsolable baby. What was wrong? A sore palate, still healing? Teeth? A virus? We didn’t know. How do you know? There was no dignity in that moment, me in a baggy t-shirt and underwear, him in boxers. Both of us wearing frowns. And we fought. Because we felt desperate. And because who else could we take it out on? Certainly not her.
She clings to my skin, as though it is another layer of fabric on my body. The fabric of life. I used to carry her all the time, when she was inside of me. But my belly held her better than my arms ever could. They ache with the weight. I want to change position, but I daren’t in case this is the one that makes her calm.
Why am I even holding her at all? We had gotten past all of that. We had got her to self settle again in her cot, we sat beside her, a comforting figure at her bedside, wishing for sleep. But last night the screams didn’t stop and you panic. A semi-detached house. And the worries that neighbours might judge you. That they might knock on your door the next day and tell you to quieten down. Or think you are just a useless mother.
She scratches at my skin. She pulls at my hair. Fistfuls of the stuff. She makes my scalp burn. I lie her down, but she screams as she feels the swoop of gravity take hold, as she begins that descent back into her cot.
Eventually, I feel my arms grow heavier and I realise that she has succumb to sleep. Her chest still rising sporadically, and her breath still shuddery and quick. Her cheeks are sticky with Calpol. My hands are sticky just the same. I wait a while. In the darkness. Squinting through the dark at the nursery I decorated when my belly was swollen and she was merely a dream from my future.
I move to place her down in her cot. My back screams as I make that same-old stretch down, over the white bars. I hold my breath because I am terrified she will stir. And I push the weight of my arms into the mattress, so that she might not notice them slide from beneath her. I am free of her grasp. And then I look down at her and I feel so many different emotions.
I love her dearly. I would do anything for her. In fact, I do every night. Whatever it takes. But I am frustrated. She doesn’t know what I have been through for her. And she doesn’t know how broken I am feeling. Everything is worse in the dark of the night, in the shadows, on your own, where light is artificial and harsh and comes from the flick of a switch. I feel so claustrophobic sometimes. I just want to be free for a second. Let the red scratches on my chest fade. Let my arms hang limply at my sides.
I don’t even know why I am writing this. I don’t need advice, because I have done it all. I know that, ultimately, it’s time. It gets better. This too shall pass. Enjoy it while they are small. Be grateful you have children at all.
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I know all of these things to be true. But at 2:42am, they do not change the desperation you feel. And the realisation that tomorrow, or really the rest of today, is going to be very long and very hard on so little sleep.
I filled today with as much as I could. I took her out. We walked. She was fussed by strangers as we carried on with our day. And I fed her a big lunch. And settled her down to sleep. She cried for me instantly. Before I had even stood up from laying her down.
We did this dance for over an hour. Back and forth. To and fro.
Until, I couldn’t do it anymore.
She lay on my chest on her parents’ bed. Breathing hard. Shuddery and hot.
She looked up at me and said with a look of her bright blue eyes: “I need you Mama.” And I found myself replying with the same eyes, but green this time: “I know sweet girl, but I need me too.”
As I write this, she is playing at my feet. She is kissing her reflection in the mirror and laughing. And then picking up a lion and a pig and making them kiss. “Mwah, mwah, mwah.” This is all I hear as she smacks her lips and makes kissing noises. She is ten months and I marvel at her role playing and her talent for observation. I am so in love with her. And yet, it feels unrequited sometimes.
I am frustrated. I am tired. I know I have to apologise for the things that I said to Mark that I didn’t mean last night, if we get the chance to talk without a plus one or two. I know I am further behind on work. And I know that there is a school run to do. And ironically I need under-eye concealer as I’ve run out, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to get it now. I don’t have the energy for all of this today.
But I have to keep going. Because I love them.
And Mama. She can wait.