I started writing this post in the two weeks before Sprout’s birthday in July this year. It has sat unfinished in the drafts folder since then. It is perhaps a bit lengthy and heavy to be the first post in over a month, but the subject is one I have found myself thinking of a lot in recent weeks and, well, it’s my blog so here it is in all it’s lengthy, heavy, jumbled glory. Obviously it’s a fractured, incomplete snap shot of how I feel about mothering. At the same time that it’s complex it’s over simplified. Words on a page will never do justice to how I think and feel, and can’t begin to paint an accurate picture of five full years in the life of three people.
I did not intend to become a mother when I did.
Something many people know about my family and many more don’t yet know is that our eldest child, Sprout, was conceived the first time Bean and I had sex!
We had known each other a couple of years before developing our relationship from acquaintenceship to friendship and then romance and it was two and a half weeks into that new romance, which we were both enjoying but certainly not serious about, when I learned I was pregnant.
I told my closest friend first. I met her for lunch just hours after I found out, and I said to her,
“We haven’t been together long enough to deal with this!”
Her reply has rather characterised the journey I found myself on.
“No, you haven’t, but you’re going to have to deal with it.”
She was right. No matter the outcome we had to deal with it.
While I am pro-choice, supporting a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason, abortion was not an option I wanted to pursue myself. This I knew even before telling Bean of our pregnancy.
That afternoon I asked him to come to my house after work despite agreeing that morning when we parted company that we wouldn’t see each other again that day, because of this he knew something was up.
When I told him his response was,
We spent a few hours discussing our options. One he suggested which I had lumped with abortion as not being an option, was adoption. His mother had offered her first child for adoption, so it seemed a reasonable option to him. For me, it seemed more painful than the prospect of abortion.
No. I was going to raise that baby myself, should the pregnancy go to term & result in a live birth.
The following 8 1/2 months were an absolute rollercoaster.
Our non-committal fling became suddenly serious.
Bean and I had chosen to stay together, seeing no good reason to separate simply because of an unplanned pregnancy. We were still enjoying each other’s company so we figured we may as well continue with our new relationship while that was still the case.
We called our foetus “Snottygobble” after a silly conversation we’d had about how so many of our hippy mates named their babies after trees – Jarrah, Karri, Wattle, Wandoo, Marri, Oak, Ash… We decided our baby would be calld Snottygobble after a small shrub that is native to the south west of Western Australia.
We often joked about our situation together and with friends, and we still do today, but the reality for both of us was (and is) not a joke.
Our relationship was hard. Being pregnant was physically and emotionally draining, something that Bean couldn’t, and in reality didn’t really want to, understand. Bean moved in to my Mum’s place, where I was staying, when it became clear we weren’t going to find a rental in the competitive rental market at the time. I was worried, I didn’t want to be living at my Mum’s place when I was about to become a mother myself. I was supposed to be an adult! Also, I was planning a home birth yet had no home of my own. Bean went out several nights a week and stayed out really late, often until sunrise or later, always coming home drunk or hungover. I began to seriously believe I’d be a single Mum, sometimes I look back on that time and wonder why I didn’t boot him out then, why I put up with his immature ways of hiding from the truth of an unplanned pregnancy. We both dealt very differently with the fact that we were to become parents in a few short months and we were incapable of supporting each other effectively.
My Mum ended up deciding to buy an investment property which we were to live in. Mum took me with her to look at a couple of houses, she went with the first one we looked at. It needed painting, and my elder sister suggested some no VOC clay paints which meant I could do some of the painting even though I was pregnant. My sister came most days with her own 3 month old baby while her elder child was at kindy, she worked hard to have the house ready for us to move in to with time for me to still get my nesting instinct on. She was such a huge support during that time (and many other times in my life!), I called her several times in tears over something Bean had done or a miscommunication between the two of us.
I came to feel a fondness for Bean, but at the same time I resented him. He wasn’t the one that pregnancy was happening to. He could still walk away at any time and regain the life he’d lost. He was still clinging to the life he had before we were together, minus the picking up at parties part. I felt so scared that he’d keep doing it after our baby was born, that I’d have no support from him.
Closer to the end of my pregnancy Bean began to decline invitations to go out, I was not up for going out as much as we’d used to and he was starting to choose to stay home with me rather than leave me home alone. Still, we didn’t really talk seriously about the elephant in the room – the big belly between us.
The first time he held our daughter after her birth I felt a shift in him. He began to become the father I had hoped he’d be. They now have a very strong bond. If I’m honest I sometimes think it’s much stronger than the bond between me and Sprout.
Our relationship was still a rollercoaster. Bean did some very hurtful things that caused a lot of damage and I spiralled into a deep depression.
Breastfeeding Sprout was intensely painful and a huge source of grief. Ever since I was a young child I’d known I would breastfeed my babies, I was breastfed until two years old and I intended to do the same for my own children. It never occured to me that breastfeeding might be less than easy, less than perfect. It’s natural, it’s the way babies are supposed to be fed so it should be easy, right? So very, very wrong.
Sprout had a tongue tie, it was misdiagnosed until she was 6 months old.
For the first 6 months of her life I went to breastfeeding clinics, maternal and child health nurses, lactation consultants and GPs seeking a diagnosis and a cure for the pain breastfeeding caused. I was diagnosed with thrush, vasospasm, “red haired woman’s nipples” (they’re apparently very sensitive?!), imaginary pain and bacterial infections. I took so many different remedies both pharmaceutical and natural. I hated myself for being broken and not having boobs that just worked. I stubbornly continued to breastfeed, despite the physical pain and the emotional turmoil. In hindsight I’m not sure that it was the best thing to do, but then I’d probably be saying the same thing now if I had chosen to give up breastfeeding.
Finally, with help from a friend and her friend who is an ABA counsellor I found a care provider who diagnosed the tongue tie and another care provider who believed breastfeeding was a good enough reason to divide a tongue tie. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. This breastfeeding hell could almost be over, and then I could get on with being a normal breastfeeding woman. I could get on with enjoying mothering.
Under 6 months of age a tongue tie can be divided with ease in a paediatrician’s rooms. Unfortunately, Sprout’s wasn’t discovered until she was just over 6 months old so she would require a general anaesthetic in hospital. After 6 months babies are too aware and it’s too risky to put scissors into the mouth of an older baby. Sprout went on a waiting list at the children’s hospital and at 10 months old she had the proceedure done.
Unfortunately it made little difference to the pain I experienced. By 10 months she’d worked out how to get the milk from my breasts, I had a huge oversupply and so she had become lazy in her feeding. I was shattered. I’d hoped and wished and willed that moment to be the end of my breastfeeding woes. I went on to feed her until she was 21 months old when I decided that enough was enough, I couldn’t quite make it to 2 years. I believed by that stage that any good that breastfeeding her was doing was being undone by the way I had been unable to cope with the constant pain. Breastfeeding became an exercise in emotional detatchment, not the bonding experience it was supposed to be.
The breastfeeding problems, while huge and at times all consuming, were just another layer to the overwhelming desperation I felt. I was so lonely there in the suburbs with my new baby. I was the first of my friends to have a baby, so I drifted apart from a lot of them once I was stuck at home with this child I hadn’t really planned to have. Friends were busy working during the days and socialising with each other during the evenings. I pushed some of them away because I couldn’t bear to show them how poorly I was doing. I wanted to be seen as someone who had it together, someone who had taken an unplanned pregnancy in her stride and become a wonderful mother. Not the scared, overwhelmed, ill-equipped, crying mess that I really was.
I made some new friends who were mothers, all with similar views on parenting as me. I felt simultaneously grateful for those women and also so afraid they’d decide I wasn’t worthy of their friendship that I pushed a lot of them away too.
Sprout was a delight. She was, and is, happy and funny. My Mum always said, and still says, she’s full of the joy of life. I agree with my Mum on that one, Sprout is certainly joyful. She’s also very intense. She’s incredibly social, she’s very smart and observant, she’s loud, she’s attention seeking, she’s high energy. She needs a lot of stimulation, a lot of interaction, and a lot of physical exercise to maintain a level of calm that I can deal with.
A month after I weaned Sprout we began trying to conceive another baby. We tried once, and we succeeded. Sprout’s very high energy personality was revealed to me in fullness a short time after our second child was conceived.
Once again, my good friend hindsight tells me that perhaps I needed to spend a bit more time with Sprout before having a second baby, she was still a baby herself after all. I really wanted to have a second baby though, I wanted the chance to get breastfeeding right – I could have given myself more of a break before I started again. I wanted the chance to be a confident and experienced Mum, not a scared and unsure new Mum – I could have given myself the chance to become Sprout’s confident Mum.
It doesn’t matter anyway really, even though I was able to be more confident as a second time mother to a new baby I’ll always be a first time mother to Sprout. My poor eldest child who will cop all of my most experimental parenting. My poor eldest child who I was, and am, grossly unprepared for.
We’ve had a really rough start, at times I’ve thought I should have made the choice to terminate that unplanned pregnancy because this mothering gig is too hard and I feel like I’ll spend my whole parenting career fucking her up. I know I don’t really feel that, but oh I never knew how hard being a mother could be. I wouldn’t trade her for anything, my difficult, joyful, loving, frustrating, funny, clever and delightful Sprout. Completely unplanned and yet completely loved.