Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Daydreams and reality are rarely the same

There are so many things that I had wrong about motherhood, I could write a book about. It turns out almost every first time mum has the same misconceptions about what motherhood is going to be like. These myths are so common spread, I wonder sometimes why there isn't someone bursting the bubble of mums to be by telling them what being a parent is going to be really like. Or are people telling us the truth and we just refuse to believe it? I've sat down and tried to remember a lot of the daydreams that I had about what life would be like once Miss K came into the world, and I can safely look back and think I was a big idiot.

Misconception 1: Being a mum will come easily and naturally to you

I am the second eldest of 6 kids, so when I was younger I did get asked to help my mum out with the babies. I could feed a baby a bottle or a bowl of wheat bix, I could change a nappy and dress a baby (but I couldn't do up the jumpsuits, the buttons around the legs were too confusing) and I quite often had to give my two little sisters baths when they got older. When I was in my early twenties, I moved in with my big sister and her husband and their three month old daughter. Again, I was able to feed, change and bathe her. Naturally I figured this made me an expert on raising children, and when Miss K was finally born, I'd be able to know straight away why she was crying, soothe her and get her to sleep without any of the fuss that these other first time mothers seemed to have. Nope. When Miss K was born, I was as clueless as the next person. I knew how to hold her, and I hadn't forgotten how to dress a baby or feed them a bottle, but I had no idea if she was crying because she was hungry, she had wind, or she was worried about the rising cost of petrol. As a result, I spent almost as much time crying as Miss K did in the first 6 weeks.

Misconception 2: Breastfeeding is easy because it's the way you're supposed to feed your baby

Now this one the books do try to teach you about, but I still thought that it would be easier than it was. They say it comes by instinct to the baby, but that's not exactly the truth. The baby knows how to suck, but they don't know how to latch on in the correct manner to ensure no damage to the breast, and they don't know how to not suffocate if you cover their nose with your breast (not a problem smaller breasted women have) Miss K and I had a lot of problems with this one, because I am not small chested by any stretch of the imagination, and despite what you would think, bigger breasts are actually a hindrance when you're trying to feed a baby. I couldn't get her to latch on properly, I had a lot of problems trying to find a position that was comfortable for both of us, and then at 5 weeks I came to the horrible realisation that my milk was actually drying up.

Misconception 3: Babies sleep all the time

Newborn babies sleep something like 20 hours a day, but it's not all in one go. This usually means that you're getting up every 3 - 4 hours or sometimes even less, because the baby is crying again. And this doesn't stop just because you've gone to bed for the night. Babies have no idea that there is a day time and a night time, so they just keep on doing the same thing all day long, regardless of the fact that you haven't had as much sleep as they have, and you'd really like some now. But it's not long before they start sleeping less, and spending more time awake, and for some babies between the ages of 4 and 12 weeks, between 3pm and 7pm is the time that they decide is perfect to stay awake and scream at you. And you will spend those weeks trying everything to get them to settle down. I tried baths, massage, music, dancing, putting her to bed, letting her cry, everything. And then one day, just as suddenly as it began, it stops. But by then the damage is done and you hate the hours of 3pm to 7pm for the longest time.

Misconception 4: You will be able to juggle housework and motherhood as easily as you once balanced your work and social lives

When I was a lot younger, I used to be able to go to work for a full 8 hour day, and then go to the pub and drink for several hours and not feel any pain the next morning. These days, after running around after Miss K for 8 hours, I sit on the couch at night time feeling like I got hit by a bus, and then reversed over. For the first couple of weeks after having a baby, you are in so much shock, and so sore, you couldn't give a crap about housework. If you're lucky like I was, you'll live with someone who understands this and who will pick up the slack that you let off so that the house keeps clean while you recover. However, the excuse that I just had a baby doesn't get you off doing the dishes forever, and the day comes when you have to start trying to take care of a baby and keep the house clean at the same time. And that's when you really appreciate what your mother did when you were a child. It gets even worse once your baby is mobile, because you either need to cram all of your housework into the small gaps of peace you get when the baby is asleep, or you need to do your housework in 2 minute bursts, and then do a mad dash to where the baby is, to extract them from whatever danger they have gotten themselves into while your back was turned. I am still trying to find the perfect balance of keeping the house clean and keeping Miss K safe, but I'm starting to learn a few short cuts that are helping me. If I leave the room while the theme song of one of her kids shows is on, I know I have a good 20 - 30 seconds to get stuff done while she is glued to the telly. As long as I'm back before they start talking and she gets bored and wanders off to destroy something else, we're golden.

Misconception 5: You will still have a healthy social life

It is sad but true, but I actually lost a few friends when they found out I was pregnant. This had nothing to do with my choice of partner, or that I decided to go it alone in the end, but something slightly more selfish on their part. One of my closest friends when I worked in Melbourne hated children. When she saw them in the street, she would always pull a face and make some kind of rude comment to me. When she found out that I was about to bring another one of these creatures into the world, she suddenly found that we had nothing in common any more and stopped talking to me. I can't hate her for this, but I can't feel sad for the loss either. If she couldn't find a way to adapt to the changes that would happen to our friendship, then I couldn't find a reason to fight to keep her in my life. There were a few gentlemen that stopped contacting me when I told them I was having a baby, but I have to assume that they realised that they would never be getting into my pants and stopped wasting their time trying. Again no great loss as far as I'm concerned. But these people dropping off the face of the earth wasn't the biggest killer to my social life. My lack of energy is what has done it.

I still have a lot of good friends, but these days, our interactions tend to be limited to Facebook, with an occasional catch up for coffee, or more likely, we bump into each other in the street and stop for a 5 minute catch up before Miss K gets tired of sitting still and starts screaming at me. At the end of the chat they go back to their jobs or their shopping and I run away in the opposite direction trying to quieten down Miss K before every one thinks I have an out of control child. I have mothers group that I go to once a week, but I never really even try to have anything to do with the women there outside of the group, as really what else do I have in common with them except we all had babies in the same year? The one friend I catch up with regularly is actually an ex boyfriend from a couple of years ago, and I go over there for tea at least once a month. He cooks me a nice steak every time, because we don't have red meat in the house any more after mum's heart attack, and he knows I miss it. Then we sit down in front of the telly for the rest of the evening and just veg out. We chat a bit, but he has never been a great talker, so a lot of the time, there is only the noise coming from the telly. But now that Miss K is older, even this is becoming a struggle, as I have to pack her porta-cot with me so she has somewhere to crash, and I usually spend the evening grabbing her before she pulls herself up on his lovely glass coffee table, or touches the heater while it's on, or plays with the plugs coming out of his amplifier, or starts hitting his acoustic guitar in the corner. Once she's in bed, I sit on the couch trying not to fall asleep, because what kind of guest does that make me? Although, after the last time I went there, I'm not as worried about hurting his feelings by falling asleep, because we both ended up falling asleep, and missing part of Ghost Busters 2. We must be great company.

These 5 misconceptions only scratch the surface of what I was thinking when I was pregnant with Miss K. I can't remember now if anyone tried to tell me the truth about being a parent, (mum and my big sister probably did), but I was so convinced that I was going to ace this, that I wouldn't have listened to them even if they tied me to a chair and hit me in the head with a rubber mallet as they said each word. But I know the truth now, and so do you. And if after reading this, you still think that things would be different for you, then please come over and allow me to introduce you to my rubber mallet. Trust me, it's for your own good.
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