It takes a village to raise a child. But some days it’s just me. In fact most days it’s just me. In the beginning this was tough – hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do – and I have a couple of degrees under my belt for Pete’s sake. Why was it so damn hard being home alone with my child those first few months? There were mornings I would literally sob the moment my husband left for work.
Well, for starters, she screamed. A lot. When I tell people how hard it was they say, “Oh yeah, but that’s normal.” Trivializing my experience. Making me feel like I was a failure because it being hard is just “normal.” Nothing. Even. Worth. Discussing. “Oh yeah, but that’s normal.” As soon as these words would leave their lips, I instantly had the urge to justify my statement by providing further information.
“Normal?” I’d say, “Well she screamed for five hours straight most days and there was one day where it was eight hours. We couldn’t go anywhere after 3pm because we knew what would happen.” Immediately, I’d hate myself for trying to justify anything. Why should I? Anyone remotely understanding would get it. Because you know what? Even though all the mums in my mothers group had comparatively calm babies, they still had it tough.
They were still getting up through the night to feed their babies multiple times. They were still battling exhaustion. They were still adjusting to their brand new life with an extra person and a lot less patience, sleep, and time. No matter what “type” of baby you have, those first few months are HARD. And no-one, NO-ONE should ever brush you off, or make you feel weak when you admit it.
A few months later, I was organizing my daughter’s christening and a guest rang to RSVP. A fellow mother. She asked me how I was doing and I said “It’s a bit busy, but things are going okay.” Understatement of the year.
She practically whooped with delight. It honestly felt like she had set me up just so she could bring me down. Before I’d even had a chance to finish my sentence she said: “Oh darling, wait ‘till you have three – then you’ll know what busy means!” When I rang off, I was fuming. Why? Why must we do this to each other? Why couldn’t she just say “I hear ‘ya sista! I barely have time for the toilet!” Or something like that?
She had no idea what my new life as a parent was like. Perhaps I’d woken up to a screaming baby twelve times the night before and had had two hours sleep. What if I’d had a really tough pregnancy and was battling PPD? What if my baby had developed an allergy and had been in and out of hospital for the past fortnight? In one fell swoop she dismissed me. Her patronizing, and might I add, dangerous response made me feel like what I’d been through did not matter; like I was not worthy of her sympathy because I only had the one child. And really, it would have been so easy for her to be supportive instead.
Shortly after this incident we were at a 2nd birthday party and a friend of a friend had just finished describing a rough night with her baby daughter. When she finished speaking she went silent for a few moments and then said, “I don’t know why I’m complaining, sorry, I know I have it good compared to you.” I told her to complain away – we all have our problems to deal with – and talking about them helps. The thing is, there’s nothing to gain from comparing our problems and rewarding the most stressed out mother with a gold medal. Apart from a figurative gold medal to the highest cortisol carrier. Each and every parent has the right to say “I’m having a rough time.”
Do you know why they say it takes a village to raise a child? Because it’s HARD. And for me and many other women most days there is no village. It’s just mum and bub alllll day lonnnngg.
And dammit, I will not be ashamed to say that some days are a struggle.
Mothers need to talk about how difficult parenting can be. New parents-to-be should not be going into their new life completely blind. I’m not saying we should traumatize every pregnant woman we see, I’m just saying – let’s be a little more real so that new parents don’t get such a shock in those early months. BUT we can only be more real when we’re not being patronized, judged, or made to feel like we’re “complaining over nothing” every time we speak up.
Mothers need to be able to safely say things like, “Shit my house is such a mess a 30 minute clean wouldn’t even scratch the surface, and I just ate a packet of Doritos for breakfast” without someone responding with, “Wow, I have two whole children, still managed to clean my house this morning and make myself Eggs Benedict!” Yep this was a real conversation I read on a mother’s forum (the Eggs Benedict may have been a slight exaggeration).
Mothers need to be given adequate time and space to talk about what they’re experiencing – no matter how big or small. You might receive just one phone call during a really tough time and you have thirty seconds to get something off your chest. The person on the other end of the line should support you, not tear you down.
Mothers need a village, but most days, there might not be a literal village on stand-by to help change nappies, puree broccoli, and say “noooo, don’t put that in your mouth.” But you know what? We can be each other’s village. Whether it be online, over the phone, face-to-face – we can support one another – even if it’s for a few minutes a day. We can only do it if we acknowledge that each other’s parenting journey is different – some may have an “easy” child, others may have a “reflux” baby – it doesn’t matter. We all have it hard some days and we need to respect that. It’s only through this respect a village of mothers supporting one another can be born.
Then, even on the days it’s just me – I’ll know I’m not really alone. I’ll have my darling, sweet girl, yes that’s true. And I’ll have the strength of a thousand mothers to guide and uplift me. Who, through their words, actions, and subtle glances, send me the message:
You are not alone, we are your village.
Marina is a sometimes scientist, sometimes jewelry maker, accidental chef, and an always mum. She has slowly emerged from the trauma of the first four months of her baby daughter’s life to…write about the traumatic first four months of her daughter’s life, and the brighter days that followed.
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