As I sit in my silent, child-free home to type this post (my son is at a place commonly referred to as child care; I like to call it a gift from God), it occurs to me that in just over one week, there will be a new little person sharing our space. We are quite literally days away from a new life joining the already chaotic house I share with my biggest boy (my husband, D), my two-year-old boy (the delicious J), and our crazy 8-year-old fur child, Clancy.
Of course we are excited; we cannot wait to meet this life we created during a random quickie in Bali. We will give him/her (I think it’s a him) all the love we have. We will teach our son to be gentle with the baby. No – don’t put your truck on baby’s face. We will go on outings as a family of four instead of a family of three (Clancy has to stay at home – he has antisocial tendencies and a sordid criminal history that is best left unmentioned). We will inhale the sweet scent of our newborn and we will revel in just how blessed we are.
Then we will collapse in a sleep deprived heap.
The thing about the second child is that D and I have the benefit – and curse – of hindsight. We know what we are in for. We know we won’t sleep for months. We know my body will hurt and that my boobs will be sore. We know my once flat stomach will resemble a deflated balloon. We know we will snap at each other when we are tired and cranky. We know the baby will cry and cry, often for no reason.
On the plus side, we also know that the agonising back/hip pain I have endured for roughly 5 months may soon be at an end. This means I can bid farewell to my weekly osteopath visits, which help tremendously, but for the fact that I am surrounded by magazines such as the one below, which made me want to vomit in envy. At my last visit I happened to spy this back-issue of Marie Claire, with Megan Gale’s glorious, glowing, naked and clearly pregnant body beaming back at me. How lovely! I thought.
Or did I?
Here I was at the osteopath on a freezing, wet Friday night, where I would be prodded and poked in an attempt to suppress my pelvic instability (in a show of fantastic teamwork, my pelvis and my emotions have now joined forces and decided to be unstable together) while Megan glowed radiantly at me from a glossy magazine. She was happy and exuberant; I was tired and cranky. She was all bump and no excess fat, whereas I was asked by my pharmacist if I was taking any regular medication like the pill.
And not only did I get to read about the clear lack of pregnancy symptoms Ms Gale is experiencing that is so unlike my own experience, I also got to read about how blissfully in love she and her partner are. Well isn’t that great, I thought. Then I very quickly thought how I would answer the question that had been posed to Miss Megan by the good people at Marie Claire about my relationship:
Sarah, you’ve been with your husband for nine years now. How do the two of you keep the spark alive?
Oh if i had a dollar for every time someone asked me that, I’d have, well, a dollar. My husband just adores me – I mean how could he resist me, what with my rapid weight gain and ongoing chest infection that I contracted from my cootie carrying child? Seriously though, it’s not hard to keep the spark alive. Just last night when I was in the throes of one of my regular night time coughing fits, my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear “Are you actually bringing any phlegm up?” Oh – didn’t I just melt! He is such a sweetheart. And while it’s true that we usually collapse into bed without so much as a passing glance at one another as our heads plummet towards our pillows, I know that secretly my husband just wants me. So naturally, I heave my bloated torso towards him and whisper sweet nothings in his ear, like “If you snore tonight, you can sleep with the dog” or “I think my sciatica is playing up again.” It’s just bliss, it really is.
The thing about Baby#2 is that the sheer optimism and self-delusion that was present with Baby#1 is gone. I remember feeling the way Megan described in her interview – excited, joyful, looking forward to relishing the challenges of parenting my way. I also remember my husband and I saying such ridiculous things like The baby will fit in with our lives, not the other way around! and Don’t they just sleep most of the time? I can write my memoirs from coffee shops all over Melbourne while baby sleeps in the pram!
This time around, in addition to not being so incredibly stupid, we are also experiencing less of the excitement from outsiders that was present when we were expecting J. It is clear that Baby #2 gets nowhere near the fanfare of Baby#1. This is mainly because onlookers can coo with delight when you are pregnant with your first, all the while thinking those suckers have no idea what they are in for. By the time Baby #2 comes around, people realise that you know the score – you know you’re in for months of newborn hell. But don’t expect any sympathy from them – you are the idiot who got yourself into this mess in the first place.
So with that in mind, D and I are entering parenthood for the second time (okay, third time – sorry, Clancy) with our eyes wide open. And we are reminding ourselves of the following:
1. Birth is just something that happens
Baby J was born into the world after a 40+ hour labour that was excruciating until I finally decided on day two to JUST GET THE FUCKING EPIDURAL. Of course that helped the pain, but it then caused me uncontrollable tremors, itchiness and vomiting. Delightful! There was no scented candles, no soothing rainforest music, and certainly no blissful moment of feeling at one with my body. There was instead confusion, pain, trauma and ultimately a very sick little man who was whisked away from us and taken to the special care nursery, where he stayed for the next 11 days.
This time, Baby #2 is entering the world via the sunroof (i.e. caesarian) and I couldn’t be happier. We will be in a room surrounded by medical professionals whom we trust to give our baby the safest possible entry into the world. And although my physical recovery may take longer than it did with Baby#1, I feel a sense of reassurance that my mental well-being will be less scarred the second time around.
Today, I told my vagina the good news about the fact that she would get to avoid childbirth, and to be frank, I’ve never seen her so happy (actually, thanks to my enormous bump, I cannot see her and have not seen her in months. She certainly sounds happy though; she has been humming It’s a lovely day today by Irving Berlin all bloody morning).
2. Sleep is for the weak
Actually, sleep is for the lucky, and is something we just learned to go without. Baby J catnapped for 5 long months, only sleeping in my arms, in his dad’s arms, or in the blessed Ergo baby carrier which I wore until my torso ached and my posture resembled that of an 80-year-old man. On the advice of some friends who had experienced a similar lack of slumber, we eventually took J to what is colloquially known as sleep school. And before you get all high and mighty, no, he wasn’t forced to cry for hours on end while an angry nurse stood by with a stopwatch. Instead, over the course of four days, J learned to get himself to sleep. He would rub a sleep toy against his face, or he would flop himself onto his tummy to get into a comfier position – things he couldn’t do when he was swaddled, as we had been doing. And we learned that we didn’t have to run into him every time he cried, and that sometimes if he was just grizzling, he would eventually get himself back to sleep.
In addition, sleep school gave me a relaxing massage, a couple of nights of solid sleep, and three glorious meals a day, none of which I needed to prepare nor clean up after.
What did we learn from this experience? TO NOT WAIT FIVE BLOODY MONTHS BEFORE SEEKING HELP! J became a much better sleeper after our little vacation, but he still has his moments. Moments, I can deal with. Months of constantly holding a child in my arms, including while trying to wriggle my jeans off to pee, I cannot. And because of our experience with J, I won’t have to.
3. I will get my body back
Far from being a well-toned exercise goddess, I am someone who generally has pride in how she looks (except when I am in the third trimester of pregnancy and/or sick. I am both of these today so if you pop in to see me at home, you will witness my limp hair, blemished skin and a stained grey hoodie. I have made peace with it; you should do the same). A woman’s body post-baby is…well…different to how it was before the baby got in there. Exercise will help weight loss, as will eating well, but let’s face it, who has time for either of those things when trying to deal with a newborn? I expect to be inhaling handfuls of Nutri Grain as sustenance and that the extent of my exercise will be lumbering around Coles in a sleep-deprived fog. I’m okay with this, because I know it won’t always be this way.
When J was about 8 weeks old, I started going to the gym a couple of times a week. My gym had a creche (yippee!) so J would hang out in there for a couple of hours while I did a class, went for a run, had an uninterrupted shower (bliss) and even ate a sandwich at the gym cafe. And after doing this for a few months, I not only fit into my clothes again, but I had a little routine that made the long days of caring for a baby seem a little easier.
So I will get my body back. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
4. Everyone is an expert
With J I received negative comments on the fact that he was predominantly formula fed, that he went to child care one day a week from when he was 9 weeks old, and because he wasn’t wearing a hat (thank you, old biddy in the park). Because I was so new to the mothering job, I took a lot of these criticisms to heart. Was I a bad mother for the apparently selfish choice I had made to let my boobs become my own again? Was my son failing to bond with me during the 8 hours a week that he was at child care, which was the only way I could get a rest? And was he about to enter the throes of respiratory failure because I had taken off his beanie so he could enjoy some sun while we sat at the park?
No, no and no.
This time around, I have no tolerance for unsolicited advice. Quite frankly, if you have enough time to pass on judgment which is thinly veiled as being “helpful”, then I envy you. I am also reminded of a less than wholesome saying that I learned from my time growing up in the Redlands: An opinion is like a clitoris. Every c*#t’s got one.
5. The house will look like shit for at least five more years
Before I commenced maternity leave, I worked full-time, as does my husband. The time we are in our home, with J, is essentially confined to afternoons, evenings and weekends. And because I can think of a litany of things I’d rather do than scrub a bathroom, we have a cleaner come to our house once a fortnight. I love him.
And yet despite our combined significant absence from the house, somehow, we are still surrounded by mess.
I am almost at the point of being okay with this. I know that the Matchbox cars that cover the floors of my home are there because my little man (and my big man, usually) was playing happily with them. I know that there are crumbs all over my loungeroom rug because my son’s obsession with eating toast knows no bounds. And I know that the never-ending laundry pile is just going to get bigger when there are outfits of Baby #2 to throw in the wash as well.
But unlike with J, this time when Baby#2 naps (and Baby#2 WILL NAP), instead of wiping down surfaces and tidying up toys, I am going to nap as well. My husband has never said You’re a much nicer person to be around when the floors are mopped but he has definitely said I am cranky when I am tired. Anything I can do to reduce that tiredness – including foregoing cleaning – is definitely something worth pursuing.
So, as today is one of my last days of freedom pre-newborn, I am now going to let the fur child inside, sit in front of the television, and watch Law &Order SVU (fortunately, my ability to ogle Detective Stabler is unaffected by pregnancy – yet another blessing for which I am thankful). It is quite likely that the next time I post Baby#2 may have arrived! So please forgive me in advance if this is the last blog entry that makes sense for a few months. I am not expecting to be able to string a coherent sentence together for some time.