Who are these women who can devote their lives to bringing up their children without a shadow of regret for the life they left behind? I fear they are distant relations of the women that somehow have the ability to pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and become Trailing Spouses without a single doubt that it might be the kiss of death on personal gratification for the duration.
It’s safe to say I do not fall into either of these categories. I reckon I might feasibly have one more year in me before I go completely nuts from either Trailing or Full Time Mothering and it would be unfair not to admit that I have spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about how to escape from either. Or both. I have come to the conclusion that running away might be the only answer. As long as I’m back in time for tea, bath and bed because my husband is in a meeting and can’t leave early tonight.
Before I had my son I thought I would be a stay at home mum until the youngest was at least five. Yes, the youngest, meaning more than one child. Due to exhaustion and old age the number of children we would ideally like has dropped from more than one to just the one, thank you very much. One is plenty. So with that in mind, I thought I would relish spending my days playing with my little angel, taking him to coffee mornings and swimming and baby yoga and maybe even just gazing at him for quite a lot of the time. Instead I spent the first few months thinking I had made the most terrible mistake and subsequently about another six (or is that 16?) trying to figure out how to accept being a mother instead of fighting it all the time. I remember only two things about the first three months of my son’s life: the first is my husband finding me in the nursery when he got home from work, having not left it the whole day, with sick down my bra and tears streaming down my face, claiming that I couldn’t do this anymore (quote “I feel like a friggin’ cow, being milked all day long with no form of adult contact”). The second is the time when I made him pull over at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and threatened to leave him and the baby because he mentioned that we might want to rethink having any more children.
Now in my defence, three things may have exacerbated my unhappiness. Firstly it was really, really hot when my son was born. I couldn’t leave the house for the first month unless it was in a car and I couldn’t drive after my c-section. My first outing after 2 weeks at home was hobbling up and down the road at 10pm at night, sweating and panting and crying and wishing myself anywhere but here.
The second big downer was the lack of support. There are no NHS midwives in Dubai. Which means no home visits, no checks. You are sent home with the baby and that’s IT. Trouble breastfeeding? Google it. Not sure how you bath the baby? Use wet wipes. Baby won’t sleep? Neither will you. There are no family members just down the road who are happy to come and rescue you when you reach the end of your rope. No-one to say “why don’t me and your dad come over for the day and let you get some rest?” For the first six weeks of my son’s life, it was just me and my husband, walking around like zombified idiots hoping we didn’t cock up too much because it’s only 3am in the UK and we can’t call anyone to ask if it’s ok that the baby is hiccuping/snoring/sleeping without a blanket on (delete as appropriate).
The third and final straw was that we had been due to move into our newly finished house when I was four months pregnant….and when our son was 9 weeks old and we were on the verge of being made homeless (we literally had 24 hours left in the house before the lease ran out) we finally got the keys. Moving house in the boiling heat with a new baby and no family support around…hardly conducive to having a fluffy, shiny, rose tinted spectacled new baby experience. Particularly if you are a ‘glass half empty’ kind of a gal full of raging hormones and an average sleep time of 3 hours per night.
As we settled into our new home and my son got older the full realisation of what motherhood was all about began to sink in. And I must admit I didn’t like it much more than I had at the beginning. I love my son. I would do anything, anything in the world for him. I think he is the most amazing individual and sometimes I just sit looking at him and can’t believe we got it so right. But OMG I am terrible at full time mothering. If he’s with me 24/7 for longer than a 3-day stretch I start to come out in a rash. It exhausts me and I end up resenting him, my husband, other smug full time mums, people who are thinner/younger/prettier than me, anyone who’s ever had a job…pretty much everyone, in fact, who isn’t me or directly looking at me telling me how sorry they are.
It’s taken me a long time to admit to the fact that full time mothering is not for me, and longer still to accept it. Fortunately a good friend of mine shared her secret over a few glasses of wine last summer. She is allergic to full time mothering as well, so her kids are in nursery. This does not sound like much on paper. But it was a revelation at the time, because a) someone else admitted they felt the same way as me, b) they had found a way to manage it and c) they weren’t ashamed to say so. Co-incidentally she is an expat too. It makes me wonder just how much of a negative effect the lack of immediate family support can have on you if you were pre-dispositioned not to cope particularly well in the first place. Whatever the reasons, the fact is I had been battling for so long with these demons that it was an enormous relief to discover there is no shame in admitting you need a break.
Still, it took me another six months to stop listening to the guilt-voices in my head. And despite the fact that he loves nursery, and has gained so much confidence from going, sometimes they are still there. Sometimes, the guilt of not wanting to be with your child all day every day when you don’t have the excuse of going to work is overwhelming. Until I got over myself, I felt it was like admitting that you don’t love your kid, which isn’t true. Or that you are a bad parent, which also isn’t true. Or worst of all, suggests you’d rather be in an office, which is definitely, positively not the case either.
Admittedly, after a few months of enjoying myself, I think I would like to do something more than just have ‘downtime’. The problem is this: every time I think about going back to work, I start to think about all the times I won’t be there for my son. I think about how much I enjoy the parts of my life that are interesting and fun and fulfilling, and how nursery has changed everything, made me more relaxed and allowed me to recharge my batteries three mornings a week to be a better mum the rest of the time. I think of all the great things I get to do with him, precisely because I have the time. The moments we share and the battles we fight and the giggles and tears and the magic of it all. Then I mentally fill in the week with somewhere between 20 and 40 hours of work and suddenly that doesn’t seem like such a good idea either. I can’t bear the thought of losing all that time just yet, the time I have for me and the time I have for my son. And yet, I feel the need to do something with my life. At the moment ‘something’ is this blog but it’s not exactly making me big bucks, nor is it the most socially interactive of career choices. Granted, I never realised until I started writing how much sh*t fills my head on a daily basis, and this is certainly a great forum for getting it out, but it’s not a job (I really must keep reminding myself of that). On the other hand, is it enough for now, just to be doing something that I enjoy that means I don’t have to compromise on the rest?
Basically, I’m really bloody confused. ‘Having it all’ is a concept I can’t even begin to contemplate. ‘Having a clue’ would be a good start. Because if I don’t want to be a full time mum, I don’t want to go back to full time work, I don’t want to have another baby and I don’t want to sit around doing nothing, then I ask you, WHAT THE HELL DO I WANT TO DO?!