Out of office

There is nothing like that moment you turn on those triple Os. Out. Of. Office.

20 days annual leave a year and little feels more precious when you’re in the hamster wheel of work. For that sweet day, week, fortnight ahead, with one click the daily grind is waved goodbye. “I’m out of the office and really don’t give a &#@% until I return.”

I’ve pondered greatly on the topic of motherhood as work as I enter the second half of maternity leave. As the ‘of course you’re off work’ bubble begins to burst and the ifs, buts and whens of returning to office life set in.

Without doubt, for now, motherhood is my occupation. My daughter is my best work and most stretching role. She’s my biggest achievement and greatest challenge. Nothing has been more rewarding and nothing has called on me to give more.

There are no days off, no sick days, no public holidays. No new offices or different teams. Few promotions and a different kind of pay. No out of office.

Last week my inbox filled with messages from Mummy friends “needing a day off Mummying” or “contemplating a Mummy strike” as nights of lost sleep clocked up and minutes of cranky babies merged into hours.

Each comment followed with a large helping of guilt, regret and the realisation that tomorrow they’d wish they’d never uttered the words.

But as mums it’s ok to feel like you can’t for that moment, hour, day or even week. It’s when we as a community of mothers must pull together more and our partners must lean in. It’s when we must push aside the feelings of FOMO and accept any help available. When time for us, as individuals, not mothers, becomes essential because everyone needs a day off sometimes.

 

 

 

Five letter words

There is one topic which, without doubt, seems to dominate motherhood.

It isn’t the love we feel for our babies, their latest development or favourite past time. It isn’t the skills we have taught them or food they prefer. It isn’t their future or our dreams.

It’s sleep.

One five letter word which undoubtedly brings along with it another. Tired.

I have lost count of the conversations which began with ‘how was your night?’ or ‘did you get any sleep?’. The mummy messages that discuss, debate and desperately seek sleep solutions.

Before motherhood, sure I knew there’d be night feeds, early mornings and lost Zs. But until you’re in it, and unless you’re blessed with an abnormally exceptional little sleeper, no one and nothing can prepare you for months of broken nights. Not even the pregnancy insomnia which pays a visit to an extra lucky few.

Sleep becomes a goal, a milestone, a dream. A benchmark for success and a measure of failure.

A new normal sets in. Ask me a year ago how I’d feel after four hours straight sleep? I’d wince in horror. Ask me today, I could take on the world.

As mothers, and often fathers, our relationship with sleep changes. Brutally at first. Then, slowly we have to let go of our eagerness to count hours and our readiness to feel tired. We have to reassess how lack of sleep makes us feel and behave. Tired becomes a given, a baseline, its meaning diminished with the same proportion that its scale grows.

We have to silently grin and bear others telling us how tired they are after a big night or a long week. Tired? Anyone except a mother on nightshift doesn’t know the meaning of the word, right? Wrong. They too can be tired, even if their definition fits into the best night’s sleep of our mummying lives.

Now eight months in with a baby who takes us on a nightly game of sleep roulette, I’ve decided I am over hearing those words coming out my mouth. I am past saying I’m tired, the weight of that word has lifted. I’m bored of talking about sleep or lack thereof.

Perhaps it’s time to ban those five letter words.

Defining healthy selfishness

Motherhood automatically requires you to sacrifice a lot of yourself. Another cliche, but let me unravel.

First, your body. The months spent growing a baby really are a beautiful metaphor for what’s to come. Your body and life is no longer your own. And everyone has an opinion on it. Every step you take is slightly more precious with your cargo onboard. Everything you eat and drink counts not just as calories but as building blocks for a new life. All control over the shape and size of your body is relinquished – there is no diet or exercise plan for this one. There are things you can’t do, things you shouldn’t, things people will definitely critique if you do. Slowly you become more and more of a vehicle for someone else’s journey.

Choices you make are no longer for your own sake, they are for someone else’s. Someone more valuable than you could ever be.

Then this bundle arrives and suddenly the vehicle is parked on the side of the road for a while as the passenger steps out. Like chauffeuring the leading role to the red carpet of their premier, no one glances back at the car. Suddenly you are seen straight through to the far cuter morsel of life you created. You’re heavily praised but somewhat forgotten… More about this and these early days to follow in future posts…

Slowly as you edge out of the sleepless haze and begin to find a steadier path, the sacrifice changes. Minutes, inches, units are slowly regained and a new normal begins to take shape. The balance between sacrifice and self begins to right somewhere very different to the life that came before.

At nearly eight months in, the notion of defining healthy selfishness came to me this morning. I watched my daughter stare wishfully at me in the bathroom and turned applying my make-up into a game of peekaboo, thinking how I should have got my face on before she woke this morning.

The idea of realising what you can give, what you can’t, the difference and the equal importance of both.

For me, and I know so many like me, every minute my daughter spends awake – which is a lot when she defies naps like the best of them – I feel an overwhelming sense of pressure to make it the best it can be.

Tummy time and toys never seem enough when there could be giggles and games. Am I doing everything I can so she can be everything she can?

The result is, when I’m with my husband I behave like an over caffeinated drill sergeant. When I’m alone I spend every minute not spent engaging justifying my behaviour to my often oblivious and fiercely independent eight month old.

“Mummy’s just having a wee because she doesn’t wear nappies like you.”

“Mummy has to put the washing on because you and Daddy go through so many clothes.”

“Mummy needs to eat, because she has to make milk for you.”

The start of each line, makes sense. Talk to your baby¬†they¬†say. Tell her what you’re doing. But the the end, not so much. Mummy doesn’t need to defend her bladder habits, household chores or eating. Mummy isn’t asking baby to wait while she finishes her cigarette or watches yet another episode on Netflix.

So now, the filters I apply to these moments are.

Is what I’m doing important? For me?

Have I done the best I can for you today?

Am I present?

And most of all, do I want my daughter to grow up hearing her Mummy say that? Do I want to hear my daughter say that one day?

Crazy little thing called love

Nothing will ever compare to the first time you hold her. Strength, love, shock, focus. You thought you knew her in your tummy but suddenly she’s a tiny stranger and your soulmate all in one perfectly pure package.

Nothing can prepare you for the first time she gets sick. Yet somehow you’ll be braver and stronger than you ever thought possible.

You’d do anything to take her pain away, truly wishing you could feel it yourself instead.

But you’ll care more about your own health more than ever before because she needs you well. You’ll eat meat for the first time in 20 years because someone tells you it’ll help nourish her. You’ll praise your body for the miracle it created & now sustains far more than you’ll notice its flaws.

You’ll find you really don’t need sleep (or caffeine or wine or even to wee quite as often as you thought). And even when you do sleep you’ll hear her every breath. You’ll sleep through alarms but never through her calls. You’ll be so tired you can’t see straight, hold a conversation or remember the slightest thing, until she needs you and you’re suddenly bouncing from the walls. When you think you can’t, you can and you will, over and over again.

Every moment she breathes your heart keeps beating, every time she smiles it skips a beat.

You won’t have all the answers, you’ll be lucky if you have some of them. But you’ll know her and your body better than anyone else. Your instincts will be right.

You’ll learn more in minutes than you had in years. She might look like she knows nothing but she’ll teach you everything.

You’ll analyse everything she does and always wonder what you did right and wrong. You’ll feel so much guilt when you’ve never been more innocent, more committed, more determined.

You’ll suddenly be able to do everything one handed and what was the longest task will take half the time. A shower will feel like a spa break.

You’ll never have less control. But every time you feel frustration you’ll feel twice the patience.

Nothing she does will disgust or annoy you. You’ll find yourself peering into nappies and wiping sick from your sore breast without even noticing.

You’ll want her to put on weight more than you’ve ever wanted to lose it.

You’ll look back on the life you had before and realise it was empty compared to this. Things that mattered then don’t even feature now.

You’ll laugh at the ideas and knowledge you had before. You thought you had it all figured out. You knew nothing. You’ll do the things you said you never would. You’ll do things you didn’t even know were things.

You’ll understand parents in a way you never could before. Everything they did and you wondered why, you’ll do twice as much. Your parents suddenly make so much sense to you. Everything they said and you rolled your eyes, you’ll think everyday.

The world will keep on turning outside your door without you even looking out, yet you’ll long for it to be a safer place just for her. You’ll need to protect her from every possible evil, you’ll see danger you never even sensed before.

Minutes will turn into hours. Hours into days. Days into weeks. Even the hardest moments will go too fast.

When you thought you couldn’t love your partner anymore, you’ll fall in love all over again. You’ll become the strongest team you could ever imagine.

You’ll recall how you said she wouldn’t take over every conversation but you’ll have nothing else you both want to talk about.

You’ll think you knew the meaning of hard work but you hadn’t even come close. You’ll think you could never run a marathon but you’ll race one every day.

You’ll never feel joy, passion and purpose quite like it.

Your life will only truly begin when hers does.

You’ll love like you never knew was possible.