When our daughter first arrived the concept of ‘me’ time was frankly laughable as we moved about in a daze from each feed, poop, change, repeat to the next. I couldn’t remember my own name let alone the need for some time devoted to the vessel that was moving around caring for the baby and looked vaguely familiar, if a little squidgier, blearily eyed yet inexplicably with better hair than before.
Days when the beard and I remembered to get dressed constituted a good day and trying to do anything beyond baby duties aside from the laundry seemed impossible.
Yet in time we started to find a bit of balance, the minion could go a little longer between feeds and at some point we started introducing a bottle so the bearded one could give her the occasional bottle and I could, if not sleep for a little longer (I was after all programmed to wake at her cries), I could at least stay in bed with a pillow pressed over my head and not move for some indulgent moments.
We were lucky in that for the first five months of our daughter’s life we were both there, as I maxed out my maternity leave and remaining holiday and the beard prepared for his current role as primary child care provider. To be honest, when sharing stories with other parents, it felt like we were doing the whole parenting thing on cheat mode. It was still mentally and physically exhausting but our ability to share resources and tag team it up, meant that when one of us flagged the other one could step in.
Anyway after the initial whirlwind parenting 101 introduction to our new life had subsided somewhat it was occasionally possible to have a bit of me time. Particularly as the littley slept so much. As we were breastfeeding or pumping for a bottle my boobs were still on demand every few hours but there were pockets between boob action when I could rest up a bit.
Except I wasn’t very good at that. I expect I wasn’t the only new mum who struggles to ask for help or to admit when I’m pooped and need a break. I don’t think it’s a pride thing so much as genetic wiring that tells us we must protect and provide for our little squalling bundles above everything else.
At points I’d get mad at the beard as he managed to reach a place of equilibrium so much sooner than I did. We’d have gone out for a walk or to the shops or something and would come home, he’d announce he was going to have a break, put on his headphones and descend into a digitally remastered game of some sort or another and I’d literally be left holding the baby. I remember thinking ‘well bully for you, just being able to take a break like that’.
Bear in mind I was still sleep addled, with hormones all over the place and my internal organs trying to rearrange themselves back into their original location, I may not have been at my most reasonable. So like any rational being I’d let my irritation fester until I’d release some passive aggressive darts in the bearded one’s direction, finally snap and barricade myself in the bathroom for as long a soak as my fat unfriendly tub would allow (it’s shaped like an eight so curves in exactly where my hips wanted to go if I tried to lie down).
I’ve never been good at asking for help, it just doesn’t come naturally to me, so as I’d have one of my tantrums, the beard would get miffed and once again want to know why I didn’t just tell him I wanted a bit of P&Q (peace and quiet) time before I got to critical meltdown stage?
The problem was that I didn’t know what I needed to be able to articulate this to him. I genuinely loved spending time with the wee one, whether that was feeding, changing nappies or endless singing ‘dream a little dream’ in a wishful attempt to lull her to sleep. Apparently I wasn’t as bad as some people are but I was definitely a touch possessive. So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to look after titchy it was that I didn’t want to waste time looking after me.
Before the teeny one was born I worried that I was too selfish to be a mother but as soon as little miss turned up the ego I feared not only failed to raise it’s ugly head but I think it might have been taken out back and shot by that new part of me that the minion’s mum.
I was in full blown sacrificial mum mode, probably for the first three months. And then my vagina trainer (might not have been her official title, but sums it up pretty well) told me I could start running again. I had been fantasizing about running for about 6 months at this point.
The last three months of pregnancy I could barely waddle and the one time I did run (sprinting for the bus) nearly ended up in me giving birth on public transport. Then the three months after babe arrived I was under strict instructions not to run, which of course made me want to do it all the more. I do remember walking with the pram at one point, fantasising about running and then questioning whether I’d have the same desire to run again when I was actually allowed to, or if it was more fun to wallow in the idea of something that I knew to be impossible.
Anyway, I got the all clear and that same day I handed off our petite pomme-de-terre to her daddy, wriggled into my joggers, put on the runners and took myself outside.
I should point out I’m probably not your traditional notion of a runner, I don’t look like one and I don’t run particularly quickly, but what I’ve always loved about running is that it’s not about anyone else. I like going at my own pace, however fast or not that might be, concentrating on my breathing, listening to some tunes and letting all my cares and worries gradually slip away. My first run I was probably only gone for about 15 minutes and I was only moving marginally faster than my normal walking pace, but the difference it made was phenomenal.
I had done something just for me, I hadn’t thought about the little one constantly and I hadn’t even felt bad about that. I guess it was the shock to the system needed to wake up my ego (which turned out not to have been fatally wounded but merely lying in a coma for some time) and remember that I was ‘me’ worthy of a bit of occasional self-indulgence.
I could even justify the whole process as being good for the babe as I realised I could look after her better if I took a little time every now and again to look after me. Upping the exercise has obvious health (mental and physical) benefits that could be invested into a more energised mother/daughter relationship. I got better at that point at letting the beard take baby duty as I enjoyed the blissful combo of book and bath or having a lie in or whatever mini luxury I chose to afford myself.
Contrary to the dictates of society, selfishness, so long as it’s not taken to extremes, isn’t actually a bad thing. The selfishness in myself I’d feared would make me a bad mother is actually an essential component of making ‘me’ the best mum I can be.