One of the hardest things about becoming a stay-at-home mum is the feeling that you’ve turned invisible. Once the gifts and the cards following the birth of your baby subside, the indifference to your daily grind can be depressing.
From the moment my new-born daughter woke me, my day became a litany of bodily requirements: pee, drink, change nappy, feed, burp, feed, drink, soothe, pump breasts, change nappy, feed, burp, feed, soothe, eat, drink, soothe, then panic when I realise that I hadn’t even showered yet and it was nearly ten o’ clock.
As for healthy living? Forget it. I sucked on spoonfuls of peanut butter for breakfast straight from the jar. Ate family-sized blocks of chocolate to help stay awake. And if I was lucky enough to snatch a yoga stretch in between bouts of colic, it was to the flashing lights and tinkling melodies of her play gym rather than mantras from the Sanskrit. My biggest daily excitement was waiting for my husband to get home so I could pass our baby over and pass out for fifteen minutes. And every night meant bouts of after-midnight breastfeeding hell.
The only time I felt like an actual person – and not just a baby-burping milk bar on legs – was during our daily walks. There was nothing like a friendly wave to remind me that I was still alive. And it was rare that someone didn’t accost us on the footpath, peek into the pram, and exclaim with delight over the only thing produced by me that didn’t need an edit.
So there I was, strolling along the esplanade, steering the pram with one hand and holding a half-gulped-down churro with the other. As I pushed the pram past O’Malley’s pub, a man with broad shoulders and a black crew cut leaned over the rail like a debauched, drunk, cock-fighting spectator, shouted out “We can make it another one for ya,” and raised the foaming head on a glass of frothy beer enthusiastically in my direction.
My first reaction was to squint up at him in disbelief. I mean, really? In the sleep-deprived neurons of my brain I felt something akin to pity, and wondered if the idiot in question had any idea what state a woman’s body was in after birthing. Does incontinence turn you on? How about stitches? Or cracked and bleeding nipples?
My second reaction – which followed the first by only a nanosecond – was more visceral. How dare he disrespect me? I was a nursing mother of a newborn baby girl. His comment was sexual harassment. It demeaned me as a woman. It was lewd, and crude, and could even be seen by some as an act of verbal violence.
With a sense of outrage, I pulled the cover down over the pram and we kept briskly on our way.
One of my friends once said to me, “Having kids is like a drug. They heighten your experience of living, but destroy you in the process.” I laughed at the time. I just assumed she was joking. But now, of course, I could see that she was not.
I had no idea, when I was trying to get pregnant, that becoming a mother was one of the hardest things I would ever do. I couldn’t comprehend how my life would become consumed with rushing from one task to the next.
And that afternoon was no exception. The second we were in the door, everything was urgent. I was busting. My daughter needed changing. Not just changing, but bathing in the sink as well, since runny poo had squelched up over her nappy and trickled down her legs. She was hungry and wailing, which meant my breasts had done their let down. Milk squirted from my nipples and soaked through my dress. I was hungry and thirsty. And the washing machine was beeping because halfway through its cycle the clothes had become unbalanced and it couldn’t complete its spin.
And when I’d finally done it all, I wanted to collapse into a coma. But I didn’t have time for such luxuries as comas. I still needed to hang out the laundry, empty the nappy bin and mop the milk spots off the floor. So I headed to the fridge for the next best thing: a hit of sugar. In particular, a bar of Toblerone I’d hidden from my husband under the bag of lettuce.
My hand was on the fridge door when I caught my distorted miniature reflection on the temperature display panel. My pudgy, pasty face which still hadn’t lost its pregnancy weight. Lanky hair, long and loose because I’d had no time to style it. And my wrinkled, blue-striped cotton dress, bulging from my milk-engorged breasts.
My hand dropped from the fridge.
Now it’s true that being at home with a baby can sometimes feel deadening. Like an infusion of thick sludge seeping through your veins, your limbs, your brain. Shrinking your very life to the bodily bare essentials: food, water, toilet.
But could I really have sunk so low that there was a part of me, a hidden part of me that was bingeing on comfort food and drowning in a hellish sea of baby, baby, baby, that could possibly feel flattered by the drunken remark of a lout?
And that’s when I realised something.
Perhaps the only person disrespecting me was myself. Perhaps it was time to consider that I wasn’t just the milk-stained, messy-haired, slack-thighed domestic servant that I’d become. Perhaps it was time to stop reaching for the Toblerone and choose a healthy snack instead. Perhaps it was time to have some pride in myself and my new role as a stay-at-home mother.
Motivation can come to you from a host of different sources. Reading an inspirational book, listening to your favourite tracks, accepting encouragement from women at your mothers’ group, or just being open to what your inner voice is saying.
I realise the man was drunk. But his message was crystal clear. I’d been indulging in self-pity, and it was time to make a change. And since that day, I haven’t looked back.
I choose to eat well (at least most of the time), dress well, and try to show up to my life as a stay-at-home mother with the same courage and the drive required from any high-powered job. Because it’s about respecting yourself, and being there for your baby. With the right attitude, you can feel healthier and more positive. And when you smile at your baby and they give you that wonky, gummy grin back, there’s no pay check large enough to beat that.
Because if you can take inspiration from whatever comes your way, then it’s only going to help you face that one person in the world who truly sees you every day. Yourself.