(Disclaimer: long story about my early days as a mom with a toddler and an infant.)
On Monday night I watched a bunch of syndicated Big Bang Theory episodes. As always, they were funny and entertaining, but one in particular kind of threw me for a loop. It somehow sparked a weird, long, complicated memory of my early mom days from 12 years ago.
I sat in my bed immediately after that episode finished, and typed out the convoluted mess that my subconscious dredged up into my blog.
You’re welcome. 😊
I hereby caution you: the following post is lengthy, ugly, painful, and maybe just a little bit insightful. If you are in a delicate state of mental health at the moment maybe skip over this one.
You have been warned.❗
After I typed it out, I realized something: watching tv is hazardous to my mental health.
Either that, or it’s therapeutic.
Yeah, let’s go with the second one. Catharsis, if you will.
So the episode that sent me down memory lane was where Penny asked Leonard to meet a psychiatrist, Dr. Gallo, under fake circumstances so she can pitch to her some pharmaceutical pills for a sale. (Season 9 episode 12)
Leonard hesitated but eventually agreed after the rest of the gang pressured him to do so.
When he met the shrink, he ended up liking her. They talked at length about his mom, a renowned neuroscientist and psychiatrist. Dr. Gallo mentioned she does not approve of his mom’s approach to psychology, and Leonard started talking to her about some of his childhood experiences.
One thing he said in particular rattled my brain a bit.
He mentioned that throughout childhood, his family didn’t celebrate his birthday since his mom considered the birth of her child her accomplishment. “To this day, I send her a card with a little money in it on my birthday,” Leonard tells Dr. Gallo. They turned it into humor, because this is a sitcom and meant to be funny, but I found that line to be tugging at me a little bit.
It’s sad, and funny, and weird, and…stings a little.
Maybe it’s because today was my daughter’s birthday. Maybe it’s because I understand the implication about the birth being an accomplishment even though obviously, most/none of us agree with the mentality of Leonard’s mom about not celebrating a child’s birthday.
This is where I started to think about the birth of my second child. The current birthday child.
So much had happened, and maybe now is exactly the right time to process everything. On my daughter’s 12th birthday.
I’m going to elaborate here but bear with me, it may not make a lot of sense (not much I say does, usually). I did write and rewrite this thing a few times, agonizing over tone and accuracy. (Because I am me and this is what I do with words.) 🙄
I was trying to recall all the details of the day my second child was born. It’s not that I don’t recall things; of course I remember the day she was born. But there was a lot going on at the time that had me completely discombobulated. Upset. Thrown for a loop.
Everything seemed to be crashing down on me.
First, her birth was a planned c-section, decided by my OBGYN who claimed that because the first kid got stuck in my pelvis two years prior and needed to be cut out, it was likely the second one would be in the same predicament. (She ended up being much smaller than the boy was which made the section somewhat irrelevant after she was born.)
Second, we were renovating the basement.
The timing was brutal – the two men, from our neighbourhood, who had agreed to do the work for us during their
unemployment in-between-jobs situation, suddenly gained full-time employment. They offered to continue to come by on weekends to finish our basement and front steps.
It was a disaster, not because they didn’t do a good job, but because obviously it took much, much longer. They could only work occasional evenings and a few hours on the weekends.
I was 8 months pregnant when this happened, with a potty-training 2 and a half year old. Our tiny, old-fashioned, cramped main floor was in even worse condition than before we started renovating. The entire contents of the basement were in my living room, kitchen and the two small bedrooms (we live in a bungalow), including a single bed, extra bookshelves, his aviation material which included many books and binders (he’s a pilot) and all his
crap childhood stuff which he inherited from the sale of his parents’ house and was still in bins and boxes (which he couldn’t part with, and still hasn’t 12 years later…but I’ll rant about that another time).
The point is, there was barely any floor space to walk on, or space for the toddler to play. And I was about to have a newborn in the house.
There was only one bedroom for the kids which they had to share, next to ours and immediately off the kitchen. Like directly next to the kitchen – no hallway to separate the room from the appliances.
Given the renos, I couldn’t really get anything ready in their bedroom either. Definitely not a second crib. There was no room for a second crib. (She had a bassinet to start with which was placed next to my side of the bed.)
Friends of mine were busy preparing nurseries with colour coordinated decor, and comfy nursing chairs, and I tripped over crap and clutter all day.
On top of it all, he decided to start a new job right around the same time.
The new job was good news, don’t get me wrong, but the timing…
It was an awful time. Writing about this hopefully lets me finally get past it by processing the events and emptying the negativity out into these pages. (Sorry. You don’t have to read on if you don’t want to.)
The day my c-section arrived, on October 15 in 2007, I was pissed off at everyone, but especially my partner. I didn’t want help from anyone, I didn’t want anyone to touch me, I didn’t want physical, tangible things disguised as gifts to enter the house, and I especially didn’t want more stuffed animals. (Of course we got a lot more stuffed toys. Something about babies needing stuffies.)
The only thing I wanted was peace, quiet, solitude and empty space. (I didn’t get any of that.)
I was a hormonal mess and I needed someone to blame.
In my messed-up mind at the time, it was his fault that he didn’t organize more people to finish the renovations on time when the other two started working their new jobs. (Didn’t he want the renos done by the time the baby came?)
It was his fault to even allow the renos while I was pregnant instead of before, well before the first kid came along but especially before the second one. (Didn’t he listen to me when I begged him for years beforehand?)
Couldn’t he start paternity leave earlier by starting his new job a month later so he could be around and help get the renos done before the baby arrived? (The new job was very time consuming to prep for; he had to develop post-secondary lectures from scratch to teach in classrooms.)
Why didn’t he take a longer paternity leave like he did with his son after the girl was born? (New job thing…I both understood and didn’t understand why he went back to work two weeks later. I just kept thinking, wasn’t I more important here given the circumstances, especially because of the reno delay?)
It was like my immediate needs were never met (even though looking back, I see that he did the best he could with what we had at the time).
In my view, moms with newborns are supposed to be supported – he thought he was doing everything to support me (and he was on some level, I see this better now, but I didn’t/couldn’t see it then). What I saw instead was the lack of adequate living space, and a lack of individual sleeping space for the baby.
I saw his failure to look after me until I was fully healed because of all the other obligations like work and the reno delay. (He did look after me when he was home, but that wasn’t often, or long…and by then he usually had a kid on him.)
He was on auto pilot, reacting to fires instead of preventing them from happening. He did all this while working full time on a new job.
I knew he thought of me as capable. Theoretically, I am. I’m a pragmatic, efficient person who can manage and control what needs to be done most of the time.
Except, at that time, I was nursing an infant for 22 hours a day. And I’m not even exaggerating.
The clutter never bothered him to the degree it bothered me (and still doesn’t). He can ignore it and do his thing beside it, on top of it. I can’t. He’s got much better focus and determination to complete things than I do under less than desirable conditions…and I know this. But I can’t help myself.
It was a mess; the house, the relationship, everything.
The birth seemed, at the time, an inconvenience. I felt detached, mostly, from everything that was going on with me. No one made me feel special because everyone either had to focus on other things, or still saw me as the pragmatic efficient adult I was pre-babies. (One exception was my mom who helped me so much, with the toddler, with food, but there was only so much she could do, herself…)
The day of the operation I knew he was stressed and exhausted. The nurse made some off-hand comment about ‘opening the zipper’ (from the previous c-section) which I found rude and unprofessional (it wasn’t my plan to have a section). The doctors and attendees for the operation were professional and kind but essentially strangers poking at my private parts (just another day in the OR)…
I didn’t feel happy, or excited. I felt nothing other than wanting to just get the birth over with so I could go home and clean/purge/organize the stupid house. How tragic is that?
The timing, the fact that I couldn’t go home to a calm and orderly house and bond with my new baby really bothered me. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
On top of it I felt agitated, in pain, ugly, fat, bloated…I now had more scar tissue in my lower abdomen.
The three days in the hospital didn’t exactly help me stay calm either. My thoughts kept returning to him: Was he supervising the men who were supposed to be renovating the house and kept thing moving forward? Was he keeping the house clean enough so I can bring a newborn home without losing my mind?
Did he change the sheets on our bed, or least make the bed? (He did do that but boy, he did it like a bachelor would…do you understand what I mean? I had to do it over when I got home.)
Obviously, when the baby arrived, it was love at first sight, for both of us. We now had one of each, a boy and a girl. She was tiny, completely different from the blubbery boy child we had two-and-a-half years earlier. She came and made us what we are today: the so-called millionaire’s family. Pff…as if. 😜
(It’s an expression when you have a boy and a girl.)
But those weeks leading up to the birth, and the years after, were hard. So hard. To this day I have moments when I’m thinking: if only…
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn’t it.
While typing this out I’m thinking how ungrateful I sound. Many women had it, have it, so much worse than me. My own mom went through all kinds of drama with her three babies…but I still was so hung up on all the immediate issues, which just kept accumulating on top of one other, overwhelming me to the point of anxiety and fatigue.
Maybe that’s where the obsessive compulsive behaviour comes from. All the unresolved issues I couldn’t tackle and solve…
I never did get postpartum depression like I thought I would; I got rage instead (and I was well into middle age by then when rage, as many of us know, becomes a side effect…😂).
And I had anger outbursts. Misplaced, ugly anger geared at people who did their best but couldn’t see, wouldn’t hear, my point of view.
In reality, I had nothing to complain about. I was given the opportunity to have two healthy babies in a safe and hygienic environment with a team of doctors and family to care for me, for us. I don’t take this for granted, as I suffered several miscarriages prior to the first baby…I didn’t know if I could carry a child to to term at the time. This isn’t lost on me.
Still, at the time, I was not normal, what with pregnancy and birth induced brain damage and all that…
I should have been (and am now) thankful that I had a partner with a job and benefits, a house to live in (never mind the state it was in), and my health. My babies were healthy too.
Of course I was grateful, thankful for all that. But I was blinded by the external circumstances and it took so much willpower to overcome these struggles, it left me depleted. I was already depleted from lack of sleep…
I lost myself. I didn’t know who I was. I knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be, but I couldn’t do or be any of it in that house under those circumstances.
Then the new baby sucked me dry for 18 months. There was constant, endless nursing. She slept in the bassinet for six weeks and then gave me a heart attack when she tried to roll out of it. I mean, she was six weeks old, they’re not supposed to be able to lift themselves up that way at that age…we had to put a crib into our room since there was no space in her brother’s room. Not until we changed the furniture around after the stupid renovations were completed…
There was no space in our bedroom either, but we had to make it work because this baby was a terrible sleeper. People said to wean her, but they didn’t realize that when she nursed she didn’t scream… 😳
She didn’t sleep through the night until she was 4 and a half years old. Even after I got her out of our room and into her brother’s room, she came like clockwork every night at midnight and again at 3 am. Let that sink in…
All this is now completely irrelevant. Or it should be. Perhaps I hung on to some of that chaos for all the wrong reasons, but I think given the monumental changes that occur when you go from couple of adults to a family of four, no matter what the circumstances, it takes a lot of time and energy to maintain some sort of functioning relationship.
You find out quickly after children enter your household that time and energy are maxed out by all the beyond-your-control activity around you…
The next five years or so were a complete blur. And another renovation was looming (we should have just moved).
While thinking back to that horrible time around the pre- and after birth of my second child, and the amount of effort it took to make a family home with all these limitations, I now try to focus on the kids themselves. They didn’t know different, despite my angry outbursts about all the crap and clutter around me. To them, this was home. Their home.
So when their birthdays arrive, I want to focus on making them feel special. It didn’t mean expensive birthday parties every time (although sometimes, they did get those), but it meant the little things, the details.
I would get balloons and tie them to their chair at the breakfast table. Bake, or sometimes buy, the type of cake they liked best (for her it’s always with strawberries). Presents and cards laid out in heaps around their spot. Hugs and kisses all day long (more than usual)…That sort of thing.
Today was my youngest child’s 12 birthday. Her last year as a tween child before turning into a teenager. And I got her two balloons, and a strawberry shortcake, fresh strawberries and a heap of presents.
I look back and think, ok, fine, I survived all of those first world problems. I’m better off today. The house was renovated again later, on the main floor as well, but the struggles remain (although to a lesser extent – kids grow out of toys and I purge, constantly).
What’s important here is that we celebrated a birthday today. I am the mom of a 12 year old girl and I am happy to celebrate her life, her arrival into our family. I don’t need her to make me a card for my accomplishment of giving birth to her or be her mom…
Never mind my woulda, coulda, shoulda…
But I ask myself occasionally: Was it worth it, the pain and chaos?
The short answer is yes. Definitely yes.
The long answer is…much more complicated. But I’ll save that for another day.