I’m writing this (reluctantly) on one of my many walks with Baby Lemons*. It’s on those walks when I seem to breathe more easily, walk taller and think clearer. Baby Lemons is – of course – asleep and although my knees are loose today, I keep walking to extend the precious period of “me” time; a time without silly face pulling and voice contortions, game playing and nursery rhyme singing.
I’m writing it reluctantly because I treasure this time to myself, and feel guilty in equal measures for how much I look forward to it every day. It’s an admission to myself and to the world that makes my insides squirm with guilt and a jingle of “I’m a bad mother” play inside of my head on repeat.
I’m an introvert. Commonly introverts are understood as quiet, shy, observing people versus the extroverts’ loud, outgoing, attention-seeking traits. But that’s not the kind of introvert I mean. I’m going with Jung’s original definition of the term to describe – and I’m simplifying – if energy is focused (and restored) through the outer or the inner world, e.g. by socialising with others as opposed to some serious ‘me’ time. When it comes to recharging my batteries and the choices I make as to how I’d like to spend my time, they are solitary activities or – at most – with a close friend, like the Northerner.
As a mum, I’m never alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love this little human like nothing I’ve ever known or imagined to exist. But he’s a constant companion that demands my voice, my touch, my eye contact, my attention. While some things came naturally to me – my love for him, my protectiveness of him, breastfeeding, getting up innumerous times in the middle of the night – it took me a good few months to adjust to having someone around me. All. The. Time.
I’m someone who likes to get things down, quickly and ideally while doing a plentitude of other things too. I had to learn how to slow down and focus on one thing and one thing only: Him. Yes, this was partly necessitated by my so-called baby brain: if I didn’t see one task through from beginning to end, it would simply be forgotten about. Mostly, however, it was and has been down to Baby Lemons setting the pace.
It also took me a good while to learn to externalising my every thought and observation in order to explain the world, our surroundings and my behaviour to him. While crucial for Baby Lemons’ development, our relationship to each other and his to the world, it was almost painful and certainly exhausting for me to narrate my every step to him and fill the silence that I had previously treasured with – of all things – my voice. That said, it did have a positive side effect for me as well: by verbalising what I see and do, I acknowledge its existence and become more mindful. Not bad, eh?
Although you’re never really alone, becoming a new mum can be lonely business. The Northerner and I had only just moved to a new area shortly before I became pregnant and both our families live far away. While the Northerner’s friends have had children of their own (and I love them all and they’ve been a great support), mine were both geographically and in terms of their life chapter distant.
Aside from an anaemic support network, there are certain things in your new day-to-day life that only those can understand that are currently going through the same. Cue: other new mums.
From the comfort of my couch, I set the scene: I signed up to an app called Mush, which is dedicated to making networking for new mums much much easier (good job, guys!), and I joined a Facebook group for – let’s say – alternative mums, Punky Moms UK (PMUK), through which I’ve found a-many kindred spirit. Beyond the digital realm, I’d try and push out of my comfort zone and connect with others or go to a baby group with such go-getter(a-new-friend) enthusiasm that I’d end up being disappointed that the group would end and mothers disperse to wherever they’d come from. Don’t they know that I left the comfort of my ‘me’ zone to become their friend?! How DARE they?! I kid, of course. Marked by sleep deprivation, “This too shall pass” resignation and – increasingly – teeth marks, we are all but the same: there are the mums that stare into the distance, absent-mindedly keeping her child from putting the neighbour’s foot in their mouth; the mum that couldn’t believe her luck to be speaking with other adults and forgot to flip the switch from ‘broadcast’ back to ‘conversation; the mum whose smile in her heavily made-up face framed by her perfectly coiffured hair quivers ever so slightly, betraying her stoic claim to be “absolutely fine!”. At some stage of our metamorphosis to parent we’ve been there and done. And why should we make new friends just like that if the only thing we’ve got in common is having successfully pushed a human being out of our vagine (or became parents in any other way)?!
More often than not, however, I’d leave baby groups with my emotional and mental batteries depleted. The sheer size of the groups with all new faces heightened my social anxiety to an above-manageable level. Why do we keep going? For the babe, of course. Baby Lemons has shown me on many occasions that he enjoys the company of other babies (and thankfully, they enjoy his) and he thrives in those groups. I do it for him.
The thing about chronic pain and anxiety
And then there are the demons lurking in the shadows. For people struggling with chronic pain, anxiety is a frequent and truly annoying companion – haven’t we got enough to deal with? I fear I’m stating the obvious when I say that anxiety really doesn’t lend itself well to mingling with new friends. They simply don’t know, cannot know why it can be such a big deal for you to commit to playdates and show up to baby groups. It is both a mental struggle to overcome limiting beliefs as well as physical struggle with pain and fatigue. And it’s bloody exhausting.
A rare flower among the weeds
Back when Baby Lemons was still just ‘the Bump’, the Northerner and I prepared for the remaining months of the pregnancy, the birth and whatever was to come after with an antenatal course. The pregnancy had brought with it a whole lot of anxiety and the mere thought of socialising with new people every week until the birth brought on a fair bit of dread. Boy, was I wrong.
By sheer luck, the group was made up of couples from all walks of life that somehow got along really, really well. Ten months after we first met, I count them as friends (if they like it or not). There’s close-to-no anxiety when we’re heading out for playdates or know that we’ll see their friendly faces at a baby group. What’s more: the babies seem to really like each other too. What are the chances?!
By welcoming life and going through similar (though certainly not the same) experiences around the same time, we’ve quickly and organically become companions, confidants and consociates to each other like I’ve never before experienced in my life. The way we choose to talk and listen to each other exudes kindness, respect and empathy, even when it’s just about the best value nappies or nipple cream. There’s incomparable warmth and strength in how we celebrate each other and our offsprings’ development. If this is what the makers of WhatsApp had in mind, I applaud them.
I’ll be heading back to work in a few weeks and we’ll be seeing much less of each other. I’m the first one in the group to return to work, but as soon as the year is up, full-time or part-time work will become the norm for the majority of the group. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep this rare flowers of ours alive and nurture it for years to come. It’d be a crime not to.
*Yup, pushing the pram with one hand, writing with the other. Evernote is great. Snooze Shade has been a godsend (aka my mum friend, Helena) as it provides Baby Lemons with a bit of privacy and darkness to help him go to sleep when he’s sleepy. It has a little zippable window in the front, so I can check on him when he’s asleep or – when we use it as a sunshade – chat to each other. It’s the best!