Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The loneliness of the long distance mother with no money, honey

24 hours after my daughter was born, I was wrapped up in a powerful bubble of profound love, near speechlessness, lashings of endorphins and maybe, just maybe, quite a lot of anaesthetic sloshing around from the emergency c section.

But, ignoring the scar on my belly (easy to do when it's covered with your stomach, and you're dosed up on cocodamol) I uttered the immortal words to any visitor who would care to come and hear them: "I'd have another tomorrow."

Ah, the visitors. Did anyone tell you about the visitors? How popular you'd be? How you'd have that little bundle to yourself for only a few hours before family, friends and maybe even people you wouldn't really class as friends shimmer up to your bedside, to See The Baby. They haven't come to see you, just so you know. They've come to See The Baby.

And for two whole weeks they came. Sometimes four, five a day. And I didn't think to say no, or please could you come next week, or maybe when I've got my feeding sorted, or perhaps next month (when unbeknown to me, no one would come round). No. I was so amazed to be off work, that it didn't occur to me that maybe looking after my baby was a full time job, and I was entitled to selfishly gaze at her and drink her in with as few interruptions as possible. So, with my husband back at work, I inched my way around the house, trying to ignore the stinging in my C section scar, wrapped in a bathrobe, wondering how long I'd have to express my milk before the doorbell rang yet again with 
someone who "just wanted to drop something off" or "just pop in to See The Baby."
The good news is, there's something magical about a baby. It makes people smile, talk to you, and pass the time of day. The bad news is, they all want a piece of it. Until a few months in. 
After about 12 weeks, I started to get out and about again, and quickly discovered that I'd been forgotten by life. With my career on hold, I wondered: What had happened to people? It dawned on me - I was lonely. I had become The Woman Who Pushes The Pram Through Town. I used to envy those women, who, in my then child free world had no ties to the workplace, and a whole day to themselves. Turns out there's another side to the looking glass.
At first, I popped into work every few weeks, but of course, you're going into a place where people are busy. And although they were delighted to see me, they've also got that small thing to be getting on with called a full time job, and although you and the baby are a wonderful distraction , you're just that. They haven't got 2 hours to sit and chat despite the fact you're craving adult company, and are desperate for office gossip. I offered to take on some paid work, desperate to engage my brain and earn some money. 
I discovered the little things hurt a lot. There was no invitation to the office Christmas party, for example. Or a valued colleague's leaving do. I didn't want to ask to be invited, which surprised me. I felt embarrassed to ask. I didn't feel like me. As one friend so succinctly put it: "The feeling of being forgotten is hard. It's like the friendships don't exist unless you're right under someone's nose."  Being on unpaid leave it was also difficult to let people know I can't afford a night out. So, then you run the risk of not being invited to things. People can only ask so much. So you get lonelier. And all your friends who know you inside out, who you don't have to make an effort with are at work. At times, the hands on the clock seemed to move so slowly. But I can't be the only person in this position - can I? 
It's hard to put into words. I felt like my whole being had shifted slightly. Previously envious of stay at home mums, at one time I found myself viewing what was left of my 9 months of maternity leave with dread, not anticipation, of watching my daughter develop. I tried explaining to my husband what every day with what seemed like no goal achieved, felt like. "It's the thousand little things you don't see" I said. "It can seem relentless. I love her, I can't describe how much I love her but it's relentless. If she doesn't settle I have to be with her, I can't leave her." Eight nappies and eight feeds a day become the centre of your universe. I can't count the thousands of steps I've walked between the living room and kitchen, or put the sterilizer on. I swing from feeling wildly organised to lurching from job to job. You can't leave the baby.

But what does get left is the unswept floor, the greasy cooker, the mound of clean washing needing to be put away, the kitchen which needs painting. I've had to learn that just because I'm at home, it doesn't mean I can be a super housewife, or indeed, any kind of a housewife. All I can do is do the best I can, and that means, some days, nothing at all apart from watching my little girl grow,  and trying to door chores (badly) when she naps.

It's difficult being alone somedays, even more so when the rain is lashing at the windows, but the only advice I am give you is to cherish the moments when you get that hesitant smile or quizzical look back, the peal of laughter or the hand which grabs the toy or reaches greedily for the bottle for the first time. All the money in the world can't buy you that, or the surge of love your feel as you inspect those perfect ears and say to yourself "I grew that."

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