parents

"I honestly didn't think having a baby would alter my life."

Vanessa

By VANESSA WATERS

It might sound naïve but I didn’t think having a baby would alter life much at all. “Babies from Africa don’t cry” I lectured my husband with Mother Teresa patience.

“It’s because the women carry them around in a sling and the baby feels comforted being close to the mother’s heart beat.”  So there, I had parenting all worked out – a sling was my answer!

Up until the point I was pregnant I’d led a very bohemian life involving lots of travel, working early and way too late, day time swims and essentially doing what I wanted, when I wanted. It was a life I had carved out for myself, that I had worked hard for, and I loved it.

I lived by the words of Henry David Thoreau, the writer who had walked into the woods at Walden and stayed there for two years, declaring “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”

I wanted to know when my time was up that I had nurtured my passions, chased my dreams, seen the world and lived as deeply as I could. My Motherhood Plan entailed me living the same exciting life, just with a baby in a sling. It began with my birth plan comprising an epidural, labour, then donning my black knit dress and popping downstairs to the hospital café for a congratulatory skinny hot chocolate afterwards.

And so it was shocking (to no-one but me), when nothing went to plan. I gave birth at 2am and was so wiped out afterwards I was unable to stand let alone swan downstairs for a beverage. By the evening my spent body had lapsed into shock and despite my severe needle phobia I was inexplicably hooked up to a catheter and drip! I loved my baby from the very first moment, but how was I supposed to care for this tiny precious being when I was incapacitated? Ahhhh… welcome to motherhood!

It took three days before I could get out of bed. Then we returned home, my husband left for work and I was alone with a newborn for twelve grueling hours, all day, every day. Being a mother involved more hard work and loneliness, and less sleep than I had anticipated. It included thrice nightly breastfeeds with an hour of settling time required afterwards. I thought I’d be wonderful at the motherhood gig and instead I just felt tired and like I was failing.

Liz Hurley after she gave birth to her son Damian in 2002.

The bit that tripped me up were my expectations. I’d seen Liz Hurley post birth, smiling with her glossy supermodel grin several hours after the feat.

It turns out Liz’s photos were airbrushed, she had a professional make up artist and hairstylist, a nanny and ate nothing but cabbage soup for weeks, but who knew that?

The photos I’d been exposed to in magazines allowed me to fall for the myth; that just days after birth you could be out in the world with your body all back lit by the glowing sun and enjoying life with your little one.

As it happened I was so sleep deprived I struggled to walk to the letterbox. I’d planned to work with the baby lying next to me snoozing happily away in her bouncer. What I didn’t anticipate was that my baby wouldn’t sleep during the day, and I’d be required to tend to her constantly.

ADVERTISEMENT

For the first time in my adult life I was unable to write. I had nothing left inside for anything else but motherhood and that became disabling. My words were my outlet and my release; without them I became entombed by my emotions and thoughts. I needed some respite, some sense of relief.

When my daughter was four months old she refused to breastfeed. She became aware of the world and was too busy observing whatever else was in the room to eat. Determined to persevere and do The Right Thing I breastfed in the dark, with the curtains closed, away from all light and distractions. The option of sitting reading a book, conducting a conversation or watching TV was nil, and in the process I became a shut in, a self imposed hermit for the sake of my child.

I was told to join a Mother’s Group but I could not. I needed to be away from the world of mothers, to just be my old self for a while. A psychologist explained I had relinquished too much of myself and needed to work again, but how could I do that when I was existing off scraps of sleep?

Vanessa with her daughter.

It came as a shock too that my body was a looser, slightly larger version of it’s former svelte self. I’d believed the Hollywood myth; you could have it all if only you tried. Only later did I fall in love with the infamous words of Australia’s Governor General Quentin Bryce “Women CAN have it all. Just never at the same time.”

I knew I’d been blessed; giving birth to a healthy child and having the opportunity to stay at home, nurture, and watch her grow. It was what I’d hoped for, and the life I’d chosen and made.

So it was confusing when I was so rich yet missed the inconsequential trimmings of my old life; I yearned for the freedom of travel, the feeling of flight, the escape into a new world and breathing in fresh sights.

I’d watch the other mothers, so contented and capable, it seemed they were reveling in domestic life. I felt flawed and embarrassed – it felt unacceptable admitting I needed more than a gorgeous child and trips to the park.

But eventually through the fog I found the light.

The process was gradual and presented itself in moments. With time I was able to embrace my dreams, even if those dreams were fragmented and punctuated by sleepless nights.

A couple of years on, my daughter is a toddler and there is a new baby boy. I bear little resemblance to the free spirited butterfly of the past who resided in a glittery world of exciting locales and frequent flights. I’ve had to adapt, work differently and plan my days around my children’s routine. I’m not one of those mothers who was born to do this; it’s been challenging and required effort and Jesus- like sacrifice.

But I am reminded of those words by Thoreau as I look at my kids .

“I wanted to live deliberately… and suck out all the marrow of life… and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”

When it comes down to it I have learnt the greatest, deepest, wildest way to live is to love. And that family life requires more of you, stretches you and replenishes you, fulfils you and nourishes you more than a plane ticket ever could.

Vanessa Waters is a writer. She lives by the beach in Sydney with her husband, daughter and son.

00:00 / ???