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.
No-one, it seems, is interested in listening to the minutiae of a life run by shitty nappies and breastfeeding. From the moment my baby wakes me my day is 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, panic when I realise that I haven’t showered yet and it’s already noon.
As for healthy living? Forget it. I scoff spoonfuls of peanut butter for breakfast straight from the jar. Eat family-sized blocks of chocolate to help stay awake. And if I’m lucky enough to do a yoga stretch it’s to the soothing strains of the Wiggles.
My biggest daily excitement is whether or not she’ll poo. And every night I’m on for a shift of after-midnight breastfeeding hell.
The only time I feel like an actual person—and not just a baby-burping milk bar on legs—is during our daily walks. There’s nothing like a friendly wave to remind you you’re still alive. And it’s rare that a local doesn’t accost us on the footpath, peek into the pram, and get a giggle from my daughter. A simple pleasure, perhaps, but the walk a day helps keep the Zoloft at bay.
Just because I’m open to the smiles and cheery words of, well, pretty much anyone out there, however, doesn’t mean I’m trawling the streets waiting to be noticed. Particularly by the sorts of crowds gathered at the watering holes that swell my seaside home, which, incidentally, is Airlie Beach, ‘a drinking town with a sailing problem’, according to one savvy T-shirt. One of the watering holes in particular is literally a party bar with main street frontage tables. A perfect place, complete with rails to rest your elbows on, to drown some Coronas and watch the view go by. And by view I mean eye candy. And by eye candy I mean sun-kissed twenty-something pony-tailed young women strolling the boardwalk in bikini tops and miniskirts. Not stay-at-home mums like me.
So the other day, in the middle of the afternoon, when the bar was packed with young men, the last thing I expected was to register on anyone’s radar. But as I pushed the pram past the buzzing establishment a man with broad shoulders and a black crew cut leans over the rail like a debauched, drunk cock-fighting spectator, shouts out ‘We can make it another one for ya’’, and raises the foaming head on a glass of frothy beer enthusiastically in my direction.
My first reaction to his crass comment was to shake my head in disbelief. I mean, Really? In the sleep-deprived fuzz of my brain I felt something akin to pity, and wondered if the idiot in question had any idea what a woman’s perineum is like in the weeks following the birth of a child. Does incontinence turn you on? How about stretch marks? Or cracked and bleeding nipples?
My second reaction—which followed the first by only a nanosecond—was more visceral. How dare he disrespect me? the inner feminist within me raged. I am 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. So with a sense of outrage I pulled the cover down over the pram and we kept briskly on our way.
Friends who have gone before me into the harrowing world of Mummyland had warned me it was busy. I’d hoped that they were exaggerating. I didn’t consider they could actually be understating it.
How your life becomes consumed with rushing from one task to the next, and yet it’s impossible, when you try and think about it, to pinpoint exactly what you’ve done. And when I got home from our walk that day it was no exception. Everything was urgent. I was busting. My baby needed changing. Not just changing, but bathing in the sink as well, since runny poo had bubbled up over her nappy and smeared across her tummy. I was thirsty. She was hungry. And wailing, which meant my boobs had done their let down. Milk dripped from my nipples and soaked through my dress and spotted across the floor. The phone was ringing. 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 all that (phone call was a telemarketer; if I could have reached down the phone I would have slapped them in the head) I wanted to pass out in a coma. But I didn’t have time for such luxuries as comas. I still needed to organise dinner, hang out the laundry, empty the nappy bin and give the dishwasher a quick wipe. So I headed to the fridge for the next best thing: a fix of sugar stimulant. In particular a bar of Toblerone I’d hidden from my husband under the bag of cos lettuce.
My hand was on the fridge door when I caught myself glancing at my distorted reflection on the shiny metal handle. My blonde hair, long and frazzled because I’d had no time to style it. Red floaty dress, with the thinnest of spaghetti straps allowing a glimpse of my black bra straining with milk-engorged breasts. An A-line cut that provided perfect belly-disguise. And legs that were showing the one benefit of being so busy: they’d lost their pregnancy weight.
My hand dropped from the fridge.
Now it’s true that being at home with a baby can often 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. Shrinking your world, like that feeling you get when you pick up your iPhone and no-one has called and no-one has texted and no-one has emailed and no-one has liked your latest posting on Facebook and even the Twitter accounts you subscribe to seem to have dropped you off their list.
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.
Maybe the only person disrespecting me was myself. Maybe it was time to consider that I wasn’t just the milk-stained, limp-haired, cottage-cheese thighed bag lady that I imagined I’d become. Maybe it was time to stop reaching for the Toblerone and choose some fruit instead. Maybe 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, flicking through the pages of a parenting magazine, 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. And he shouldn’t have said what he said. But at least it triggered my inner voice to announce it was time to sharpen up, and since that day I haven’t looked back. I choose to eat well (at least most of the time). I choose to face my new 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 daughter and she beams straight back at you it feels like you’re in heaven.
There’s no price tag you can put on that.
Because if you can take inspiration from whatever comes your way, then it’s only going to help you as you hold your head up high.
Suvi Mahonen is a Whitsundays-based former journalist now turned freelance writer. Her non-fiction has appeared in various newspapers and magazines in both Australia and Canada including The Weekend Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and Practical Parenting. Her fiction has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies including in The Best Australian Stories 2010 and Griffith Review. A portion of a longer work-in-progress was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. You can find more information about her here.
Are you at stay-at-home mum? Do you have any advice for other stay-at-home mums?