What it’s like being a Mum (for me*)


Robbie’s ‘thinking face’ at 3 and half months

My friends without children ask me what it’s like being a Mum.

I had imagined, before my son was born, that I’d be able to describe my experience. After all, I’d never had any trouble describing other experiences in my life, even very intense ones. I’ve been a journal keeper since I was 11 years old (and it is bloody hilarious to read back over those old entries). I love telling stories. I write. Words flow.

At least, they used to.

Since Robbie was born I’ve barely scraped out four diary entries in four months. And they are short. Things like “I’m so exhausted. Going to try to catch up on sleep today”.

I wanted to write about this time, I really did. Most nights I would compose sentences – even whole paragraphs – in my head. But there’s a wall there, a wall of tiredness, that has stopped my hands from picking up a pen or opening a word document.

But it’s time. Here it is: an attempt to describe what motherhood is like for me.

There’s no doubt my approach to life has changed.

I grew up pushing myself to the limits. Making things easy was never a consideration. According to my Mum, my first words were “Go! Go!, Do-ey, Do-ey”, and to visitors “Can you stay?” (I was very social, even as a toddler). In primary school, I’d read a book a night under the covers because I wanted to know the ending. In high school, I’d stay up late doing homework, because I wanted to be my best (not THE best, but MY best. Subtle difference). Then I’d wake up before school and surf with Angeline, even if I was tired.

I was the one who’d go on the crazy adventures, every time. I kick-boxed. I partied. I blockaded. I ran for student council. I organised other people to do these things with me. I didn’t watch TV (OK, except Buffy and The West Wing) because I thought it was a waste of time. I went to Morocco, by myself, when I was 20. Fell in love, lived in the mountains, only came home when I got so sick I needed surgery in Australia.

I pushed my limits trying to cram as much as possible into every day. This meant I got sick a lot too. But it was just my cycle – go hard, burn out and get sick, go hard again.

Now, the primary consideration I have in life is how to make things easier. I say no to things now. Not everything, but some things. Leaving the house has to be worth the effort, because the effort is a thousand times harder than it was before. When your baby is breastfed and won’t take a bottle, he has to come with you everywhere. Which makes it really hard to go to a meeting, travel interstate, or speak to a conference.

And tea. Drinking tea has changed. Drinking a cup of tea used to be about a nice relaxing experience with brewed leaf tea over a newspaper or a book. I had a great collection of fancy T2 brews, but I didn’t even own a box of teabags. Now, I look forward to my daily cup of tea with an eagerness bordering on desperation. But it is almost always teabag tea, and almost always gulped over the sink or on the way out the door as a way of infusing caffeine into my weary brain. More times than not it goes cold. And I drink it anyway. (I’ve managed to avoid coffee because I worry about the affect on Robbie, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold out).

Speaking of desperation, it has now become an underlying state of mind. Desperate for sleep, but tossing and turning and unable to nod off when I get the chance. Desperate for Robbie to sleep. Desperate for some time to myself, but too exhausted to do anything with it when I get it. Desperate for my body to stop aching, but too shattered to organise a massage. Desperate for food – I am ravenous all the time now that I’m breastfeeding. I think food helps make up for the sleep deprivation. I once read that a team of polar explorers replaced sleep with food when they needed to cross the Arctic in a short period of time before the ice melted. That’s kind of how I feel.

In the short periods of time where Robbie sleeps during the day, there is housework. He had reflux, and while it’s improved he continues to vomit a lot – on himself, and on us. I therefore do an insane amount of laundry – 2 loads a day.

Simon and I used to eat out a lot. It was easier; no washing up, and better food (we aren’t great cooks). Now we have to eat at home; way too hard to eat out, and takeaway isn’t healthy enough. So we cook. And wash up. So. much. washing up, and even with a dishwasher it takes up at least an hour a day. That sounds small, but it’s actually a large chunk of the Robbie-free time that I have.

And then there’s sleep. It’s so bad I’m hesitant to write about it, but here goes: my baby wakes up every hour or two hours at night to feed. Three occasions he’s slept for 4 hours in a row. That was amazing. But that’s three times in four months. Which means the longest stretch of sleep I’ve had in four months is four hours. And since he won’t take a bottle (yes, we have tried different bottles), it’s me feeding him. Simon can’t do it. And yes, I know we have to try something to get him to sleep longer periods at night but I am too damn tired to (a) read the sleep books; (b) decide which approach and (c) do anything that takes longer than 10 minutes to get him back sleep each time he wakes up. At the moment, feeding him back to sleep is the only way I can cope. Luckily Simon takes him in the morning for a few hours from 5.30 – 9am, so I sleep then.

But overall, I’m exhausted. Exhaustion is not the same as tiredness. It’s a fog. It feels like I’m drunk. I get dizzy. I’m dizzy right now. This post probably won’t even make sense. Exhaustion is why I haven’t been able to write, why I can barely speak proper sentences sometimes, let alone write them down. It means I can’t think clearly. And it really sucks.

That’s the hard stuff out of the way.

Now, on to the good stuff. And there is a lot of good stuff.

Robbie is a total cutie and I love him to bits. Unlike the first six weeks, when he was like a cluster bomb that shattered our lives, the good moments now tend to outweigh the bad moments in each day. At four months he’s a happy, curious, social baby. He bestows the biggest, most joyful smiles upon us. He stares quizzically at new objects. He makes hilarious faces. He talks to himself softly when he goes to sleep (ooh, oh, ah, ooh, ergh…) and talks to me when he wakes up. He loves being held up in the air. It’s fun hanging out with him and seeing him discover new things. I love watching him sleep, and I love it when he falls asleep in my arms.

Every time I look at him I am so, so, so grateful. He is the best thing that’s ever happened to Simon and I, by a long way.

The final thing to mention is, I guess, what’s gotten us through the hard time: friends and family. Simon is an incredible dad. He’s so good with Robbie and he’s doing a great job balancing work and parenting. The fact that he takes Robbie in the early mornings so I can get a few hours sleep is the only thing keeping me (semi) sane. Having my Mum around the corner has been wonderful, both for Robbie (who adores his grandma) and for me. And having two close friends in Canberra who I’ve known for over a decade makes staying at home with a baby on my own five days a week a lot less lonely. Ditto my parents’ group. They are such an excellent bunch of Mums and Dads, and with babies the same age it’s amazing to have someone understand what you’re going through. And my friends outside of Canberra have made many days so much better too, even from a distance – the ones who organised meal delivery, texted kind words, called (and called back, and called back again even when I couldn’t speak for more than 30 seconds), Skyped, sent cards, sent reassuring Facebook messages, and especially the ones who came to visit from interstate… it meant a lot. I noticed. Kindness shown in the early days of parenthood is the kind of thing you remember forever.

Robbie’s woken up now, and I know if I keep working on this post it won’t ever get finished… so I’ll end it here. That’s what it’s like, for me, at four months. Good, but hard. Over and out.

* This is my experience. Everyone’s experience is different, because all babies are different.

About annastarrrose

Author & environmentalist
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6 Responses to What it’s like being a Mum (for me*)

  1. chaton91 says:

    Great honesty, Anna. Yes it is exhausting to have a new baby. ONE new baby. I’m sure you can’t begin to imagine what it is to have first-born twins, with no family around at all. That was even harder. However I survived, and today I’m very proud of both my babies, Jonathan Moylan and Melanie Brice! 🙂 Wishing you patience, take one day at a time, it definitely gets easier every day. Hang in there. Count your blessings. It’s a beautiful journey. Marion xx

  2. Anna,
    You’ve brought back memories for me too, of my daughter (10) and how sleep deprived we were too. She too was breastfed – for four years, my wife (now ex) co-slept as she refused to sleep all night for the first 4yrs! – it was hell. Yes you’re very right about sleep deprivation. Just go with the flow, get sleep when and where you can. Nobody expects you to keep writing and keep anything like a normal life in the first few yrs of a babies life. Its all about him now. As for me at the age of 53 I have my own sort of new sleep deprivation (called depression, sleep apnea and financial stress – almost as hellish as having a baby), so life throws wobblies at us… hopefully we can bounce back.
    You’re a strong, strong woman – most women I’ve known are (much stronger than many of us blokes), so you’ll be ok. For now – just sleep. Oh.. and I don’t think one coffee a day will hurt bub.. just not too strong. Never affected Madelyn as a baby so go for it I reckon.
    Oh, and if you need some chill out music? Watch the John Butler guitar solo – Ocean (third song in on this link; https://youtu.be/0OAu_vSwkv0 )
    Have fun
    Kind Regards,

  3. Sai says:

    It is incredibly hard and just incredible! How on Earth have you managed so long without coffee? You’re on point about the words not flowing. They do return and your post made perfect sense to me. See you sooner or later. 🙂

  4. Sue says:

    So well written, and so true for many of us. I’ve absolutely no idea how to make babies sleep. The first one hardly ever seemed to sleep, and then only catnaps. Exhaustion means you simply can’t manage to try anything new to get them to sleep, it’s just impossible to do anything but survive. I used to think, how on earth could I do this with a 2-yr old to look after as well? Yet so many people do. And I did as well – and again, and again. But looking back, I was a complete wuss before having a baby, despite driving myself with study and work and activities. After parenthood, I feel like I can endure anything, for anytime. And so will you! You’re doing really well, and this is an excellent piece of writing! I really related to the cups-of-tea bit – can’t recall how many times I sometimes reheated the same cup in the microwave!

  5. You’ve put it so articulately, Anna.
    I remember struggling to keep a sleep diary. Impossible just to write down how many minutes of sleep Zoe had during one night. It almost sent me mad but one great thing about a baby with reflux: it brings you incredibly close together.
    Even now, with one nine-year-old and a four-year-old, I find there are so many more “nos” in my life than there was before children but it’s all about priorities. And, just as the world shrank to the size of our baby, a new light shone in, too. Sounds trite but it’s true.
    She didn’t sleep for five hours straight until she was three but she was so worth it.

  6. Michael Smith says:

    Let us know if you want us to bring you a ready made meal. Mike Smith P.S Well done Anna, Simon and Robbie, our children never slept more than 1-3 hr blocks either in the first 6 months…….so we can relate……it is a whole new level of sleep deprivation that is only manageable with help and support from friends and family…….but so worth it. Glad that you have family and friend support…….there is light at the end of the tunnel……….after 6 months and then after 12 months things will get easier…….sleep wise etc…

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