Wednesday 23 June 2010

Episode 174: In Which Claudia Has The Temerity To Complain

Here's what's hard at the moment. J's work has just moved so that it's about 15 minutes further away - and it was already pretty far away. So that's an extra half hour out of our lives, every day. And last month, we decided that the babies weren't really coping with staying up waiting for him to get home from work, and that I should put them both to bed on my own from now on, half an hour earlier. One adult, two squirmy tired babies, every day - turns out this is no joke, people. The babies are better for it, but I am not. And because J is also later home now, I don't have anybody to help me with the daily pickup of detritus afterwards. It used to be that he would do this while I cooked dinner, but now I do it and then I cook dinner, and although he's been at work, winning bread all day, I cannot shake the knowledge that during the very worst part of my day, he's sitting on a train reading a novel. And I wish it was me, and then I snap at him when he gets home.

Oh, poor me, with my two perfect babies and my perfect life. I hear myself whining, and I want to slap myself. My complaints are so minor, and I know it. I hear echoes in my own words of all the things that other people said to me in the years before I acquired two tiny humans of my own, and I remember the burning resentment I felt when I heard them. I already felt so excluded and shut out from their lives - which now revolved around their children. To make it worse, I felt like they did nothing but complain to me about how hard it all was, when all I wanted was what they had. I did a lot of gritting my teeth and saying 'uh huh, uh huh, that sounds awful'. But mostly, during these conversations, I was just trying not to cry.

But I also remember consciously wondering - how will I feel when it is me on the other end of this conversation? When it is me who hasn't slept / showered / left the house in twelve days? Then, I had a perspective coloured by loss, and grief, and waiting, and envy, and anxiety, and fear, and hope. I knew it wasn't a normal perspective. It was certainly a painful perspective. So I asked myself: am I really just completely wrong? How will I feel when I have a different perspective? And now, I realise that I have some kind of answer, and it's not entirely the answer I expected. You know it physically pains me to type this, but I've got to be honest - there are some things where I'm going to have to eat humble pie and say: folks, I was wrong. In fact, there are many - so I'll keep it to my top four. My current top four, that is, for this week.

I was wrong about how easy and quick it would be to leave the house with the babies.
This continues to amaze me. Honestly, they are very small. How hard can it be? I used to have a mantra that I would say before I left the house: 'purse, phone, keys, yes, yes, yes, out the door'. Now, it's : 'purse, phone, keys, milk, muslins, babies, socks, jumpers, books, pram toys, oh forget it, I'm staying home'.

I was wrong to expect that naptimes wouldn't matter.
They do - they really do. My babies are totally different creatures depending on whether or not they have had their daytime sleeps, and they get by far, far, their best sleep at home in their darkened room. This absolutely destroys any possibility of me being spontaneous during the day, which is an absolute bummer. Sometimes, I take them out during naptime anyway, even when they should be asleep - to go to hospital appointments, for example, or travelling to see grandparents. Without exception, there is a price to pay later, so I try to avoid doing it unless there is a really good reason. This is hard, because I'm not a particularly 'routiney' person.

I was wrong to think that going to church with babies wouldn't be particularly hard.
What can I say - ouch. Our church doesn't have a creche, so we need to look after the babies in the service (which is pretty traditional, ie quiet!) J and I are both committed Christians, and, barring serious illness, being at church on Sunday is a top priority. But suddenly, it's become really, really hard. I wasn't expecting this, and I feel like an idiot. Last week I was pretty much in tears, thinking 'what is the point of me even BEING here? I haven't taken in a single thing'. This week was better. But it's going to be a loooooong time before I can sit in my chair, pay attention to the sermon and not need to be managing tiny people on a Sunday.

I was wrong about how much stupid, small things would matter to me
Today I made a new batch of baby food for them. It took ages, and made my already-hot kitchen pretty unbearable. And then they would not touch it. Not even a taste. And I had plenty of other food to give them, and they were probably just tired, but I came pretty close to crying because a baby wouldn't eat some mashed root vegetables. I know it doesn't matter at all, really, but in that moment it was all that mattered and I suddenly felt like my whole life was unbearable, a wasteland, a desert.

So yes - some of it really much harder than I thought it would be. And sometimes I do sit here, feeling sorry for myself, and thinking 'why does it have to be so HARD?' Yesterday, baby boy was cranky pretty much all day. There was a lot of shouting. He's got teeth coming through (you'd think he'd have more teeth than a shark by now, with the amount of time he's spent teething lately) and he's feeling pretty rotten. She's doing better, but she's not at her sparkling best either. And there are good days - great days - but sometimes it all feels like more than I bargained for.

But while this is true, while there were things I was wrong about, I still feel like the same person I was then. I haven't become someone different with children. And while I do have a new perspective, now that I have children, it owes an awful lot to the old perspective. I think once you've stood in that place, you can't - or at least you shouldn't - ever forget the view.

And yet. It is hard, but all of what has gone before means that I don't really know how to talk about the fact that it is hard. If I'd acquired these babies by drinking one glass too many of red wine after dinner and tumbling cheerfully into bed, I would probably go to facebook and post something like "Claudia.... should not have gone for the buy-one-baby-get-one-free-deal. Srsly. ROFL." * And wait for people to 'like' it, and go away feeling better.

But I can't do it. Because I'm too grateful for these children to turn the difficult bits into a joke, cheesy as that sounds. And I can't seem to do the other option either, the heart-to-hearts about how tough it all is. This year, on balance, my life is the happiest it's been for as long as I can remember, but I've had more people than I can count be incredibly sympathetic about how hard I must be finding it. And it's nice that they're kind, but I think 'where were you LAST year? That was when I really needed some sympathy'.

Parenthood brings a whole new bundle of challenges to my life, but I guess it will never, ever be to me what it was to some of my friends. It will never be my first truly adult experience. It will not be the first thing that shows me 'oh, so you mean life is really difficult from now on?' and it will not be the first thing to keep me up at night, questioning everything that I do and am. I'm not saying it doesn't do those things. I'm not saying it's not a profound experience. But I didn't become a real, proper adult when I gave birth to a baby - I think I became a real, proper adult when I had to deal with the fact that I wouldn't. Childlessness, to me, was a much more profound and character-shaping experience than motherhood, so far. Complaining about what I've got now feels too much like denying all that I learned, then.

But some days.... some days are really hard. Sometimes, I find myself thinking - yes, this is what I wanted, but I didn't want it to be like this. And I really, really want a kind word or a hug, but I find myself utterly unable to ask for it. The memory of listening to others' complaints, for all those years when I wanted nothing more than some children to complain about, is still too fresh and too raw for me to suddenly become that person. I am still too marked by what went before. I still feel prickly and I still feel brittle. Here I stand, in this post-adoption life of mine, knowing too much about what else my life could be like to really put my heart into complaining about the one I've got.

Also, I feel like admitting things are difficult means buying into the whole urban mythology about motherhood being the most difficult (yet profound) experience in the cosmos, and I am unwilling to do that. If we want to talk difficult experiences, I think, how about caring for elderly parents? There's some poop and wee stories that aren't so cute. How about dealing with bereavement? Surely, I think, we are kidding ourselves if we let ourselves believe that this early, intense motherhood is the hardest thing we will ever be called upon to do.

See what I mean? Prickly.

But the thing is, I still can't bear to hear variations on the theme of : Until you've been a mother, you just can't understand how hard it is! Because I hear that, and it makes me want to scream. Even though I am a mother now, It just still feels like such a deeply excluding thing to say. My life is harder than yours, and you can't say I'm wrong, because you may have done any number of other things, but you haven't done this. It puts motherhood up onto an untouchable, unquestionable pedestal, and on behalf of my former self and childless women everywhere, I do not want to hear it. On one level it's true, of course, but then the same could be said about everything else in the world, surely? Until you've directed a multi-million dollar feature film you you just can't understand how hard it is. Until you've put together furniture from IKEA you you just can't understand how hard it is. Until you've styled the Olsen twins for the Oscars, you just can't understand how hard it is. Until you've bred rottweilers you you just can't understand how hard it is. And I'm sure all those things are true, too. But nobody has ever pulled me into a corner and sat me down and said that the problem is, really, that the lady rottweilers are so ugly that it's just terribly difficult to get the boy rottweilers to go near them** and nobody understands because until you've bred rottweilers you you just can't understand how hard it is. And I don't know for sure - maybe somewhere, somebody is having that conversation, but not with me - with me, it's just the one about being a mother. And I hear it, all the time, and even if it was said in sympathy to something that I brought up find myself thinking - hey, it's not THAT hard! Because okay, it is hard, but did any of you people have a job before you had a kid? With deadlines and politics and demands and budget cuts and layoffs and late nights and managers and deadlines and okay, a paycheque, but did I mention the deadlines? Mothering is very hard work, but having a job was pretty hard work too, and being childless felt so impossibly hard that sometimes I was pretty sure I was just going to crumple. But maybe until you've been childless, you just can't understand how hard it is. Heh.

I am also so aware, every time I open my mouth, that I don't know what is going on behind the sympathetic smile of the person I'm talking to. I don't know whether a complaint from me will feel like a knife in their chest. Or maybe that spasm wasn't pain, but boredom - one lesson I need to remember from my years on the outside is that listening to stories about someone else's children is about as interesting as watching that person eat a sandwich.

And so I find that all too often, now, I just don't quite know how to Be with all of this. Sometimes I wish I could embrace the naivete of the friends who dive into this whole thing, headfirst, and forget that there was a before and that there will be an after, and that there are people who are on the outside. But I can't. I can't. There's too much tension between what was, and what is. Between what I've always known, and what I'm finding out. I guess I just want to say that I do find things hard, without sounding like I believe it is the only hard thing. But I can't seem to find the words.

*Is this still how the young people talk? I kind of quit facebook after reading too many status updates like that.

**This is purely a guess. Lady rottweilers may, in fact, be very attractive. No rottweilers were harmed in the making of this blog post.


  1. Oh my word - SUCH a lot to comment on, I could write a book. But don't worry, I won't.

    1) I love the way you write - so raw and honest and beautifully articulate...

    2) church was soooooooooo hard for us too and I was like you "WHAT is the point? I'm taking in nothing" and D said, "we will persist; I'm sure it will get better" so we did and it did but in the meantime, I decided that once a month I'd go alone and SOAK it all in, even if I felt like being at home. And I loved that time and it seemed like God spoke extra to me (probably not true, only I was able to listen better :))

    3) yes on the naptimes. My mil doesn't get this - "just put them down" ......... but they don't sleep well anywhere else and I get double crankiness from C.

    4) after the babies are down, start supper. Leave the chaos (that's what I do) and get on with the food. Food is important to us :) When D gets home, his job is to clear the lounge and sunroom of baby stuff and restore it to order again. You will twitch the first couple of days but afterwards, you won't even notice.

    5) oh the food. I swear they do it to us just to yank our chains. I have decided I'm not fighting about food. I try, and try hard, but if D's there, he has to feed the more difficult eater because he has more patience.

    6) your honesty. I love it but you're right, people don't seem to want to hear all that. Be prickly all you want (I am too and it's okay).

    (((big hugs)))

  2. He he... I do the same kind of thing when M is travelling home from work. Or when he's in class in the evenings. I get jealous of him because he can actually get a coffee at a gas station on his way home from work. How pathetic is that? I'm jealous of gas station coffee!

    That being said, I really appreciated your "difficulty of motherhood mythology" thoughts.

    M and I both work/have worked in some brutal jobs (read: cancer and death.) So it's hard for me to believe that motherhood is much more difficult than that. But then again, I've never experienced it... :)

    one area that I know I'll eat my words in a year from now: "I'll never allow motherhood to utterly destroy my personal hygiene."

    I cringe as I wait for the five-course dinner of humble pie.

  3. Claudia - you don't know me but I want to say thanks. I'm a mom-in-waiting (Ethiopia will be calling sometime in the next "14-18 months") and your post today really did a lot for me. I've thought about these very things for years...and I commend you for your honesty and openness.

  4. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. This is excellent.

  5. So, I'm not the only one with inner turmoil? :) I can go from feeling SO thankful to be home with my girls (which is what I have wanted for so long) to crying when Jon calls me to say he will be running a little late. Oh dear...the joy and difficulties wrapped into a crazy bundle.

    Hugs to you! You are an amazing mother, woman, writer, and so much more. Some days can be sooooooo daaaaang haaaaard no matter where you are in life. I wish we could bottle up that feeling that we have on good days and pull it out when we need it.

  6. It is so interesting that today, the day I chose to read one blog, is the day you wrote this. Today J went back to work. We've been home 5 days. I was with her alone from 8:00am - 6:00pm. The last few hours were unbearable. Isn't this what I was DYING for? Couldn't WAIT for? Now I feel like such a huge fat fraud. I have no clue what I'm doing. It is so hard. :( It is not glowy or magical or whatever I thought it would be in my ice cream and reality tv soaked pity party dreams.

    I turned on the news for an hour while she toddled around and practically ignored her from 5-6pm. She fell and hit her head. The guilt was unbearable. Agh. How on earth does this work??

  7. YES. I have written versions of this post so many times in my head but have been afraid to post them.

  8. Coming over from Barb's blog. In general I dislike the "Motherhood REALLY is so hard after all" posts from IF'er-turned-mothers. I can't help but want to scream "AND PRECISELY HOW DID YOU THINK IT WAS GOING TO BE?!?" It's like these people never spent any time around babies at all. Or have been living a delusion throughout their IF treatments. All along, as we were pursuing parenthood, I would joke to my husband that if we succeeded we had a whole new battle, at least 18 years long, to wage. I've spent a LOT of time helping my sister with her two small children and it parenthood has always seemed to me like nothing short of a harrowing gauntlet, sprinkled with little prizes along the way, just enough really to keep you going. But maybe I'm just a cynic?

    In any case, I just want to say that I really like this post. And I respect you for having the insight to recognize that while what you're going through is TOTALLY HARD, it's only one challenge on the road of life, not more magical or special than many others. I'm all for sympathizing with someone about the challenges of parenthood - as long as they're not pulling the mommy-martyr bit.

    Two babies + part-time daddy = really rough for mommy. No doubt about that. You have my sincerest sympathies.

  9. You're right--caring for my Dad post-stroke has been harder than infertility and going through five failed IVF cycles. I said to my DH the other day...with infertility, it's ME that's going through it, I know I can handle it. But watching my Dad suffer leaves me utterly powerless and useless and aching for him. And I never thought I'd ever change my Dad's briefs and I hate that it humiliates it...but there were times it simply could not be helped. It hurts me just thinking about it.

    At any rate, thanks for acknowledging that pain and hardness. Sorry I went on and on there :)

    I can't YET relate to some of the other stuff, but hope to at some point :)

    As far as church goes--I know that being in church is super important to you but honestly I would hope God doesn't really get all worked up (not that I really know, nor claim to, duh!) if you're not physically there a few times here and there. Alternative: at our church they record every service. We always pick up a copy (I send them home to my Dad so he can listen since he's homebound) and we listen to them too. Church can be anywhere, any time, if it needs to be. And being fully present in it, to me, that's what makes it good. Maybe your church records services too?

    Hang in there!

  10. You're welcome Claudia. :) And hear, hear to what you say again. :) Actually, I find myself agreeing with you very often. I want to be brutally honest, and I find it helpful to write that way as well as read it, but I'm so afraid of hurting others sometimes or being misconstrued.

  11. p.s. Per "Me's" comment. (Hi Me! :) I found that though I had been around babies all my life too and knew it was going to be hard, I just had no idea the extent of my whole being's agony and exultation in this whole thing, and it took me by surprise anyway. But I'm sure everyone is different and part of my problem was the anxiety/depression, emergency room crap, very very unhappy baby and not having any family around which is something I crave. I'd like to know what it's like at the beginning without all that crap.

  12. This is so aptly timed! Yesterday, I was at the airport. Jacob and I went to visit my sister and JF had to work. He stayed behind. After we got to the airport, which is over 1 hour away from my sister's place, we found out that the flight was delayed. I was stuck in the airport with Jacob for 4 hours and then I had the hour long flight home. The desperation I felt was beyond belief. I had about 30lbs of carry-on luggage and an overly excited, overly tired, hungry child. I looked at his small face and couldn't believe that I let myself get so overwhelmed when he was what I wanted for SO long. Here I was, a MOM, and I was freaking about an airport visit??? I cursed my weakness. I wallowed in self-pity. I think that what makes motherhood hard is the dichotomy- you love your child(ren) more than anything in the world and would do ANYTHING for them, but the selfish part of you wishes you didn't have to work so hard. i think that is always the struggle, whether it is with aging parent, or a job, or a marriage.

    This, as usual, is a very succinct, very well written post.

  13. Yes. Thank you for verbalizing what so many of us post-infertile moms have felt. I can't even imagine it with twins. God bless you.

  14. This post feels "full-circle" to me. The first time I read your blog (the first time I commented on any blog) was a post your wrote last year, pre-referral in which you said something to the tune of "I know it will be hard, but right now, this is also hard" I was hoping you would reference that post in this post. I wish I could figure out how to find it now and read it...
    Don't beat yourself up for feeling like your life is hard - your life is hard and wonderful. And other peoples' lives are also hard (and maybe not so wonderful). Because you know this, feel this and try to behave in a manner reflecting this, you make the world a better place.

  15. Wow - I love this post. For so many reasons. Thank you for articulating so many of the thoughts that have been banging around in my head, that I haven't been able to form into cogent sentences.

    You really hit the nail on the head here - on many topics!

  16. Lucky me! Went down my blog list and found that I had missed this post, my treat for today!

    I agree with you about the whole "there is no harder job in the world than mothering...." Like being a sherpa, that's gotta be harder, right? I tend to tell funny stories about my son, but I try to never just flat out complain. The same with my husband, I feel like it is bad karma to complain about them. Marriage is hard, being a mother is hard, of course it is, but you are right, but you can't lose your perspective. I love this post, girl.

  17. I feel like an auditorium of people just gave you a standing ovation.. or should.

    Listen- I was childless- but probably not for same reasons- the other dimension here is that you went through years of PURPOSEFULLY BECOMING A PARENT. And are now PARENTING PURPOSEFULLY. We do. As adoptive parents we parent purposefully. And everytime someone says 'hey- anyone want a broken in 4 year old- cheap" (or any other snide remark about their innocent child)- its like fingernails on a chalkboard. It is snide and hurtful and WHO WOULD SAY THAT ABOUT THIER CHILD or TO THEIR CHILD and yet.. we hear it every single day. What you've been through changed you. Your view of the world is different. Broader, perhaps with more angles for perspective. Do not be apologetic for that and don't feel like you should be. You are doing great. And admitting that the suckiness and the wonderfulness of it all comes from the same place is just part of it. Cause- it sucks sometimes.. and then 10 minutes later it is amazing and I've forgotten the sucky part. And then it changes back... and I can't remember why I was so happy 10 minutes ago. And ya the nap times.. screw up my life. And then my life is screwed up without them too... so there ya go. PEACE. You are doing great. just hang in there...

  18. I've been reading your blog on and off all day- basically devouring it. You speak so honestly- it amazes me that other people have the same thoughts that I do, because you don't usually see them written out in so many words. The most complicated topics and you're able to coherently write them down and analyze them! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. This post in particular will stick with me, probably forever. Thank you.


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