I have always been a very responsible person, even when I was a little girl. If I had to hand in homework at school, I made sure I had conscientiously completed all the exercises, and if there was something I did not understand, I made sure I asked.
As a young employee, I used to get really worried if a minor admin task was not completed to my satisfaction. In my twenties I shared my distress with one of my oldest friends and as I mentioned some mishap at work she answered with these words: “remember that you are not a neurosurgeon; no one will die if you make a mistake”.
These simple and wise words have served me well for a number of years — though it seems even now my perfectionism flares up as perceived “defensiveness” at work when I try to explain what went wrong (I am too thorough — who cares about small details, I know — But I DO care to explain — can’t help it!). My natural tendencies, though tamed, do not die easy.
Flash forward a few years and I find myself on full-time maternity leave, taking care of my first child. And what is that like, for real?.
Well, forget everything you have experienced so far or any preconceptions (excuse the pun): you’d better acknowledge that you have no idea what you are dealing with. You can pretend, but it will only take you so far: everyday you’ll face a new situation for the first time.
The key word from the moment go is surrender. It is important to let go of anything you had in mind when you decided to have a child or found yourself pregnant. Your body and your hormones will basically do whatever they want. No way to predict if you’ll be nauseous every morning, will start hating grapes or fish, or whether you will just continue with your life with minor symptoms.
Forget everything you have experienced so far or any preconceptions (excuse the pun): you’d better acknowledge that you have no idea what you are dealing with.
As the pregnancy progresses there are new things one might worry about — like getting gestational diabetes and spending the rest of the pregnancy starving, or pre-eclampsia and having to ingest a multitude of drugs. Everything could be perfect one day and the next your blood pressure is very high or very low or you have excessive protein in your pee, or water retention, heartburn, or you find yourself getting angry and sad at strange times for no specific reason!
As the birth approaches, you are encouraged to think about your “birth plan”. The birth plan is where you pretend to have some sort of control over a situation when in fact you are completely out of your depth. You can choose things like a birth pool delivery — but when the moment comes, you may be in too much pain to even remember that you put the idea forward in the first place. You may want to avoid pain killers to experience the birth fully and naturally, only to yell “epidural” at the earliest opportunity. Heck, you could even plan a home birth and have a global pandemic taking that option away from you.
The birth plan is where you pretend to have some sort of control over a situation where you are completely out of your depth.
Once the baby is out, hopefully safe and healthy, there are a myriad of other things to bear in mind — is she eating enough and gaining weight, is he pooping enough and how often, is she crying for no reason and what could it be: stomachache, dirty nappy, a cry for a cuddle our just general mischief. Why does he have blue marks on his back and why does her left eye have a green gooey substance, should I call A&E or just clean it with boiled water and hope for the best?. I am not getting enough milk, is she going to starve to death and am I a terrible mother for not being able to give him the most nurturing elixir of life that my body should be producing in gallons?.
Motherhood is not for the faint-hearted, and if you are someone like me that likes to have things under control, it can be very tough.
You have been personally allocated a powerless small human being unable to do anything by itself and you are now the embodiment of the clueless neurosurgeon: any mistake can lead to serious damage. Personally, I start wondering whether I should really have done a masters on child-rearing or something before I even contemplated the idea of having children because I am seriously faking it. Other mothers reassure me they also faked it all the way and just went along as if they knew what they were doing. Talk about imposter’s syndrome!.
A couple of days ago I found myself waking up feeling really sad for no specific reason — I am ok with this, in fact it has been months since I have taken any of my moods seriously as I have been known to laugh and cry within a minute (which still baffles my partner, but he has just learnt to hug me and not ask what is wrong, as the answer is always “I don’t know”) . I have also been feeling angry for misplaced baby bottles, dirty kitchen clothes and other minor offences.
I decided to go inside myself and consider what was really bothering me — often the answer is not what appears to be. After some soul searching, I reached the conclusion that it was not so much all these concerns — I know it’s difficult to believe when not plagued by oxytocin, but they amount to nothing when you see the little person smile or you smell her fresh body and delight when she quietly sleeps or even when she cries. Just looking at the young life is an absolute delight — she has to do nothing whatsoever for me to have that pleasure so I guess that is what they call unconditional love.
Suddenly I realised the sadness and anger were linked to ignorance: I do not know and I am not sure how to take care of the child, as I have never had to do it before — at least, not full time. I know rationally that I will get better at it, but that it will take a while and a lot of trial and error will take place in between. And I am, put simply, not used to the unpleasantness of the beginner’s mind. Me, the ultimate learning freak! I humbly admit that I had become complacent in my learning, I haven’t taken any serious learning risks for quite a while. Well, that is officially over.
I humbly admit that I had become complacent in my learning, I haven’t taken any serious learning risks for quite a while.
Once I acknowledged that I have to live out of my comfort zone, I am ready to let go of any expectations I had and embrace a journey with no cut and dry answers and where you have to be 100% hands-on, no shortcuts allowed. Feel the joy and the pain, admit it when you know that you don’t know and ask for help.
Motherhood is also the ultimate community experience: I may not have all the answers but I surely know someone, midwife, friend or family member that has been there and shares an idea. I have in fact been overwhelmed by all the offers of help and wisdom shared with me by other mothers that know full well the extent of the responsibilities, the fear and love involved in the task at hand.
Back in January I wrote about dealing with change and uncertainty in It is 2020 and I am about to lose control (an oddly prophetic read considering I did not know about the impending COVID-19 crisis back then…).
I am in the process of accepting the beginner’s mind. As I relax into the uncertainty the doors of creativity and fun open and I find myself enjoying the moment, teaching and also learning from the little person.
When you see me next, don’t think I seem to be doing great or that I look like a good mother — it is still my first year of fake neurosurgery!.
Thanks for reading : ).