I found the baby photo albums this morning. Of course… any excuse to stop…
I settled in to the sofa to spend some time reminiscing. I always look at pictures from this time with surprise. Like a spectator trying to understand the family I am seeing. At the time I was barely functioning; so sleep deprived and anxious that my memories are a hazy fuzz. But in the photos; that mother. She looks so happy, so …together. She is holding her babies, smiling and laughing. There are baby bath shots, feeding shots, solids, walking, play time and coffee group shots. Family time and baking and washing folding and all the hallmark Mummy Activities.
But Mummy was acting. I remember how it really was, inside my head. I just wanted to cry, with as much feeling as my babies did. Sometimes, I was scarily detached even from my own distress. Sometimes I just felt empty and dead inside, at a time when I knew my babies needed me to feel connected and certain.
Looking back I can see how it all happened as it did. There was big stuff going on. My own mother was fighting her battle with Ovarian cancer in the two years after my first baby was born. I fought with her, desperate for her to stay with me. But she passed away. Then I was fighting my own battle with grief in the years after my second baby was born.
I feel a deep sadness for that Mummy. The one pretending to have it all together. I wish I could go back in time and reassure her, tell her to take a good look at me now, and see that it will get better. Maybe I could do some loads of washing for her and cook some dinners for her freezer. I remember one of my friends did just that one day, when things were very dark. She knocked on the door and shyly handed over a quiche. “Just in case you could do with an easy dinner” she said. I lost it. Cried then. Cried in that embarrassing, gasping fashion. Sobbed my sore mummy heart out. Somehow she had seen through my ‘keeping it all together’ facade. She saw me as I really was; scared, struggling and in need of gentle kindness.
So I was looking at these photos this morning, and one in particular really struck me. It’s the moment after my daughter first met her little brother. We are in the maternity hospital and she has been without me for the first night of her life. She is giddily happy to see me; nervous about seeing him. Her face is the picture of apprehension. She knows he is her special little brother, but she is afraid. What does it mean? Will Mummy and Daddy have enough love to go around? Will the baby love her back? Why does everything have to change?
She is about to turn three. Her whole world is shifting on it’s axis. She smiles when she gingerly touches the little pulsating triangle on his downy head. And erupts into the most heartbreakingly overwhelmed sobs. There just aren’t words to explain how she is feeling. The bittersweet love-fear that comes with big life stuff. She is lost. In that moment, I put my Mummy arms around her and shush quietly into her hair.
I am sure that I am a broken and useless Mumma, but this stuff, I get. She needs me to see her. I put her tiny brother into the bassinet and settle him in. She sighs and settles back into my arms, safe in the warmth of knowing that I know. I sing to her and tell her the story of when she was born. A tiny little bundle, even smaller than her baby brother. I tell her how excited we were that she was coming, and all the things I noticed about her. I skip the bit about my own terrors. I talk about how much she loved to hold my finger and sleep close to her Daddy. She asks me if she was a good baby and I kiss her forehead. “You were my baby, and that was better than good” I skip the facts. I tell her how clever she is, how creative and how big. I tell her that she is already everything she needs to be to be a big sister. She’ll be great. I tell her it is okay to wish she wasn’t a sister sometimes, because in the end, the love will be bigger than the upsets. She nods and falls asleep.
We all need someone to see us when things are overwhelming. To talk to us that way. And sadly, sometimes, that someone has to be ourselves. Somewhere between those early baby years and now, I have discovered how to mother myself. When I am lost and need to be seen, I make a point of encouraging myself. Giving myself the kindnesses my own mother would give if she were here. I give myself the freedom to let go and give the kids eggs on toast for tea. To treat myself to a pedicure. To tell myself I am fantastic, right to my own face in the mirror. When I am being irrational and emotional, I let myself cry and yell and be a big fat baby. I talk to myself like a mother would. I see myself through the eyes of love and then, all things can be handled.
Maybe you need to be seen too.