It’s been a year since I last penned a column. A whole twelve months. For some readers it may have passed like many others, going through their daily routines and annual calendar-markers of birthdays and Christmas. For me it was a mind and life altering time. I had a baby, you see. And any mother reading this will immediately empathise with me that having your first child changes you forever.
I’ve never faced challenges like those I’ve managed to overcome in the past year. I had big plans for my first maternity leave, those blessedly unencumbered months I’d spend away from my ‘real’ job. Aside from caring for and cherishing my little baby, I’d also while away his long nap times reading lengthy and meaningful novels, watching daytime TV and eating boxes of chocolates. Gushing with the optimism of a novice, I purchased Joseph O Connor’s tome Redemption Falls. Six months later I was less then half way through it and so muddled with sleep deprivation that I had no idea what was going on on America’s Civil War-torn plains – nor any interest in finding out.
As any experienced mother reading this will have guessed, things didn’t exactly go according to my innocently cheerful plan. Because though we’d bought the pram, the cot, the vests, the babygros, the nappies, the wipes and so on (the house resembled the baby aisle in Dunnes for months), nobody had prepared us for the utterly humbling and terrifying prospect of our baby screaming in the middle of the night…and us being completely in charge.
In a nutshell, I took care of my baby and I slept in those early days. I reckon I had a permanently glazed expression on my face and was undoubtedly not to be seen without a baby puke stain somewhere on my clothing.
Expectant mothers take heart: things did get better. I never did get a chance to boost viewership figures for Jerry Springer or even The Afternoon Show. But the babby settled into a routine and I, ever so slowly, began to get my life back. Of course it had changed, changed utterly, from what it once was. These days the things I think about are different, the things I worry about are different. It’s not that I don’t want those fabulous brown boots in River Island any more. It’s more the fact that I walk past them and don’t even see them. ‘Mumnesia’, I believe the experts call it – when motherhood hijacks your brain and makes you incapable of abstract thought.
My son turns 1 next week, a momentous milestone which is spurring in me all sorts of reflections, particularly about what I’ve learned in the first year of motherhood (despite the mumnesia). Unlike any other job I’ve done, productivity cannot be measured. Truth be told, sometimes it can’t even be detected.
Labour as we know it is a bit of a misnomer because as far as my experience went it only really started when I came home from hospital. There is simply no end to a mother’s work. Nobody can forewarn you of the laundry you’ll face, for a start. Between the cooking and cleaning, the shopping, the exploding nappies (yes, you read that one correctly), the clapping, singing and many other means of entertaining, there never seem to be enough hours in the day and sometimes I’m tired right down to my toes.
But then there’s the smiles, the giggles, the chuckling and the sheer belly-laughing that goes on every day. And that’s just me! I never thought I’d say so in the beginning but I wouldn’t trade any of the hard work for not having the privilege of being his mother.
I’ve (reluctantly) accepted that sleep deprivation is now a fact of life and there are many more years of it ahead. Looking back on those early days, I can’t believe I got through it. There were a few hiccups along the way, mind you (popping the oven glove into the 180 degree oven instead of the casserole dish and heading off for a walk with my pram particularly springs to mind). But I survived.
This time last year we had a fragile little newborn who lay helplessly in his crib while we just gazed at him. Now we have an extremely active toddler (or the Duracell Bunny, as his father has fondly rechristened him) who finds it hilarious to Riverdance around his cot at whatever time he wakes (even if it is 4.30am). The past year has gone by in a flash and so I’ve sworn I will live in the moment and enjoy every little thing. Because if I blink, he’ll be heading off to college.