There are countless books and films on becoming a mum, but nothing can prepare you for the bad – and the good. Ameera Al Hakawati shares her experiences.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a column for Aquila Style. It’s also been a while since I’ve slept undisturbed for at least four hours in a row. Or prepared a meal that needs more than 20 minutes. Or watched a movie in the evening with my husband without falling asleep halfway through.
In fact, even as I type these words, I wonder whether I should use this stolen opportunity to catch up on my sleep instead. That’s what they say: whenever your baby goes to sleep, do the same. It’s the only way you’ll remain alert enough (translation: sane) to continue getting on with your life.
Whoever they are, obviously they haven’t met my baby. My baby doesn’t sleep during the day unless I’m cuddling him. Not for more than 10-15 minutes at a time anyway, so there really isn’t much point in joining him for his catnaps. Dragging my overtired body into bed, only to be brutally yanked out of it as soon as my limbs and mind begin to relax and fall into a sweet slumber is, quite simply, torture.
I’d rather use those snippets of “free” time to wash dishes, do laundry, dust and vacuum clean the apartment. Or, if I’m lucky and the previous three chores have already been done, go to the bathroom and wash my face. More often than not, however, the tasks on my list grow quicker than I’m able to complete them.
So, once the baby finally drifts off at the end of the day, I’m left with four options: 1) I can force my shattered body into robotically finishing off the rest of the chores; 2) I can sit down at my desk and write; 3) I can collapse on to the sofa with a cup of tea and an episode of Suits; or 4) I can fall into bed and let sleep provide me with the energy to do the same thing again tomorrow.
For obvious reasons, I usually end up choosing a combination of numbers three and four. I collapse into bed with my iPad and Harvey Specter and fall asleep before the 45 minute episode reaches its conclusion.
I’m not completely naïve. I knew that motherhood wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. But if I’m honest (and at the risk of appearing ignorant) I didn’t know it was going to be a hike up a mountain in 50 degrees heat either. Barefoot. Without water. Or sunscreen.
And this is me – the girl with hundreds of siblings and cousins. May God help only-children with no experience with babies. My heart and prayers go out to them. Because no matter how much you may think you know about motherhood, nothing can prepare you for the terrifying ordeal that is labour (a whole different story in itself), nothing can equip you for hours and hours of painful and sore breastfeeding (again, another story), for the feeling of pure helplessness when you lie in bed unable to get up after having your body cut open (I was unlucky enough to have a c-section), or the sheer and total exhaustion that overcomes your mind and body after weeks of little to no sleep.
The ironic thing is, whenever you think you’ve finally got a grip on the situation – when nappies no longer faze you (even the ones that leak all the way up his back when you’re in a public place); when you can bathe him on your own without worrying that you’ll drown him; when you’ve discovered what to do to calm him down when he starts screaming for no apparent reason; when he finally settles into a routine that you can try and organise your life around – something will definitely come along and throw you completely off course again.
Colic perhaps, which results in inconsolable screaming fits. Or maybe reflux, so you’re constantly changing his clothes and apologising to unsuspecting friends who are on the receiving end of projectile pukes. Or maybe even early teething which brings with it a host of other issues.
You do learn to deal with it though. Even if your coping tactics are everything you said you wouldn’t do and against all the kind (read: unwanted) advice that is constantly being hurled at you. Sometimes you just let him sleep in your arms during the day without putting him down just so you get an hour’s peace and quiet, even though you know it’s promoting bad habits. Sometimes you do the cooking with him pressed against you in the baby sling just so you can prepare a half decent meal.
And sometimes, God forbid, you give him a pacifier to… well, do exactly that – pacify him. He’s not hungry but he just won’t relax, so why not? Or you let him sleep next to you in bed just so you can get more than two hours of sleep at night. No, you don’t want him to get used to it. No, you have no intention of letting him stay there until he’s five. You just want him to sleep longer than he does in the cold lonely cot so you can get some rest for a change. Is that really so bad?
But you know what? There’s also something else that you are completely unprepared for. The all-consuming love you feel the moment you lay eyes on the tiny being that has been growing inside you for the past 40 weeks. You thought you loved your husband? Or your parents?
That love is absolutely nothing compared to the selfless and unconditional love you feel for the child you will spend the rest of your life taking care of. The little piece of you that is completely dependent on you. Whose cries are music to your ears. Whose warmth you want to bury yourself in. Who you can stare at for hours on end.
When you feel like you can’t take the exhaustion anymore, he will do something as simple as smile, snuggle into you, or stare into your eyes. Just like that, your fatigue fades away and you know that no matter how tired you are, or how much you crave a moment to yourself, or how much you feel like going out with your husband or friends, or just eating a meal in peace… you wouldn’t have it any other way.