you gotta learn to crawl before you can walk…
It’s officially nine months since little Elsie was born (only she’s not so little anymore – my back can uh, back me up on that one – yeouch) and I’ve somehow suddenly found myself with my very first afternoon off from motherhood. Turns out that another surprise casualty of lockdown was my poor car; it failed its MOT last week because of the state of the tyres. No idea how; I’ve barely left the house since the last MOT when I was – what, four months pregnant? Nope, the tyres went stale, a bit bald and cracked just from sitting around on the drive during pregnancy and the pandemic. Anyway, fully aware that I was starting to eat into my two week grace period, I handed the baby over to my husband and whizzed down to the nearest garage to get them sorted only to find myself with that golden thing I’ve come to realise that you rarely get as a new mum. FREE TIME. NO BABY.
When the bloke in the garage told me in that oh so stereotypical “bloke in the garage” way that it was going to be “an hour to an hour and a half, love” (an hour and a half!?) I must have looked at him like he’d spoken to me in a foreign language, because that’s a kind of time currency that I’ve become totally, completely unfamiliar with. Most days I get maybe half an hour here and there when Elsie naps – if I’m lucky – and even then until recently it’s been taken up by either pumping myself dry like dairy cow or flying around the house throwing vomit-covered clothes into the wash (or worse…) and tidying away all the kid-clutter we’ve somehow accumulated over the past nine months. I mean, an hour and a freakin’ half!? What the hell was I going to do with myself?
Sitting down alone for the first time without a pump attached to my left boob (the over-keen one, I’ve come to realise), I realise I can totally relate to my tyres, because I feel like I’ve gone a bit stale, a bit bald and cracked over the past nine months. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a damn thing – I just had no idea how long it would take to emerge from the newborn, post-partum fog. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can prepare you for it. It’s TOUGH – and that’s an understatement. Heaven and Hell all at once. Your life as you know/knew it, up in smoke. We will rebuild, sure – but how? When?
So I walked. I walked down the road, inhaled the city as if I were sampling scented candles in T K Maxx – inhaled enough exhaust fumes to make up for the last nine months spent breathing only the air inside my house – sidestepped people without having to manoeuvre a pushchair (turns out I’ve completely forgotten how to walk without it), made it all the way to Victoria Park, hovered in Let Them See Cake for a decent twenty minutes (not including the extra ten to actually decide between cupcakes and macarons… before ending up with both, obvs), and now I’ve parked outside of Bloc Coffee with a white hot chocolate and plenty of time still to spare.
It’s taken the full nine months that I spent cooking Elsie to actually recover from cooking Elsie. The full nine months to feel anything close to my old self both physically and mentally. A full nine months to settle into some semblance of a routine that works and allows time not just for a shower and a (cold) cup of tea, but time to do just some of the things that are intrinsically part of what make me me. The things I need to do to still feel like me. Writing, baking, painting my nails, watching history documentaries and the latest trash on Netflix. Time to marry together the old me with the mum me to make a whole new me.
I was totally unprepared for that change. For a start, I had no idea how long it was going to take to heal – y’know – downstairs (forceps, man…). I had no idea that all my hair up front was going to fall out (I’ve become very into headscarves to hide my bald bits and baby bangs over the summer). I had some notion that life was going to completely change, of course I did, but wow. I was also completely unprepared for the fact that having Elsie would not only fail to heal the ache from my previous miscarriages, but actually make it worse. Because now, I’m even more acutely, viscerally aware of what I lost each time – a pang I can only really settle by telling myself that without those losses, I certainly wouldn’t have Elsie.
I know it sounds like I’m moaning; I’m really not. Okay, maybe just a little. I’m entitled. The truth is that I’m absolutely knackered and a little shell shocked, but gloriously happy. And even as I’m sat here in the park enjoying the freedom, the last hurrah of summer, this hot chocolate and the relative peace and quiet of one of my favourite parks, I can’t wait to get back home to see my little family – to scratch Bungle’s fluffy butt, to have what little hair I have left tugged out by Elsie while she blows raspberries in my face, and to hug my husband – who’s put up with a lot himself over the past nine months (who, am I kidding? Eighteen months, more like) and has been doing everything he possibly can to help me back onto my feet. To fit me with a fresh set of tyres, so to speak, so I can get back on the road.
I think more than anything I’ve spent a long time feeling frustrated with my own pace. Why wasn’t I healing quicker? Why couldn’t I find the time to do the things I enjoy? Why wasn’t I feeling myself yet? Why – after such heartache getting here – wasn’t I feeling happy all the time? Why wasn’t my hair growing back quicker?
I should take a tip from my daughter who’s just learning to crawl (or at least trying to!) – you’ve got to go at your own pace. Embrace the chaos, embrace the constant face-planting and flopping flat onto your back… and the bald patches.