Whatever you do, don’t mention poo: a transition to motherhood
“…and you’ve never discussed Alfie’s bowel movements with me, not even once. Major points for that!”
I was watching Offspring the other week when one character comforted another with this line, by way of assuring her that she was still a cool person now that she was a mother.
I died a little inside.
I have discussed my baby’s poo with so many people. In fact, only a few days prior to watching that episode, I had actually described in some detail – to a room full of people – a particularly impressive projectile poop.
Oh God, oh God, I am already one of Those Parents. Those Parents whose only contribution to conversations about politics is the proud declaration, “I’m sure little Tommy will be a politician some day, you can just tell by the way he spits up his half-digested milk.” Before I know it, I’ll be abusing umpires as I stand on the sidelines of little kids’ soccer games in sneaky jeans. Help. This was not supposed to happen.
In my pre-baby mind, I was sure I was going to be such a cool mother. I would take it all in my stride! I would bore nobody with stories about shitty nappies and burping! And, most importantly, I was going to be exactly the person I was before, only with a baby in tow!
It’s probably needless to say that the reality of becoming a mother smashed those illusions to pieces.
One of my expectations was that from the get go, I was going to be out and about, cheerfully and confidently taking my baby everywhere with me. In reality, it took me a long time to feel brave enough to take such a tiny, fragile person out of the house – and even then, it was only because he had to have a check-up at the hospital. I walked him slowly towards the building in his pram, apologising anxiously every time I rolled him over a little bump in the footpath, all the way up to the big set of steps that led up to the hospital entrance. The steps. I stood at the bottom of them for a good 60 seconds, mind-blown by my own idiocy and waiting for some sort of motherly knowledge to enter my consciousness and remind me what to do. Take the ramp, Caitlin. Ah. There it is.
I thought breastfeeding would be easy, and it wasn’t. I thought I would feel great after giving birth, and I didn’t. I thought I would only cry from joy, and I did cry from joy; but I also cried from exhaustion, I cried because it hurt to sit down, I cried because my belly was still big, I cried because I didn’t have time to shower daily. I cried because I felt lonely, and then I cried because I was overwhelmed when people wanted to visit. I cried because I was afraid of not being good enough to be this beautiful, perfect little person’s mum. I had turned into an absolute weeper.
And that was just the first week’s worth of busted expectations.
I’ll never forget this one time I was feeding my son in one of those grubby baby change rooms with the bright, frightening characters peeling menacingly off the walls. Two women came in to use the toilet, because the normal loos were being cleaned. While one of them waited for the other to finish, she smiled at me and asked how old my baby was. He was a few weeks old. I waited for the usual response – “Aw, he’s so little! How lovely!” – but she met my eyes and said something better.
“It’s so intense to start off with, isn’t it? But it gets easier.”
I could have hugged her. While I was pregnant, I wrote about how I didn’t feel like I’d need any ‘mum friends’ because of how amazing my current (childless) friends are. My friends are still amazing, and have been absolute rocks for me over the last year; but I’d underestimated just how hard it is to understand what it’s like to have a young baby until you’ve actually had one yourself. Talking to this stranger, who it turned out had an 18 month old daughter, made me feel less like an animal who’d crawled out of a den of chaos to masquerade as a normal person and more like, well, almost an actual normal person. Or at the very least, it reminded me that other women have survived dens of chaos and know what it’s like. Before that conversation, I have to admit that I shied away from making friends with other mothers because deep down, I wanted to hang on to my identity as a young, carefree and spontaneous uni student with a cheerfully professed fear of commitment. But the reality is that you can’t become someone’s mother and be the same person you were before. And while the love for my baby was immediate, the acceptance of the changes in myself is a slower process. But I’m getting there, and I’m gradually learning which Mother Things I’ll reject as ‘not me’ (scary sneaky-jean soccer mum), and which to embrace (poo love).
Besides, I don’t care how cool you are; if you’d seen this poo, you’d have told a roomful of people about it too. It was phenomenal.