Dominique McMullan gave birth to her son five months ago. For many reasons, the editor and writer has been hesitant to to write about her experience of motherhood so far. Here, she shares an honest look at her reality in a beautiful letter to her son.
I have started writing this more times than I can remember. While you snooze on top on me, while you feed at 3am, while I retell the story of our first terrifying trip to the shop. For so many reasons I have been hesitant to put pen to paper. For so many reasons I have wanted to. For so many reasons I have not. Only now do I feel ready.
You are five months old. I have found the last five months much harder than I thought I would. That is hard to type. Let me explain why.
I went to the doctor yesterday. I was due a smear test and I found myself crying in the surgery. The thought of another medical professional near me left me nauseous.
I had a good pregnancy. I felt comfortable with the idea of giving birth. I knew motherhood would have its challenges, but I felt ready for them.
I had heard women whisper about those “first few months” and give me their phone numbers in case of midnight questions about cracked nipples, or just to hear a voice on the end of the phone. I so appreciated those words. But I never really understood them.
Complicated, scary, brutal
My birth was not like my pregnancy. It was complicated, scary and brutal. The violence of it shocked me. I did not expect it, or anything that came after it.
In those first few weeks I have never felt so raw, and so desperately vulnerable. My body felt alien and as my new reality settled in, I felt claustrophobic and terrified.
"My body ached and bled. You cried a lot, as babies do. I fed you every two hours, day and night."
Emotionally as well as physically I took a long time to get over the birth. I dreamt about it. I’m not sure I’m even really over it yet.
My body ached and bled. You cried a lot, as babies do. I fed you every two hours, day and night. Every time I sat up it felt as though I was coming apart. I feel desperately guilty to type this, but there were moments where I wondered “What have we done?”
One afternoon I stood in the shower as my mum watched you downstairs and my husband wrapped a towel around my stitched, engorged, swollen, sagging, stinging body. “You’re doing a great job” were his words. I stood there and sobbed like the world was coming to an end.
I now know the sadness was a combination of hormones, sleep deprivation, shock and grief. This is what some women call the baby blues.
The baby blues can develop into post-natal depression, but for most women this is simple the entrance into “motherhood”.
I have had bad days. Days where my eyes are red from crying. Days when I shout at the people who are trying to help me. Days when I function on four hours broken sleep. But I now know that bad days are normal. Bad days are ok. Bad days are shite, but they pass.
"The hardest bit about putting pen to paper is explaining that despite all the grief, the pain and the shock, I have never been happier."
I thought I had post-natal depression because I did not know that bad days, really bad days, come hand-in-hand with being a mother. Or maybe I knew, but I didn’t.
The hardest bit about putting pen to paper is explaining that despite all the grief, the pain and the shock, I have never been happier. Some days I still feel like I am walking around with a raw, open wound. But those days are becoming fewer.
By talking about my (limited) experience of motherhood, by connecting with other mums and by recognising all that I have learnt so far – it’s getting (say it quietly) easier.
I wish I had been more prepared. I understand that these things are hard to talk about. But by allowing young women to expect only joy and rainbows we are setting them up for a fall.
I found it hard to talk about my experience of early motherhood because of the judgement I feared would be directed my way.
"There are hours spent smiling, learning what sounds I can make to hear you laugh. There are nights where I cry in the dark because I know it will be dawn soon."
My son is the most magical thing in the world. Motherly guilt sets in early and I feel I must reiterate that. But motherhood seems to be full of high-resolution contrast.
There are hours spent smiling, learning what sounds I can make to hear you laugh. There are nights where I cry in the dark because I know it will be dawn soon. There are Sunday mornings when we dance in the kitchen and I can’t stop kissing your perfect little hands.
There are moments where I hold my head in my hands because I just don’t know what to do with you next. There are evenings spent lying awake looking at photos of you as you sleep softly beside me.
The most arduous moments of my life arrived hand-in-hand with the most tender. With the dark comes the light.
I could float away with you and never need anything or anyone ever again. But maybe after a good night’s sleep.
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