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6 months into life with a rainbow, and 20 months into life after loss, and I’m starting to feel a bit worn out.
It is not the all-consuming exhaustion of grief, or the glazed-eye stare of sleep deprivation associated with life with a newborn, but a general weariness. A fatigue which no amount of caffeine, sugar or power naps seem able to combat. I’m sure the fact that Leo is still very much in the two hourly waking cycle he was born with isn’t helping, but there’s something else too.
I’m tired of trying to be perfect; of trying to prove to myself and the world that I can ‘do’ motherhood, and do it properly.
I’m tired of trying so hard not to fail Leo, in the way I failed Findlay, that much of my day is spent beating myself up every time I don’t achieve this impossible ideal. Like when he cries for me whilst I’m having a shower but I’ve got conditioner in my hair; or our activities for the day mean I miss the (tiny) window of opportunity to put him down for a nap before he gets overtired; or I resort to an Ella’s Kitchen pouch for lunch because I haven’t managed to make him anything and it’s 2pm.
I’m tired of never letting myself acknowledge that it’s hard sometimes; that some days the responsibility of being the primary carer to a less than two foot, (frustratingly for him) immobile dictator m, with a set of lungs which could rival Pavarotti, makes me want to reach for the gin.
I’m tired of feeling that I need to enjoy every single moment; worn out by the guilt that accompanies daring to feel anything other than elated adoration and gratitude for my baby and my role as full time mother.
Throughout my pregnancy with Leo, I never allowed myself to think about what life with a baby would actually be like. Yes, I knew it would be tough: the lack of sleep, the constant feeding, the sense of isolation from the rest of society, but all I could think was that no matter how hard it would be, nothing is as hard as burying your child. If I could survive that (and it seemed like I just about might) then I could survive anything.
But life’s not like that. Being a parent to Findlay and being a parent to Leo are not two mutually exclusive experiences. Of course, no amount of sleepless nights or poo explosions are as devastating as the death of a baby, but that doesn’t mean motherhood is easy.
It was my mum who said to me ‘Leo will be the baby he always would have been, whether Findlay had died or not.’ What she meant by this was that Leo wasn’t suddenly going to be a ‘perfect’ baby (whatever that may be) or that I would sail through parenting as if I had been plucked straight from Mary Poppins’ magical bag because of Findlay. We have been fortunate enough to have our rainbow, but life with a newborn is a baptism of fire no matter what circumstances have preceded it.
And it’s only now that I am able to admit to myself that, whilst I am so thankful to have Leo safely here with us, some days are bloody hard. Parenthood is full of joy but there’s some shit stuff which comes with it to.
And it’s not always easy to be grateful for the shit.
And that’s OK.
It’s OK if some days the voice which says ‘I would sell my soul for three hours of unbroken sleep’ shouts louder than the voice which says ‘at least your baby is alive, and able to keep you up all night.’
It’s OK to feel exasperated when you’re running late for baby massage because you’re both on your third outfit change of the day following a particularly violent reaction to butternut squash.
It’s OK that a text from your husband to say he’s going for ‘a quick drink’ after work illicits, albeit momentarily, feelings of resentment that despite his equal share in the creation and adoration of your child, he has the feeedom to go anywhere or do anything (and spontaneously!) for longer than 5 minutes without the accompanying cacophonoy of said child’s protest at being put down.
It’s OK to feel sad. In fact, it’s inevitable. Every wonderful new experience with Leo – every milestone, every photograph – is a cruel reminder of the life that was stolen from Findlay; all the things we would, and should, have done with him. Before Leo was born, I was grieving for the child I had lost; the baby I never got to bring home, to bathe, to sing to sleep. But I didn’t know what life would look like. I didn’t know how it would feel to see your child smile for the first time; to watch then reach their arms up to touch your face, pulling you closer; the look of delight in their eyes at the discovery of a new object or toy. I had imagined all these things, but I had never felt them.
Every beautiful moment with Leo is tinged with a further sense of loss; a sadness for the memories which can never be made. They are a reminder that it was not only our baby who died, but we lost the child and the man he would have become. And at every new stage we will feel the absence of him once again.
Of course, I am eternally grateful for Leo; he has brought colour back into my darkened world and every day I feel blessed that I have him here. Perhaps I am slightly more appreciative, and better at managing the challenges of motherhood, than I would have been if I hadn’t lost Findlay. Perhaps it has given me a different perspective on what I can and can’t cope with, and the strength to keep going even when things don’t go to plan.
But some days, this parenting gig just plain tough, and I’m learning that it’s OK to feel that too.