I want to start this post with a disclaimer that it’s not a dig at Mr O or any of the other wonderful people who form the village that is raising Little O but rather an account of my experiences as I see them.
There are lots of incredibly special things about getting to be “mum”. It starts when you are pregnant and you get to be the one who grows the new little person inside your body, feels them move and bonds with them before they even reach the outside world. More often than not you are the first person who holds them, the one they reach to for for comfort and if you breastfeed the one who looks into their eyes as you feed them.
It is also in the womb where the feeling of responsibility starts. As “mum” you are the one who must hold safe the new life inside you. It is you who must bring this person into the world through one of the most traumatic and intense processes both physically and emotionally than any human being can go through. They don’t call it labour for nothing. And I am yet to meet a single woman who has had a pregnancy and birth with absolutely no complications.
Now three months into “mummery” as I like to call it because parenthood sounds boring, I am realising that to a large extent the buck stops with mum. It doesn’t matter how devoted your partner is (if you’re fortunate enough to have one) or how vast and committed your support network is at the start at least, you are the centre of your baby’s life. This is even more evident if you are breastfeeding.
Little O is exclusively breastfed and not at all interested in bottles. This means I must take him absolutely everywhere I go if I am going to be gone any longer than an hour and realistically I cannot be more than 20 minutes away from him. This is not true for Mr O, who has managed to have days and whole nights away. I don’t have a burning desire to be away from Little O but it makes things like the Keeping in Touch day I did for work earlier this week a lot more complicated. Mr O is able to walk out of our front door and head out into the world knowing that Little O is fully cared for by me and if things don’t go according to plan and he’s gone for longer than expected it’s no big deal. This is inconceivable for me. I haven’t been out past 7pm since he was born.
When it comes to putting Little O to bed or getting him to take a nap there are only two ways depending on his mood. He will either feed to sleep or needs to be rocked (usually as he shouts angrily in my ear or claws at my face and neck because he doesn’t understand yet that he’s tired). Both of these things only work when I do them. Mr O has tried to rock him but in Little O’s mind daddy is for fun and mummy is for eating and sleeping and getting shit done. Even once Little O is asleep it’s still a mum job. He sleeps in his moses basket now but it lives on my side of the bed as I am the one who needs to get up for night feeds (and listen to him flail about in his sleep… seriously when do they stop doing that??).
And then of course there is the way society looks at mums. Whoever is cuddling Little O, if he starts whinging it’s, “time to go back to mummy!”. When your baby is kicking off in public whether it be on a plane, train, while you’re out shopping or wherever else it’s mum that the stares turn to, even if you’re not on your own. While dads wrangling babies seem to get looks of the “isn’t he marvelous” variety (even when the baby is in full purple-faced meltdown), a mum with the same baby is more likely to get “for god’s sake woman sort it out” looks. When Little O was about 6 weeks old and going to pieces on the tube, Mr O sat holding him while I trundled behind, hot and bothered with all our stuff. I watched people literally coo watching him rock Little O, while I barely existed. My mum was on the verge of canonising Mr O because he changed a poo nappy.
I guess what I am trying to say is that being mum is awesome but it’s also relentless and overwhelming in a way that it’s probably impossible to understand unless you are mum. So the next time you see a mum dealing with some kind of epic baby incident, smile at her. She might need it.