Eight Years On
This week our oldest son turned eight years old. Eight!! I have been a mother, a parent for eight whole years.
There is a part of me that says, yes, they were right. They, being all the parents before me that said it goes so fast. But at the same time while indeed the years seem to have just slipped by when I look back there were also times, a lot of times, that seemed so long, like unbearably long and never ending.
Our youngest son is also about to turn one – our oldest and youngest just 10 days apart in birthdays but seven years in time. All birthdays are a time of deep reflection, but this feels more monumental; the end of an era for us. Our family is complete. We have spent the best part of a decade growing our tribe. There is a huge part of us that is simply relieved.
Everyone’s parenting journey is different but ours certainly has not felt ‘blissful’ or ‘idyllic’ a lot of the time. That is not to say there have not been precious moments, there certainly has which I am eternally grateful for. However, I am ok with not going through another ‘baby phase’ again. I have given it everything I had and then some. We feel a shift for our family now and are looking forward to what is next. We know full well the challenges do not end, but those big changes that come with a new addition, including the planning for them, are done. I can also confidently say that for me personally (as for my husband as well even if a slightly different flavour) that transition from having no children to one child was the hardest of all.
There are so many maybes in this equation as to why this first transition was the most challenging. Both my husband and I were young first time parents – by today’s standards – I was 27, my husband just 23. We did not have a lot of money between us. We were living in a two-bedroom unit when we found out I was pregnant (after expecting a long fertility journey instead). I was eight weeks into my PhD and we not only have little family support but unbeknown to me I was about to experience an unexpected grief at the very same time as this transition into new motherhood. How much these things compounded the feeding difficulties I had (blog here), is hard to tell but it was all in there.
While I have previously written about my motherhood journey without my own mother (blog here), it has taken until this year to fully acknowledge the grief and try and put some context around it. I never expected or planned to do this journey on my own and even when I did do it on my own I simply thought this was normal because I didn’t know anything else. I am not ready to delve any more than I have done into the details of all of this but what I will say is that while what eventuated was what I expected, deep down I hoped it would be different. That when I had my own child my mother and I would reconnect, bound maternally by the magic of a baby but it never happened. I don’t believe I have truly admitted that to myself in an act of self preservation.
Following Ray-Ray’s birth and subsequently now his first birthday I have had to ride through this on a completely new level – that this was it. He is our last baby and the reality that having my mother involved will never, ever be a possibility hit hard. I have been more prepared for this than eight years ago having done a lot of work on this but it is still there.
Hindsight is a luxury you do not have as a new mother. Now eight years on, nearly a decade spent growing a family there are so many things I wished I had known, wished I could have seen but of course you cannot. Looking back at photos of myself in those early days as a new mother I want to reach down through space and time to her.
I want to wrap my arms around her, brush the tears from her eyes and if I physically could - calm her mind and her heart. I want to push the hair out of her face that has slid down while trying yet another painful, unsure feed, get her to look at me and say the following:
I know right now this is hard, really, truly, hard.
I know that you feel like you have absolutely no clue what you are doing and feel so out of your depth.
I also know that this is all you have ever wanted, more than you have wanted anything with your heart and soul.
I know that you love your son more than anything in the world and even though you have only just met him you would lay down your life for him if it came to that.
I know that right now you are hurting. You have not even been able to register this yet but in time you will – in time you will come to understand that you have been thrust into a grief that has no name, no end and few will understand but there will be some that do.
Darling girl, we are all still children at heart and right now you are in this tough place of transition. You are raw, you are open, you are exhausted and you trying to do everything right even when you do not know how.
See there are some things that you do not know yet.
You do not know it but this son of yours, tiny precious son, dependent on you for everything is going to grow up to be just fine.
He is going to start walking at 10 months of age and basically never stop.
He is going to be strong and fast.
He is going to have a determination and will power that will rival your own.
He is going to go on to run cross country races, and jump off wharfs, swim in wild waves and climb anything he sets his eyes on no matter how high.
He is going to be so confident in himself that on his first day of school he will race into his classroom without looking back at you and sit down with new friends and say “hi my name is Arjun what is yours?".
He is going to be an amazing eater.
I know you feel like a complete failure right now trying to feed him and you will not believe this but one day, you will use your knowledge and your research not only to feed him well but in turn to pass this onto other children. This failure that you feel is only because you care and expect so much of yourself. You have never fed a baby before and it does not always come easy.
You also do not know this but you are going to go on and finish this PhD of yours which right now feels like the most ridiculous idea you ever had – a PhD and having a child?! You will go on to finish that not only with your son by your side but also his brother.
I have been wondering if I should tell you this now, but you also do not know it but you are going to go on and not only have one more son….but two more. That is right, it seems insane that despite how hard this all is, how out of your depth and alone you feel right now you will go through it again and again to have three sons.
See this is the incredible, beautiful thing about motherhood. You do all of this hard stuff. You adapt. You never give up no matter how many times you want to. No matter what gets thrown your way. You never ever give up.
Because that, that is the true strength of a mother. That when you are hurting the most, just like right now, you simply keep going.
You might forget all of this. But I will not. I have seen what is on the other side.
So yes, right now it is hard and right now you are stumbling your way through this new life.
But you have got this.
I promise you, you have got this, you are doing this and you will keep doing this.
This photograph is when I was hidden away writing this out a few days ago. A physical release of the emotions inside. It is with love and care I share this blog with you. Having walked through the challenge of fertility right from the start of our parenting journey and then three times over (with two miscarriages) I know that not everyone is able to have a child of their own or able to have subsequent children. I also know that not every parent sees their child turn eight years of age and I have nothing but deep respect for this.
I also want to say that having a family indeed is everything to me, and I love our tribe of three boys more than I thought physically possible but that does mean it has also not been hard in these yearly years. I do not expect you to relate or understand this work but am sharing because it was part of my own journey. The deeper stuff that is difficult to share but in the words of Brene Brown, is shared with my whole heart. Talking to my own inner child simply came to me in this period of reflection, it was work that I didn’t know I needed to do but when I did it, helped immensely.
xx Dr Julie