I don’t write much here about my life outside of mothering E. I’m the sort of person who likes to compartmentalize things, and keep them in their neat, ordered boxes. I have a filing cabinet in my head. I make to-do lists for my to-do lists. That sort of thing. And this space, most of the time, is a place where I can explore my thoughts on motherhood, now that we’ve made it through the wilds of ttc and are out the other side.
And if I’m being honest, there isn’t all that much more to my life right now beyond struggling to keep my head above water as a first-time mum during her baby’s first year. We had some old friends come to stay for a few days this week- good friends of mine from high school- and I found myself doing that horrible new parent thing where all you do is talk about your kid and/or the minutiae of life with a baby. They were pretty tolerant about it, all things considered (both of them being male, and one newly married and the other resolutely single), but sometimes I would take a step back and listen to what was coming out of my mouth, and inwardly I would cringe. And then I would try hard to change the subject. (They did think little E. was pretty awesome. They came back one day with a giant red hooded towel/poncho that had lobster eyes on the hood that will fit E. when he is maybe two years old. It’s very cute, and it was so sweet of them.)
People ask me, “So, what’s new?” and I tend to answer in terms of what E. is doing: “He’s pulling up on everything now.” Or: “He’s teething again, so his naps have disappeared.” Or if E. is crawling around nearby, I tend to just point to him. He’s what is new. He’s always new- every day he changes. And yet he isn’t new, and there isn’t all that much to report when it comes to my own life. At the moment, it still very much feels like he is my whole life. I spend much of my day trying and failing to get him to nurse, which is a source of enormous distress to me. I feel like my supply is dwindling because of it. I’m at the point where I’m trying to borrow a pump from one of my friends so I can at least protect my supply, and maybe get some more milk into a cup to offer E. at meals, because he sure as hell isn’t interested in nursing otherwise.
Except, of course, at night. I have these crazy conflicted feelings towards the night feeds. Every night, as I take out my housecoat and lay it over my dresser, ready for me to slip on before I trundle down the hall to his room, I think to myself,I can’t. I just can’t keep doing this anymore. I am so tired. And then he wakes up, twice, and each time I go to him, and I take him out of the crib, and we sit down in the rocking chair together, and he latches and nurses and drinks deeply and strokes my skin and relaxes in a way that he simply doesn’t do during the daytime, when it feels like I’m fighting with him every time I try to get him to nurse, and on the rare occasion when he feeds he’s finished a few minutes later and desperate to get down and get moving again. But at night he curls up to me, and when he’s finished I hold him to my chest and rock him for a moment or two, and kiss his perfect head, and inhale his glorious baby smell, and savour the feel of his no-longer tiny body as he relaxes into me. And then I put him back in his crib, and I return to my own bed, trying not to calculate how many hours of sleep I’ve already had, desperate to keep my brain from waking up too much, and then eventually I fall asleep again, and then the morning comes, and somehow I’ve made it through another night.
I am desperate to end the night feeds.
I am reluctant to end the night feeds.
At this point I believe that when we cut out the night feeds at the twelve month mark, E. will wean himself. This makes me terribly sad. We’ve done so well with breastfeeding, and I was ready to continue to at least eighteen months, even if the MSPI issue had not yet resolved. At the back of my mind is always, always, the awareness that E. could well be our only baby, and that he could be the only child who will cry for me in the night and rest his head on my shoulder. If he is going to be my only nursling, I’m not ready to stop two months hence.
And yet, I don’t really enjoy our current nursing relationship during the day. I don’t like that it feels like a battle, that I end up expressing milk into a cup, hoping to get him to drink it, that I never know when it is ok to leave the house because I can’t figure out when E. might suddenly decide that nursing does sound like a good idea, that my breasts either feel over-full or all-too empty.
But for my own sanity, the night feeds have to stop when we hit the twelve month mark. I like to think that I’m coping, that I function most days, that in my interactions with others they wouldn’t be able to tell that I was up twice last night, and have been up at least twice nearly every single night for the last ten months.
If I’m honest, however, I can see that all is not right.
I’m breaking things.
In the last month, I’ve smashed at least four things in the kitchen- a glass, a port glass, a plate, a bowl. I don’t think I’d broken four things, total, in the previous ten years. They were dumb accidents too- I’d reach for something on the counter and knock something else over instead, or I’d pick something up and drop it on something else. They were dumb enough that each time I remember standing there amidst the shards of glass or pottery, thinking, Really? I just did that?
I forget things.
I forget everything now, if it isn’t written down, and half the time I still forget it even if it is recorded somewhere. Given I’ve always been the memory of this family (Q. being a very clever man but a very absent-minded professor), this is quite disturbing. It makes me feel weak.
I lose patience with E., but especially with Q.
Because my instincts know that E. is young and vulnerable and too little to know any better, when he has a horrible day and I’m ready to pull my own hair out, I snap at Q. instead because I am just SO.DAMN.TIRED and I need to vent my frustration somewhere.
I know that I’m not operating as I should be, and I know there’s nothing I can do about it right now, except keep putting one foot forward in front of the other, and take each day as it comes. But always, always, I’m reminded that there is one giant part of my life right now that is not about E.
You know, the one I’m supposed to be writing at the moment. The PhD that has nothing to do with my child and yet has everything to do with my child, because how I’m coping with E. directly affects how I cope (or not) with my doctorate.
I never, ever, thought I would be ten months in to life as a mother and still be waking up twice a night. I might have seriously reconsidered going back to the dissertation after six months, had I been able to scout out what was in store for us.
And now we come to the heart of the matter.
I’ve promised my supervisor a chapter by the start of May. I have to produce it to stay on our agreed-upon timeline, so that I can finish in good time and get out on the job market and hopefully cobble together enough sessional work to make Q. and I feel like this whole process wasn’t a giant waste of our time and I should have just swapped over my teaching qualifications and sucked it up and continued teaching high school.
I haven’t started writing yet. I have an outline, and an awareness of how much time I have. But I haven’t been writing. Instead I’ve been reading and thinking and collecting ever more references that may or may not prove to be useful in the final product.
I have to start writing next week. I don’t have any more leeway.
I find the blank page very intimidating. Once I get going, I’m usually fine. But those first words are killers. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I always have- even with essays as an undergraduate. I’ll convince myself that I can’t even start writing until I’m convinced that this essay/paper/chapter/what-have-you is going to be the BEST work ever written on the subject. And I can’t possibly write the best work ever written on the subject because, like all graduate students and most professors, I secretly think I’m a fraud and that one of these days everyone else is going to notice that I don’t actually know anything about my subject and I’ve been faking my way through university, albeit while collecting a host of awards, scholarships and medals, all this time. (I have a full-length draft of a novel that sits under my desk and has done so for the last three years because I can’t bear to send it out in case it turns out that it really is terrible, which is what I have feared since writing it. But that is another post.)
Q. can always tell when I’m hesitating- balanced on the precipice and looking down into the deep black hole of my latest assignment. He’ll catch me cleaning, or popping in and out of his study, and he’ll tell me to go and sit in my chair.
He’s always right. I put my butt in the chair, and I start writing, and while it’s never the best work ever written on the subject, it’s generally pretty damn good by the end. And once a few hundred words are there on the page, suddenly it’s easy. The pressure literally lifts off my shoulders and the words skip out from my fingertips as fast as I can type.
The funny thing, though, is that it never gets any easier with any later assignments. I go through the same process each and every time I have to produce something.
Right now, I’m on the precipice again. But this one feels different. It’s the first chapter of the dissertation. The first chapter of that final step- my last assignment as a student.
Dissertation angst is legendary among graduate students. I think I’d be feeling it, regardless of the circumstances. But it is made about a billion times worse by my being all-too aware of just how depleted my mental state currently is, just how little I have to give to something that should be the focus of my existence.
But it can’t be, of course. That place is filled by E.
And even though I know, I KNOW that this is only a first draft, and that there will be revisions upon revisions and much of it probably won’t even end up in the finished product, and I will rewrite at a time when E. does sleep through the night and my brain does not feel like it is made of cotton wool, and that I need to start writing now to know what I still need to read, and what questions I still need to answer, I remain paralyzed, immobile with the fear that when I start writing, I will discover that I really, truly can’t do this, and that my brain has failed me when I need it most.
The one saving grace is that I’m so damn tired that at least the fretting isn’t keeping me up at night.