My son Zain was born with the kind of reflux and colic that no doctor seemed able to cure. He screamed for up to eight or nine hours a day for the first twelve months of his life. There was nothing I could do but push him up and down the streets of my neighbourhood at all hours of the night and day. So much of those long hours of walking are in my next book, which doesn’t really focus on motherhood at all but rather, on a close and intimate portrayal of all those people and places I observed while walking. It wasn’t just that it was the first time in my life in which I had given myself permission to sit on a bench on the river or to hang out in a park all day and really look at those everyday things I had never taken the time to notice before, it was also that everything had so much more emotional intensity and significance than it had previously had. It doesn’t last forever but there is this crazed state you exist in, in those early months, that is something right out The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I remember, distinctly, standing on the Parramatta River, looking at Jamie Eastwood’s mural on the footpath which depicts the local Indigenous population trying to fight off the boats in that same place where the ferries were now coming in to dock at Parramatta Pier. The whole place seemed so heart-breakingly gorgeous and tragic in a way that I think I could never understand if I wasn’t in such a heightened emotional state. That space is now the central image that my next book revolves around. It was feeling that space in such a different way that made me realise I needed to write a book about it. I wrote a lot during that first year of being a mother. It wasn’t the kind of long concentrated writing I had done before but I came out of it with a lot of lines scrawled on bits of paper that turned into great things some time later.
From “Who gives a shit? On motherhood and the arts” by Felicity Castagna in the Southerly Journal.
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My latest article is here:
So, when I found out about mothers’ groups I came to them with some desperation. There I discovered other women like me — sleep-deprived and confused by our new lives – we were as fragile as our babies. During such times in life you either make the best of friends or the most peculiar and transient of acquaintances. You are open and lost offering something between possibility and flight to those you encounter.
We had big new identities, these women and I, we were mothers now. But we didn’t yet inhabit those identities. We simply sloshed around in them like liquid insufficient to fill a bucket. Our lack of structure and integrity made us terribly vulnerable. If someone was blunt or even mildly critical about our parenting we were devastated. We were so recently arrived and incompetent that we became disorientated by anyone with a strong position or a new theory. It wasn’t just the blind leading the blind, it was the blind and opinionated leading the blind.
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Lauca was a really difficult baby.
But fast forward on oooh, say seven years in the future.. that difficult baby turns eight years old and you are dragging your tired self home from work one evening and you ring ahead to ask if you need to stop at the shops to buy something to cook everyone for dinner:
Lauca: “No, I have already cooked dinner”.
Me: “What on earth did you cook?”
Me: “What did you put in it?”
Lauca: “Whatever I could find in the kitchen”.
When I walked in the door that evening I found her lying on my bed reading a novel while the pie finished baking. So wonderful. And then on the weekend she woke me up with breakfast in bed. She had found a recipe for Greek yoghurt pancakes in her cookbook. Finally, that evening she asked me to show her how to cook a roast. My god.
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A year later, I visited a friend who had just given birth and found her crying with joy about how much she loved her baby and her husband. As a mutual friend said, “It’s like a roller coaster. We’re all experiencing the same thing, but it makes some people laugh and whoop with joy, and it makes other people cry with fear or puke.”
How the external circumstances of new parenthood will affect your mood might be easier to predict. If you are good at just being in the moment and taking your life as it comes, there can be a Zen-like quality to your days with baby. But say you’re someone like me—someone who likes the feeling of planning out your day, both what you’re going to accomplish and when and how you’re going to relax, and then executing that plan–then you will probably find that the long, aimless weeks of waiting on and reacting to your newborn are unsatisfying, frustrating, even depressing. You may find yourself a little weepy at the end of a cold, gray day in which you accomplished nothing but half a load of laundry, now moldering in the washer since the baby’s surprisingly early awakening from her morning nap. You may find yourself unreasonably irritable when your partner calls to say that he or she is going to be home from work thirty minutes late.
I was less weepy on the days when I got more done, when I felt more competent. I draw a lot of satisfaction from the experience of mastering a task, of figuring it out and doing it well, but the task of parenting a new baby changes so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to feel any sense of mastery in those first few months. Everyone kept telling me that, when in doubt, I should tune into my “Mother’s Instincts,” but I didn’t really feel like a Mother yet. I had Instincts, but they just seemed to be the same ones I’d always had, like the very strong Instinct to make myself a cup of tea and watch The Wonder Years. These Instincts didn’t have much to say about parenting Rosie, and they were struck especially dumb when confronted with conflicting theories about childrearing. The hard-core attachment parenting ideologues said I should hold my baby all day (actually, it was worse: They said I should want to hold my baby all day), and I was pretty sure that was crazy, but what did I know? In the absence of loud and confident Mother’s Instincts, some new mothers find it helpful just to pick an ideology and follow it. I opted for the more balanced approach of allowing them all to make me feel equally inadequate.
This is excellent. Jody Peltason with “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood” in The Atlantic. Cry on my shoulder any time, new mothers, any time. I remember everything. One of the reasons I have a category on this blog called “the first year of motherhood”.
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My latest article is up at Daily Life and also Essential Baby:
By sharing private and difficult moments as mothers we create a more complete picture of the reality of motherhood – it ultimately frees us all. The ugly complaints, if told wisely, can be witness to the stamina of this extraordinary relationship. But the fear in us in disclosing is palpable – that we might be frauds and that our secret moments exclude us from being good mothers. For an instant, you are unsettlingly close to the truly dysfunctional mother, and you see the dangerously fragile state that she must teeter in, and how damaging she is to her children.
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