My dear, sweet Ettienne Rose is almost 5 months old. In actual fact it was a year ago tomorrow that we saw her on the screen for the very first time, an 8 week old peanut wriggling in my belly. She fits so beautifully into our family and in so many ways, she saved me. Its hard to put into words but having her was so mentally freeing for me; it was like coming up for fresh air.
I suffered with post partum anxiety so badly after Elin, post natal depressions younger cousin. I agonized over everything, torturing myself to get it all right. I still do in some ways, Elin is my challenge and I so desperately want to succeed with her; even though she’s nothing short of amazing I convince myself that i’m not. For the most part its under control and I can live a normal enough day to day life, but it would always creep in and turn me inside out. Having your first the expectations on you are immense. Society plays a role in that, but, for me at least, my worst critic was myself. I’d punish myself mentally for each screw up I made or each time I could have been better, more patient, more knowing. I couldn’t have loved her more if I tried but each day I knew i could do better.
People would look at me and have no idea. They wouldn’t know that there were times I simply couldn’t leave the house but I remember at least two stretches spanning a good few months where that was the reality for us. That was at my worst. Better days just saw the tears and feelings of suffocation after bed time fell. It looks different on everyone but that time post partum is so fragile and turbulent on every new mum and we should always, always be kind. You never know what darkness someone else is hiding.
I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t see the end to the colic, the teething, the sleepless nights, the inability to communicate and the frustrations that brings. I couldn’t see how her stranger danger would ever get under control or her confidence would ever sky rocket in the way that it has. And because I couldn’t see it I felt forever trapped in that particular phase and always trying fruitlessly to ‘fix’ it, even though it was never something I could, or even should, fix. The reality is you don’t even notice the shift when it happens, you don’t notice how they subtly change and grow and those problems are no longer problems. (except sleep. I definitely remember the night that that changed!)
I’m not like that with Etty. With her I can see the light. I’m living with that light. A living, breathing, singing and dancing light that shows me how fleeting these days are; the good and the bad. So with my littlest love I’m not sweating the small stuff. And as a result she’s gliding through her developmental changes with so much more ease then Elin had.
I also couldn’t believe after Elin how exceptionally LONELY motherhood is. It can be the loneliest thing in the world, except you are never, ever alone. I hadn’t built my village at that point with Elin (not helped because I was still on such a high horse on how you ‘should’ parent). Older children scared the hell out of me, racing around generally acting their age, because that toddler could completely crush my child in a heart beat. Plus I didn’t think I could possibly have anything in common with that toddlers mum. I didn’t know how quickly I would become that toddler’s mum, and how relevant those baby years would still feel. (Elin’s babyhood still feels fresh as anything to me, she will forever be my baby!) That fear/ nativity stopped me connecting with more experienced mums who would actually provide me a confidence I needed far more. Second time around I have that support network so much more, and that is the most uplifting feeling on a bad day.
The other massive difference with your second is that you already have a purpose. My purpose was providing Elin with a childhood, she needed to experience life with as much enthusiasm as I could muster so fitting Etty into that equation was a lot easier. I already had a place to be and my own place in this little life of ours. When you are presented with your first baby you don’t necessarily have that, I know I didn’t, and its hard to find when they aren’t yet interactive or mobile.
Etty’s arrival de-throned me of the super mum title I thought I needed and gave me the biggest dose of reality. The reality that babies cry, its just what they do. I’m one person and they are two babies so I’m instantly at a disadvantage there. Of course there would be tears, it would be wrong if there weren’t. The reality that you can’t be everything all the time. The reality that a few hours ‘me time’ isn’t selfish but actually really really positive so you can come back to the game stronger. The reality that no amount of breastmilk or sensory play prevents that beautiful bundle one day turning into a two year old 😉 It was the reality check I needed to stop holding myself to such a high standard and just actually enjoy the ride. Every day would be FAR from perfect, but there would be positives in each day. I started living for the positives.
Anxiety has a way of stripping all the joy out of things so taking back control of that is the most powerful thing you can do. For me, my sweet second daughter keeps me feeling strong and capable. She makes me a better mother to them both. I am so grateful to her, and love that she brings to us all.
5 months Etty, and I couldn’t imagine not knowing you. You complete this family and I am humbled by you and your sister daily. Thank you for this journey sweetheart.