Joe Hockey, the husband of a very successful businesswoman, used his position as Australia’s treasurer to say some things about housing affordability. It wouldn’t be a problem if people just went out and got well-paid jobs, he said. Cool story, Joe.
A lot of people responded to Hockey with varying views, including that people my age should just shift their attitudes and be totally fine with making sacrifices and renting for life.
Well, up your ziggy with a wawa brush. This argument inspired me to write a list of reasons I want to have a home of our own.
A list of reasons I want to have a home of our own:
1. Property managers suck. I can’t stand that a very important part of my life is controlled by barely literate, mouth-breathing rich kids. After moving out of our last place, our real estate agent called us to say we couldn’t have the bond back unless we cleaned the shower again.
When I went into the bathroom – ashamed, and expecting to see mould quivering on the tiles – I found streaks on the glass door. Streaks of cleaning product. Streaks which were evidence the shower had just been cleaned. When she finally agreed to give us the bond back, she filled out the forms incorrectly, meaning we waited about six weeks to get $2000 back. I work part-time, we have a child, we live in Sydney – $2000 is nothing to be sneezed at.
The time before that, we spent about a week arguing with the property manager about whether we should have to pay someone to steam clean the carpet when we moved out, as the lease said. We won that round by sending her the section of the Residential Tenancies Act that says it is illegal to include that on a lease. A couple of houses before that, we spent the entire time battling with the property manager, who insisted we were drastically behind on rent, even though our bank statements showed otherwise.
2. Rental properties suck. We moved into our last place knowing that it was cheap because it was a bit of a dump. I would never do that again. We paid $500 a week to live in a house with holes in the walls, threadbare synthetic carpet, mould on the roof, dodgy plumbing, and a severe slug and cockroach problem (see: holes in the walls). I would never buy a house like that, but if I did, at least I could knock it down and rebuild it, or at very least patch up the holes and commit insect genocide. I want to decide how I live – if I want my house to be an ‘under the sea’ theme, I’ll paint some glittery dolphins on the wall. If J-man wants to re-jig the plumbing system for a home brewery, then he’s free to get a monkey wrench and bang on some pipes. If I want to keep 30 great danes in the backyard, then woof woof woof wooooooof.
3. Moving sucks. We have lived in Sydney for less than a decade and we have lived in five places. We know all too well that moving is always stressful, messy, and soul-destroying. I have lived long enough under the threat that our landlord might sell, or move back in, or move a relative in, for way too long now. The next place we move into will be our own.
4. We have a child. CC is not even two and she is onto her third place in Sydney. She doesn’t know the difference, but I do. I don’t want to drag her around from granny flat, to house, to townhouse for much longer. When she starts school, I want to live nearby so she has stability and friendships with kids in the neighbourhood. I want to be a part of a community. I want to know other parents, and hang out and make friends. I want to have their kids play in our backyard, mostly so I have people to get me another XXXX Gold from the fridge.
5. We are willing to make sacrifices, jerks! Lots of the responses to Joe Hockey’s comments said that every generation has had to make sacrifices when it comes to owning a house. A woman told the ABC that in the 1940s, she had to sign a contract saying she wouldn’t have children if she moved into a particular house. Another man said he and his family bought a shit house in the ‘burbs, and commuted for a few years, before they renovated and sold up. People of my generation are making sacrifices too, like paying unfair rents to live in Sydney, moving interstate, and living with their parents for longer than they naturally should. And we are too – we are prepared to commute, to move cities, to live somewhere less desirable for a while – all at a cost to our careers, our childcare, and our connection to extended family. Just give us the flippin’ keys.
Breaking news: Babies are really tricky little jerks.
When we were in hospital with CC in the days after she was born, she slept like crazy. She slept through many cuddles, she slept through her hearing test, and through all the beeps and alarms in the maternity ward. I thought: ‘everyone was wrong about babies, she is awesome, and I am great’.
That didn’t last long, and very soon she was resisting daytime naps and waking up 14 trillion times a night. It was so hard because my life depends on sleep, and without it I was a crying, shrieking, anxious wretch and it was making our lives hell. I would ask the women in my mothers’ group about how they were getting their babies to sleep, and everyone was very, very vague.
So I was interested to read the article on controlled crying in the Good Weekend, almost 18 months on from having a baby. The article was pretty reassuring in emphasising that babies are weird, they do not sleep, they need you a lot, they get hungry quickly, and it is not your fault. I liked this bit especially: “Your baby is normal, you are normal. This too shall pass.” I really needed to read those words about a year ago.
But it did make me feel sorry for anyone currently attempting controlled crying, because it raised a lot of questions, but couldn’t really give any definite answers about whether it works and if it’s good for your baby.
What I really wanted to know at that stage of life was ‘how the hell to I make this kid sleep?’
In short, I would say: Do what works. Do what you feel comfortable with. Everything is a phase. You are not a failure. Don’t listen to Mark Latham.
Below is the long version of stuff that worked for us. I took what I liked from non-crazy baby sites like Tresillian, Raising Children, and the Ngala forums. I also read Baby Love, spoke to other mothers, and went with my instincts where possible.
Newborn-6 weeks-ish: We had her bassinet in our room and we did anything that worked. Patting, rocking, feeding to sleep, cuddling, turning on the vacuum cleaner, holding her in close proximity to the buzzing fridge, walking her in the pram, using a dummy (she loved a dummy, she would close her eyes in pure ecstasy as soon as we put it in her mouth), tight swaddling, putting This American Life on in the background (for real. Hipster baby). We had a bedtime ‘routine’ from the start – bath, book, bed – which sometimes seemed to help calm her down. Anything to stop the screaming.
6 weeks to 3 months-ish: It was around this time that I started getting really worried that I wasn’t putting her down in her crib while she was awake. Our community nurse told us to look out for “tired signs”, most of which I had been misreading as “play with me” signs. (On this whole ‘tired signs’ business, lots of mothers have told me they think it’s a crock of shit, so it may not work for you). Once I would see her rub her eyes, or yawn, or get grizzly, I would swaddle her, put a dummy in, put her in the crib and rock the crib.
Then I started to get angsty about the dummy, because she would wake up when she dropped it. So I got rid of the dummy, which was easier than I expected. I would swaddle her (one arm out by this stage), lie her on her side in the crib, pat her bottom and say “shhh”. It was magic. If I put her down when she was genuinely tired, this would make her fall asleep in less than five minutes, with a bit of grizzling. I read that this method is a good way to get rid of the dummy and transition to “self-settling” because it all happens in the crib. I was high fiving myself violently all day long.
But like everything with babies, it suddenly stopped working and there was A LOT of screaming. Then I kind of realised that all the shooshing and patting was pissing her off. So one day, I just put her in bed with only a soft little cotton bunny to soothe her just to see what happened. I spied on her from the doorway, as she played with the bunny, stared at the ceiling quietly for a while and then fell asleep. I remember thinking “Oh my god, I’ve done it. The kid is putting herself to sleep. My life will be better forever”.
3 months – 6 months: No. Just as she started putting herself to sleep, the dreaded “three month sleep regression” hit our house BIG TIME. I’m sorry to tell you that for about two months straight, she would wake up at 1am and “chat” loudly until maybe 5am. There was NOTHING that would shut her up. So we just let her have her filibusters. She also cried to be fed about twice a night, so that’s what we did. It was awful, I cried all the time, she cried all the time, J-man probably took a lover.
6 months – 9 months: Once the chatting kind of calmed down, she still wanted to be fed twice a night. It was the only thing that would stop her crying, so we just did it. Then we moved house, she started daycare, and got lots of bugs. One cold night, I draped my fluffy dressing gown over the top of her and she only woke once. Then, with the dressing gown for company, she started sleeping more soundly at night. Then, the night before I was due to go back to work, SHE SLEPT THROUGH FOR THE FIRST TIME. It turns out, she needed a fluffy dressing gown to cuddle and suck on. Gross to you and I, yeah, but it worked.
9 months – 17 months: We night weaned, pretty much thanks to the fluffy dressing gown [which we’ve cut into squares], by about 10 months. She went through a phase of sleeping through the night for about six weeks, but hasn’t really done that since. She often wakes once in the night these days. Sometimes, if she’s just grizzling and not screaming, we ignore her, other times we go in and just say “shh”, sometimes we give her water.
It gets better.
It usually starts with happy calls of what sounds like “daddy daddy daddy daddy daddy!”.
She’ll be standing in her cot, with her leopard print blankie jammed in her mouth, or tossed on the floor. Sometimes she bounces on her mattress. Her curly hair is wild and tall.
When I lift her up and take her out into the lounge room she always points and says “ooooh”, like she’s never seen anything in the room before.
I make her some “nana”, a word she uses for all food, not just banana. She eats her Weet-Bix, while pointing at her belly and trying to stand up in her high chair. Later, she demands most of my toast. She cries when J-man leaves for work, but can be quickly distracted by her stuffed dog, or a pen, or the tupperware cupboard.
When I try to dress her, she struggles and cries and tries to crawl away, unless I give her something to look at like a book, or a toy, or a nappy. She has an incredible appetite, and an incredible digestive system, so this happens several times a day.
She has only just started walking, and it’s strange to hear her little footsteps as she follows me around the house. She watches as I make the bed, put washing on, do the dishes and straighten the house. Usually she spills a glass of water next to our bed, or pulls a million tissues out of the box, or opens her dad’s underwear drawer and puts a pair of undies on her head.
It doesn’t take long for her to get tired and, when she rubs her eyes, I read her a story – but not the one with the pop-up butterflies because it’s too scary – and put her in her cot.
She wakes up about an hour-and-a-half later, often with a loud cry. If it’s a sunny day, we go up the road and sit under the trees. I drink coffee and she plays and points to dogs, buses, and trucks. She eyes children suspiciously, as though she can’t believe we’ve been hiding all these other short people from her. If someone beeps their horn, she will say “beet beet”. If she hears a bird, she will say “teet teet”.
Later, we have lunch and, if I’ve made her something she likes (which changes everyday), she squeals and throws her hands in the air. She eats while grinning and showing me what she’s chewed up. She loves to feed herself, scooping yoghurt from her colourful bowl and spilling it down her front.
Soon it’s time for her afternoon nap, and I read her a story and put her in her cot. She is not always willing to let sleep overcome her in the afternoon, so sometimes she spends half an hour singing quietly to herself.
On hot afternoons we visit my friend down the road, who has a baby only four days younger than her. Her baby friend calls her “Deils Deils” and she calls her baby friend “Bea Bea”. They will splash in the inflatable pool, grunt at each other over miniature prams, drink the pool water, take turns of going up and down the stairs, pull each others’ hair, eat frozen fruit, try to eat rocks, and collapse on a big beanbag in exhaustion.
At the end of the day, she usually plays with J-man for a while and eats slices of cheddar cheese, which she calls “ghee”. She eats dinner, while we sit and talk to her. She has a bath in the big laundry tub and reaches out for her toothbrush every night, because she likes to hold it. She screams when you wash her hair, and hates the little water visor shaped like a duck’s bill even though it’s ridiculously cute. When we get her out of the tub, we wrap her in a towel. It’s one of the only times she will happily agree to cuddle.
She snuggles with her blankie during her bedtime story, and when we say good night and leave the room she waves by clenching and unclenching her fist, smiles and says “bu-bye!”
One evening in May, J-man went to bed sick, asking me to check on him throughout the night. Just before I went to sleep on a camp mattress set up in the lounge room, I looked in on him, and under the light coming from the street, he looked grey and his mouth was limp and open. Until I heard him snort, I thought he was dead.
It had been a terrible few days – we’d had to cancel a trip to Cairns for a friend’s wedding after J-man got severe tonsillitis. It was grey and drizzly. The baby was fussy. Our neighbours were bulldozing their house. Sick, miserable and trapped, there was nothing any of us could do to escape the sound of metal crushing bricks, and smashing glass and boring into sandstone.
This was the beginning of seven months of renovations. The sound of drills would wake us in the morning, dropsaws would interrupt the baby’s morning naps, cups of tea in the backyard were accompanied by the young builders’ stories about what was in their vomit on Saturday night, as their cigarette smoke would drift down our hallway. Our backyard became a construction zone, they flattened our garden, put sandbags in, and cheerfully sprinkled rusty nails everywhere. When they tore down the neighbour’s fence, part of ours went with it. For months our security system consisted of a plank of wood holding our back gate closed.
But every time the builders asked for something – could they use our backyard to come and go, could we move our car, could they nail things into our outside wall, could they work early or late, could they park across our back lane – we said yes. We said yes because we thought it was the kind, neighbourly thing to do to let their massive renovations go to plan. Who wants to move into a beautiful dream house knowing your neighbours are the worst?
Two weeks ago, the builders left and the family moved in. I had been kind of expecting a knock on the door, or a friendly note of thanks, or a donut left on the front step for living through a hellish seven months without a single (public) complaint. But they have been actively avoiding us. Yesterday, we saw them for the first time and tried to strike up conversation, while they backed into their front gate as though we were door-knocking evangelists.
And that is why I hate people.
At 12.01am on January 1, 2014, as people outside cheered and turned up music and let off crackers, I was changing a very dirty nappy. One of those up-to-the-ears-all-up-the-back poops, that you cannot believe came from something so beautiful and teensy and precious. It turned out it was an apt way to start a year that was a bit of a shit, if I’m honest.
Usually, I do a year in review by looking back at my diary entries for the year. But reading my diary was far too upsetting and boring, so I thought I would take my sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy.
My sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy
1.What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
I became a ‘working mother’. I also ate a cronut.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I kept most of them. We moved out of our horrible hot granny flat in Balmain, I got a haircut, I got out and made some new friends, I am in the process of fixing my pelvis that got f-ed up when a baby passed through it, I read more.
A few of my goals for 2015 are: re-learn how to sew, make a complicated birthday cake for someone, go to the theatre, and make sure I mark special occasions.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my sister Mary had the darling Alexandra.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. So, that was nice.
5. What countries did you visit?
Country NSW. That place is the bomb. Wide open spaces, excellent cakes, the best op-shops, old school friends, animals, brilliant melting moments and surprisingly fresh sushi.
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
Patience. Sleep. Fashion.
7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
April 26. We moved house that day and it was the greatest. July 21. That’s when I went back to work and the girl child went to daycare. August 26. The day we ignored our 10th anniversary. September 21, the day my baby became a toddler.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Going back to work. Making a bad-ass batch of cinnamon scrolls.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Scratching the side of my mum’s car in the Orange City Centre carpark. I will never forget that awful, heart-sinking feeling when I heard the sound of metal and concrete making contact.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I kicked post-natal depression in its teeth. I’m still trying to fix a case of pubis symphysis, which has me hobbling like a pirate. I am wearing a sort of velcroed, elastic, grey girdle belt as I write! Oh,mama!
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A car. She’s royal blue and we named her Barbara Bush.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
J-man, for being a boss legend. My sisters and mum and dad, for supporting me during the early months of motherhood. The girl child, for being ever so sweet.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled?
The woman who lost it at a checkout chick in KMart when she found out their selfie sticks were sold out two days before Christmas. And after a year like 2014, so, so many others.
14. Where did most of your money go?
To childcare. And the motor vehicle industry.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. The baby was about six months old, and still not sleeping very well, and I had been feeling pretty flat. I remember coming home after the show and telling J-man that I felt alive again.
16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Nominal, by #1 Dads.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
a) HAPPIER. SO MUCH HAPPIER.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Relaxing and being creative. I pretty much never did those things.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Fighting and looking at my phone. I waste so much time on my stupid, fucking phone. Maybe a new year’s resolution should be setting fire to my phone.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Eating. Swimming. Watching an enormous thunderstorm.
21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No. But I didn’t fall out of love.
22. What was your favourite TV program?
There were so many good ones this year. Orange is the New Black, Veep, True Detective, and Chelsea Peretti’s comedy special on Netflix, One of the Greats.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No. My hate levels remain very critical, but stable
24. What was the best book you read?
This House of Grief, by Helen Garner.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Young Fathers. Palms.
26. What did you want and get?
A baby who occasionally sleeps through the night. A box of Haigh’s truffles. A new house. A lot of time in the country. Some wonderful new friends.
27. What did you want and not get?
28. What was your favourite film of this year?
Ah, man. This is a mean question to ask the mother of a young child. I really liked Gone Girl and was particularly chuffed to have seen Ben Affleck’s man jewels.
29. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having an interesting job.
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Youngish mumish, watermelon print enthusiast.
31. What kept you sane?
Afternoon walks in Rozelle, especially after discovering Bellingen Gelato and their mint-choc-chip. It is spiked with real peppermint essence and is filled with a generous amount of dark chocolate shavings. PUT IT IN MY MOUTH IMMEDIATELY.
32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ira Glass. Justice Lucy McCallum. Justice Geoffrey Bellew.
33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Ah, man. This year made me mad in my bones. Gender equality. Racial equality. All of the equalities. Climate change. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Changes to the welfare system.
34. Who did you miss?
My mum. 300 kilometres may as well be 30,000 kilometres sometimes.
35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
I’m still learning how to live in the moment. Not in the idiot-girl-in-your-university-dorm-inspirational-quote kind of way, but I need to just to look around every day, and be content with what I have.
36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done
How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map
The smallest, loveliest person in our family turned one on Sunday. Here is a photo of her murdering some chocolate cake and destroying a smocked dress, probably handmade by elves.
Her birthday made me think about the year that has passed (duh). Having a baby has changed me and my life in so many unexpected ways. Of course there’s all the stuff you know is coming – sleep deprivation, a messy house, no alone time, weird body happenings, inhaling of fine and varied cheeses – but 367 days ago, I was a very different person, with a very different attitude.
So herewith, a list of unexpected life changes after having a baby
A list of unexpected life changes after having a baby
Fight or flight. About five months into motherhood, I suddenly got a drastic urge to change everything about our lives. While J-man was overseas eating curly fries and stroking his beard, or whatever it is he does on business trips, I was meticulously planning a move to the village of Millthorpe, in central west NSW. I imagined an idyllic life, living within half an hour of my parents, buying our own house, going for walks in the tree-lined, empty streets as a family of three, cuddling up during the crazy cold winters and listening to the silence at night. As J-man pointed out, we have no jobs, no friends, nowhere to live and no prospects there. We also have excellent jobs, old and new wonderful friends and a sweet(ish) rental deal here in Sydney.
There are a few reasons I think this happened. After climbing out of what I consider to be a pretty god-awful-seventh-circle-of-hell-flaccid-Hungry-Jacks-burger bout of post-natal depression, the only way I could see the light was by changing absolutely everything. When I talked to a close friend (who happens to be studying psychology) about it, he said it’s a common response – it’s fight or flight. And I wanted a one way, first class flight, now please. Having a baby also made me appreciate my own mother a lot more than I already did, which was … a lot. I felt a gravitational, almost biological pull towards her, to share this experience with her, to have her love and support and give her bucketloads of mine in return. I am pretty pissed at modern society for making child-rearing a solo pursuit, as though mothers are quite happy to be trapped in their homes, far from their families.
Fight or flight version 2.0. Related: I feel pretty strongly that people of my age and stage are being slowly pushed out of Sydney. We cannot afford to raise a child here. I want her to know what it’s like to live in a house that we own – to never be given three months notice to move, or have to ask permission for the leaking toilet to be fixed, to only get cheap rent if we agree to live next to a construction zone. Also, I never want her to have to meet a real estate agent. No one should have to endure that. I also want her to be able to roam, enjoy green spaces, ride her bike on an actual road, to not understand the term “flight path”, and not worry about the name of her school.
Girl power. I was definitely a feminist before I had a baby. But now I am a FEMINIST, especially as the mother to a daughter. I have had a good experience returning to work, with a lot of supportive people at my workplace giving me breathing room and options and flexibility and advice. I am thankful for that. But that, unfortunately, is not a common experience. Childcare is so expensive and restrictive, most people’s working hours do not allow for family life, women are not returned to the roles they left, questions are constantly raised about mothers’ value and productivity in the workforce, smart and creative women are unwillingly turned into housewives, motherhood itself is not considered work. And that’s only issues that affect first-world working mothers and their families. So I can only sum up by saying: ARRRRRRGRH!
Perspective. Picture this: You have just spent a week at your parents’ place, where your baby unlearned how to sleep. You return to your home and spend an entire night on the couch with a screaming baby. The baby refuses to be fed. The next morning you get up early to take the baby to a doctor’s appointment, where the doctor tells you the baby’s cry indicates the baby is hungry. Why haven’t you fed her? The doctor asks. The doctor tells you there is nothing else wrong with your baby. You leave the doctor’s office and your husband goes to work. You go home alone. The baby continues to scream all day, refusing to be soothed. THAT is a bad day. So now, several months on, traffic jams, cold coffee, deadlines, phone bills, grocery shopping, social slights, the common cold, washing up, and swimsuit shopping are a fuckin’ picnic, my friends.
When I left work to go on maternity leave, I thought I would never return to the same office, probably never know the same people, and generally be a very changed woman by the end of those 10 months, as if my whole life would disappear like Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man. But a month ago, I walked into the very same office, surrounded by the very same people, and aside from my weird, misshapen boobs hidden in my blouse, I was pretty much the same person. But returning to work did feel like a big milestone; the end of an era. So I thought I should write down a list of (sometimes contradictory) things I learnt while on maternity leave.
A list of (sometimes contradictory) things I learnt while on maternity leave:
– I am a very anxious person. There was not a day that went by that I didn’t worry about something. Why isn’t the baby sleeping? Why is the baby sleeping so much? Why isn’t the baby eating? Why is the baby eating so much? Am I still interesting? Will our money last? Have I started wearing mum clothes? Am I eating too much sugar? Do the women at mothers’ group think I’m a dick? Should we move house? Do I have a hole in my tooth? Does my house smell weird? Do I smell weird? Will I ever have fun again? Is that a spider in the curtains? And over and over with the worrying. Sheesh. I really want past Steph to give maternity leave Steph a huge, metaphorical toke on a bucket bong.
– Weirdly, I am a pretty relaxed mum compared to others. It is interesting spending time with other first-time mothers and listening to all the concerns everyone has – sleeping, eating, allergies, crawling, teething, choking, electrocution and boyfriends on motorbikes. At the end of the conversation, I quite often look around to find CC nude, covered in dirt, eating a large stick and playing chicken in traffic.
– I love being home. There are some rad parents out there who put their babies in infant fanny packs and venture out into the world like normal humans. Much to J-man’s chagrin, having a baby has made me want to stay home more than ever. CC is actually a pretty good baby when we’re out. Just now we went to a wedding where she did nothing but bat her eyelashes and smile and coo for an hour. But only I know that at the hour and five minute mark she turns into a drooling, sharting, crying, writhing, wriggling massacre of baby emotions. That doesn’t sound like a party to me, it sounds like work. So home, where our beds, fridge and TV are, is the best place to be.
– I don’t want to live in Sydney forever. I am pretty convinced that all the things that make parenting harder are related to city living. I like to imagine life with a child if I worked 9-5, weekdays, if our daycare was only a few blocks away from our offices, if our offices were only a short drive from home, if our home was not rented, if there was a backyard for playing and jumping through sprinklers, if there was a dog. None of that is possible in Sydney, with two people who work in arts/media. There is a lot to love about Sydney – interesting jobs, interesting people, good food, excellent beer – but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep my family here. Plus, I don’t want CC to be like those city kids I met at uni who asked me if I’d ever seen the ocean.
– I am starting to not care. You know how Kim Kardashian said Kanye West taught her not to make time for bullshit anymore? Clearly, I have a little bit of time for bullshit, because I know that terrible piece of celebrity trivia, but I have less time for it these days. Someone said something shitty on Twitter? Don’t care. A politician misspoke? Don’t care. Something I like is no longer cool? Don’t care. Office politics? Don’t care. Someone honked their horn at my terrible driving? Don’t care. It’s true what those cards at KMart say – having a baby does make you realise what really matters: family, friends, happiness and donuts. (Also, human rights, obviously).
Two women with prams were happily chatting at the post office about their weekends, their work, their husbands and their babies. The perky blonde mum abruptly ended the conversation with “I’d better go home. Mrs X says I have to feed him at 11.30 everyday and I can’t be out of the house while he naps”. Mrs X is one of those “baby whisperers” who makes a shartload of money by giving mums a strict timetable for their new babies to follow with the apparent aim of lots of sleep. She has been used, with mixed results, by a few women I know. I wanted to somehow drag these women at the post office down the street to a coffee shop and yell: “HAVE A CHAT. BE DAMNED YOUR BABY’S PRECIOUS “AT HOME” NAP. HERE, MOTORBOAT AN ENTIE BLACK FOREST CAKE.” But I suppose that constitutes common assault, so I let them go unharmed.
When I hear Mrs X’s name, a chill goes down my spine. I picked up some of Mrs X’s advice by osmosis via the women I know and, for a fortnight or so, I tried to force Cordelia to sleep when she didn’t want to, for longer than she wanted to. Of course, it didn’t work, Delia screamed a lot and I felt like a failure. I knew I had to stop when one day I was so obsessed with her sleep “routine” I forgot to buy falafels for the falafel rolls I was going to make for dinner and cried to J-man, “I am a terrible wife and mother. I can’t even remember to get falafels, the primary ingredient for falafel rolls. I’m no good at anything”. A tired J-man sighed and said: “For fuck’s sake, it’s just falafel.” He is a most excellent and smart man.
I feel like the falafel tantrum of summer 2014 is an excellent example of why a mother’s mental health and wellbeing should be of utmost importance. When Cordelia was two-weeks-old I got a visit from a community nurse who asked me a series of questions, which I now know to be a test for post-natal depression. I cried while I answered questions about whether I cried more than usual. The nurse got to the end of the test, brightly said “perfectly normal!” and left my house. When I took the same test a couple of weeks later in my doctor’s office the result practically flashed up on her screen as “totally fucking miserable”. Over the course of a few months, a lovely psychologist talked to me about why women can struggle with depression after having a baby. All of the things that lift the spirit and are recommended to ease depression – seeing friends, going outside, exercising, reading books – are virtually impossible when you have a small baby.
Sleeping well is also crucial part of feeling like a functioning person. And that’s exactly why these “baby whisperer” d-bags get loads of customers. They are cashing in on desperate mothers hoping to get some control back in their lives, feel even vaguely normal, and maybe eat Cheezels with their girlfriends once in a while, so they pay someone to tell them what their baby “needs” to be predictable and unconscious. It worked for some women I know, but not for most because those alleged baby needs involved being at home all the time with fgew interruptions to their important little infant schedules. Yeah, well, what about what a human woman needs? Some company, variety, excitement, mental stimulation and some godamned falafel.
Today in Woolies, I saw this magazine and took a photo because it hit me right where it hurts.
Had I seen this five months ago, while lining up to buy yet another humiliatingly giant packet of pads, wearing tear-stained clothes, with unwashed hair and leaking breasts, after getting two hours’ sleep the night before, I would have spontaneously combusted.
I mean, all my love and Cheezels to Jodi Gordon and Braith Anasta, but for pretty much every woman I have spoken to about motherhood, their newborn baby did not bring the glowing joy and love this photo depicts. It’s not the couple or their little family I have a problem with – they are all incredibly brave to wear white – it’s the “bundle of joy” bullshit women are force fed.
This would be a more accurate cover to convey those newborn weeks.
I recall the guilt and shame I felt in the hours after my daughter was born. In the blue light of that early September dawn, after 18 hours of labour, I looked over at my husband holding her as she screamed and refused to be put in her crib. Our exhausted eyes met across the hospital room and I knew we were thinking the same thing – “what have we done?” In the days after, I tried to be upbeat, while midwifes roughly groped and milked me like a useless dairy cow as they tried to figure out why I was having such terrible trouble breastfeeding her. When they weren’t doing that, the nurses were looking up my clacker to check how I was healing after birth. When we brought our girl home, I spent two weeks staying up all night – literally – trying to feed her. I couldn’t sleep during the day because I was wracked with anxiety. In the evenings she would scream non-stop from about 5 o’clock until 9, only to wake up hungry two hours later. I remember one particularly bad night when she screamed until almost midnight and my husband tried walking her in the pram. When he returned 20 minutes later, I heard her cries from the bottom of the driveway. Even the calming rhythm of walking could not knock her out. For about a week she stopped sleeping during the day too, and my wonderful older sister hugged me and rocked her cradle while I silently cried. It was torture when my husband returned to work. It takes a village to raise a baby, I thought, yet here I was alone, trying to figure it out for myself. I had desperately wanted a baby, so why was it all so hard? I felt useless, hopeless and guilty most days for those first six weeks of her life.
But as my mum, and every other woman who had made it through the newborn phase, assured me: things slowly got better. I called a lactation consultant to help me figure out breastfeeding, I saw my doctor, I talked to people. By six weeks our baby was smiling and sleeping and eating much better. At three months she was playing and giggling. At four months she started loudly babbling and showing us her sweet, cheeky personality. Now five months she is a little more predictable. She sits up, grabs her toys, examines her hands with wonder, shoves her feet in her mouth, “chats” to us all the time, cries if we walk away from her, and grins and flaps her arms in pure joy when we get her out of bed in the morning. She is drinking in the world. Cordelia will be six months old in a week and I can’t wait to see what that brings. It’s definitely not always easy, and there are still hard days and nights, but this is the sweet spot. I just wish we didn’t all pretend babies are exactly like this from the moment the cord is cut.
– This is probably the best article I read during the crazy newborn days, when it felt like the whole world was telling me I was weird for not coping:
– And this:
– This was recommended to me after I wrote this post. It is also excellent and reassuring. I especially like the points about how weird our society is for just expecting women to raise babies on their own:
We live in a little granny flat behind a grand terrace in Sydney. A tradesman told J-man he thought it was once a horse stable – it’s an odd shape and there’s no doors or windows on the back wall. I kind of liked the thought of sleeping where a little foal might have rested her head, her belly full of straw, in ye olde Sydney town.
Then we had a baby. Then summer came. I realise now we are living in a glorified shed. There is no cross-draught, no insulation. It is 28 degrees in here by lunch time. A plant recently grew through our bedroom window and curled around the blinds. This morning I was sitting on the toilet (sorry) and I noticed a huntsman spider carefully easing itself inside between two tiles. There are regularly skinks sunbaking on the carpet. When it gets windy, leaves and dust somehow get through the skylights and carpet the bathroom and kitchen floors.
Maybe one day, when I’m living with my third husband in an air-conditioned mansion in Bellevue Hill, I’ll stroke my pearls and reminisce about simpler times. But right now all I want is to move the hell out of Sydney, where you pay hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars a week to live in a stinking hot shitbox.
I am unhappy here.
But I am happy for shandies, icy water, cold showers, This American Life, apple green shorts, a funny husband and a very sweet baby.
Here she is.