41 Weeks

January 17, 2016

Just like that, it’s the nine month tipping point. It shouldn’t surprise me that, despite being awake for so much of them, the last nine months seem to have gone by in half the time of the previous nine. Time is strange like that. Sometimes I try to remember what I thought parenthood would be like, but, like many abstract thoughts, it seems just out of reach. What I do know: parenthood is both more and less terrifying, more exhausting, and less confusing than I thought it would be.

Parenthood has meant a splitting of my heart, and it has meant compromise—but neither of these are, contrary to expectation, bad.

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I’ve taught full-time for half of Z’s short life. Sometimes in the morning when dropping her off at her childminder’s or leaving her and C still enjoying breakfast in the flat, I wonder if there’s something wrong with me, that I’m okay leaving her with others so often. But then I step into my classroom, the bell rings, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. My overactive guilt complex wonders if I love Z less because of how much I love my students. But thankfully, love is not a zero-sum game. When Z was born, my heart expanded to love this little person more than I ever knew that I could. But my desire to do right by my students, and my capacity to care for them is unchanged.

But my heart is split in a way I didn’t know it could be, and I daily feel the pang. Leaving Z in the morning is hard: every single day. But my mind is quickly full of the plans and challenges of the day. I’d be lying if I said that I thought about my baby every moment of the day; I don’t. My students fill my school hours completely. But when the bell rings at 3:25pm, and I walk down the road to pick up Z, but heartbeat quickens; I’m giddy. In 8 years of teaching, I’ve never been so eager for the school day to end. When I walk in the door, and Z catches my eye and smiles, I haven’t space in my brain for a single teaching thought. Often in the afternoons and evenings, the weekends, I couldn’t tell you what I’m teaching the next day if I tried. All I want to do is play with this wiggly, ever-changing (and surprisingly chill) little person.

This split is not easy. When Z is sick or my school duties spill over into time at home, there doesn’t seem to be enough of me. It’s not all sunshine and roses; it’s sleep deprivation and snotty noses, and crying because I haven’t exercised in weeks (or months). It’s racing to the toilet between classes to express milk. Most of the time, though, I have to pinch myself, because I can’t believe I get to have these two goods. I get to be a parent. I get to be a teacher. I don’t, like many women before me (and many women today), have to choose.

(I must interject at this point to give a shout out to generous maternity leave (hooray UK/EU pro-motherhood laws), an amazing spouse, and relatively affordable childcare. Unlike many parents around the world, I have choices.)

If these nine months have been a lesson in loving many goods, they have also been a long lesson in compromise—in giving up the idea of complete control.

Z was born via c-section: a beautiful, uncomplicated, non-traumatic c-section. I still haven’t gotten over my utter lack of control in the process—the disappointment at it not being natural—and I doubt I ever will. But so what? There are always going to be things in my life I wish had happened differently. What I have realized, what I am thankful for, is that this immediately disabused me of the notion that this child thing was something over which I would have ultimate control.

C and I have more than our share of opinions about babies, but we’re not the only ones raising our little Z-bot, and we have, as I’ve said, sometimes competing goods in our lives. So, there’s compromise. It feels silly to say some of these things aloud, but then I remember the force with which our society tries to communicate that ‘if only you do thus and such, then your child will be perfect.’ That voice of guilt, although misplaced, is real and loud.

So, yes. We only use cloth diapers a couple days a week, and I don’t inquire too deeply about her favourite foods at the childminder’s (I’m guessing she doesn’t eat plain yogurt and unsalted lentils). We use the paci a lot more than I’d like. We still don’t really sleep through the night, because mommy can’t quite say no to the early morning nurse. We probably didn’t do enough tummy time. Sometimes I’m not there when she’s sick. We use calpol when she’s teething … and she’ll probably watch movies much younger than we’d prefer. Also, it turns out that babies are people too; sometimes our grand childrearing plans don’t fit the child we have sitting in front of us.

Other items on a long list of natural parenting musts? Compromised.

And the rest of our lives? There’s compromise there too. Laundry isn’t done quite as often as I’d like (more like, I don’t always wear completely clean clothes to work). Papers aren’t always marked.  I don’t really talk to my colleagues because I get to work at the last possible moment and leave the second after the bell rings. And, we have the same seven meals on a rotating basis.

But, you know what? I don’t really care.

I care that Z spends her days with people who love her. I care that she knows that C and I love her unconditionally. I care that she knows (eventually) that she’s not the only important child in my life. I want her to know that mom’s not the only adult who can care for and comfort her. I care that in the evenings we can read books together. I care that she has other adults to teach her songs and do crafts with her. I care that she gets to learn to play with other kids. I care that she’s happily pulling toys out of a bucket while I’m marking papers. I care that she sees C and I both pursuing the work we’ve been given to do, with as much excellence as we can muster. I care that she’s already becoming her own little person, with her own distinct little personality.

41 weeks in, I’m a much more laid-back parent than I ever thought I would be. And, I’ll be the first to admit that this is more due to our circumstances, and our child, than any particular intention on my part.  But I’m not unhappy about it. It turns out that most of the time, as long as you feed babies and snuggle with them, not much else matters terribly. And it also turns out, despite what people told us, that our lives didn’t have to completely change when we had a kid.

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