MOMS, IT’S OK TO WANNA RUN AWAY SOMETIMES
It’s 8:34PM. I’m on cigarette number 3 after quitting for a year, overlooking the pitch-black waves crashing against the rocks below. I’m completely immune to the noise from the restaurants behind me, the hum of the cars, the howling of the wind, I have reached the point of complete shutdown. All I can see is a twinkling orange ember, and smoke disseminating before my eyes – a metaphor for my every care…
This was the only time I ever ran away from it all, albeit for 14 minutes. Away from everything – the hardships of motherhood, the pressures of work, the bill collectors hot on my heels, just everything. Out here it’s completely still. Then, like clockwork the judgement from myself, the anger, the fear and the guilt consume me and crush me like a Coke can in a high pressure chamber. “You’re a terrible &$%&*#@ mother, Kim! Do you think your mother had time to take care of herself as she raised two kids on her own? And you’re supposed to breastfeed after this toxic mess in your lungs!? Urgh!” (Why are the things we say to ourselves so horribly mean?) I get back into my car and return to my babas, blissfully asleep, almost angelic, my husband in the kitchen. And all the emotions fade.
The day started like any other. I had done my parental duties of finding ingredients for Pancake Day, taken Lily to therapy and dropped her off at school, washed and sterilised Ila’s pump and bottles, washed her clothing, finished off some work for clients, stocked up on groceries, booked the necessary appointments, gave her a bath and now was spending some quality time with my new arrival sleeping on my chest. Ila was about 3 months at the time, and an absolute gift. Will and I had pretty much settled on not having another baby. We were done with the crushing visits with doctors and the hospital stays. In all honesty, we had Ila just for me. And when your gynae terms her a “miracle baby”, (in fact when both your children are “miracle babies”) you don’t get to whine about the pressures of it all. You cannot look a miniature gift horse in the mouth. With our new, precious bundle, I was so engulfed in the joys of a second chance, so immersed in these moments filled with little wisps of hair entering my nostrils as I inhaled her heavenly scent, so wrapped in the surreal, so enraptured in the realised dream that I had a happy, healthy baby that I barely noticed that Ila cried every minute of every day except for when she was feeding or sleeping (no colic or any other issues!), that I had migraines every day – perhaps due to lack of sleep or the fact that my head was in the same position every time I breastfed – and unaware that I had taken all shifts to give Will some time – time for him to overcome his fear of growing attached to another little bundle, or time to work through the betrayal he felt for loving another little girl as much as he loves Lily. I was in that haze of sleep deprivation and ecstacy. But on this particular day, I assume it was a Wednesday, that joyful glass bubble was shattered. After I picked up Lily from school, she had probably the biggest sensory meltdown she has ever had. For a little person who gets overwhelmed by the hum of aircon, Lily had been a little warrior, considering Ila’s constant crying day and night, the lack of attention, the beeping Snooz monitors, the musical mobiles. But on this day she had reached her threshold and exploded. I call Lily’s behaviourial outbursts ‘mini tantrums’ in comparison to sensory meltdowns. Even though I’ve become a seasoned detective in spotting exactly what she needs, by the time a meltdown happens it’s too late. She screams bloody murder, cries and her body needs deep pressure. She jolts back and forth from one end of the room to the other, bashing and crashing her little body into anything from walls to the couch in search of sensory relief. Usually hugs or wrapping her up tightly in a duvet or weighted blanket, or squeezing her with pillows or an exercise ball help but in meltdown stage she doesn’t want me anywhere near her. Of course Ila had woken up during all of this and I was now holding a screaming baby and trying to calm a screaming toddler. By this time, I was already on supper number 3 that Lily had hit out of my hands. I placed Ila in her cot and her yelling pushed Lily even further. Through my tears I tried to mop everything up and tried to squeeze her tightly while getting ready to breastfeed Ila. I was now in some of hysterical tornado with no escape. I breastfed Ila, who always wanted to be held in a very particular way, while holding Lily with the other arm as she wriggled to get out. As luck would have it, Will needed to work late, my sister was working late, which meant my mother was out late too. I was determined not to let this get to me – I had survived Lily’s first three months. Though personality-wise she was an easy baby, she was an autism baby (although I didn’t know at the time) and a CHD baby, which meant she barely slept because she was so overstimulated, and couldn’t breastfeed either without getting exhausted - 10 ml bottles was all she could stomach and it meant I spent my days, pumping, feeding and cleaning bottles in 30-minute cycles. But that night, as Will’s Whatsapp came through, my anxiety came a knockin’ (damn, right on time!). Everything was so overwhelming. I actually felt sick to my stomach. There was a giant lump in my throat and I couldn’t swallow or breathe. By the time everyone came home, it was after 8:20; I just grabbed Will’s smokes and drove, drove anywhere.
For 8 months I’ve been too ashamed to write this post, too afraid of the judgement, too ashamed that I folded, that my weakness would be exposed, mostly too disappointed in myself. But since I’ve had a similar conversation with four different parents in the last 48 hours, I think that there isn’t a parent in this world who hasn’t thought of running away for a little bit. To have a King-sized bed with crisp sheets that have never known milk or porridge or juice stains – whether going in or coming out, TV shows that don’t begin with a lamp jumping on the letter “I”, room service with someone else waiting on you for a change, and a blissful bubble bath without an audience other than your second glass of wine and 8 hours of UNINTERRUPTED sleep. Just for one night. Even as I type this the amount of guilt is enormous. How could I want time away from my little miracles?
Every time I preach about self-care, I am actually preaching to myself. It is SO vital. Like the air that you breathe. Over two years ago I quit my job after a rather embarrassing meltdown to focus on healing myself and I can’t explain how wonderful it was. I worked half days and spent an hour doing something for me before collecting Lily – massages, walks, reading, eating by myself. Anything to help calm the storm. I booked an appointment to chat to someone and just got all the anger and guilt and fear out. Then, Lily and I would go on dates or buy educational activities. I really needed that hour and it was probably my best period of parenting ever. You cannot have happy children who feel loved when you’re an exhausted wreck
So please repeat after me:
I. I don’t have to be so #@$%^&* perfect all the time. ‘Perfect parent’ is not a synonym for ‘good parent. I don’t have to be so tightly wound and in control of everything.
II. I am human and all humans have a breaking point.
III. It’s not “selfish” to take an hour for myself. A happy mum means a happy family.
IV. Showing vulnerability is NOT a sign of weakness but takes great strength to show.
V. I CAN admit when I am not coping.
VI. I am NOT alone. Every mum, every parent feels this way. Some time or another.
VII. I love my family more than anything in the world. And they know that. Needing five minutes does not mean I love them any less.
VIII. I am not an ungrateful bastard when I need a break.