I’ve never seen myself as a natural mother. I’m impatient, selfish, particular, ambitious. While I’m not exactly sure what a ‘natural mother’ should be, I’m pretty certain it’s none of those things.
Yet for nearly four years I have been, without a break, either pregnant or breastfeeding. Both came (surprisingly) easily, naturally, without much effort, thanks (I suppose) to the hormones produced by my body each time I drew my babies to the breast. Physically I have been very much a mother. “I can do this,” I thought.
Now, this physical phase of mothering has drawn to a close, at least for now. At sixteen months, and with an NG tube going in, it seemed an appropriate time to stop breastfeeding Benjamin. Instead of sitting and nursing him, with breast and bottle, for up to six hours each night, I just plug him into his pump and turn out the light. That’s a big shift – in lifestyle, and in hormones – to get used to. I know I’ve been dying to get my evenings back, to catch up on the ironing, the paperwork, to get out in the garden, but I’m going to miss that time of nurturing. It feels weird, disloyal, to be back in my lacy, underwired bras again; to wear dresses and jumpers after years in easy-access cardigans. It’s saddening to bleed again each month. I’m going to have to find a new way to mother, one that comes from the heart, not the body.
Fortunately, these four years have changed me emotionally as well as physically. I have never known such love, such fear, such responsibility, such joy (and yes, such exasperation) as I feel with my children. [My husband, I love you with all my heart too, but it’s a different kind of love, a kind that comes from finding, connecting and choosing, not bearing and birthing]. I am less easily embarrassed, less easily bored, less principled and, I hope, gentler.
I have no real desire to return to work, just yet, although I have already overrun the normal period of maternity leave. I want to be there 24/7 for my children, to walk them to and from school, to serve their breakfast and their tea, to hear about their day and help with their homework.
Am I just being lazy? Am I taking advantage of the fact that no-one expects a special needs mum to work, unlike her peers who are assumed to hop back into the high heels and onto the commuter train as soon as their six, nine or at most twelve months are up. Am I keeping up my lifestyle of lie-ins and coffee-mornings while my husband pays the bill? And will I grow to resent it longer-term? Is a line of nappies drying in the sunshine and a mass of splodgy paintings on the fridge enough for me to feel fulfilled? Will I spend more time telling my children off than listening to them? Am I going to go slowly mad playing imaginary tea parties and putting toy monkeys to bed?
I have no answers, yet. I am just finding my feet. I know that, practically, I can’t return to work until Benjamin is at least three and entitled to half-time one-to-one specialist childcare. I’m keeping my brain alive freelancing a little, blogging a little, reading a little. More important will be keeping my mothering instincts alive through this transition. I may no longer be a natural mother, but I hope I can still be a motherly one.