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Learning self-respect in newborn baby hell



From the moment my newborn daughter woke me, my day became a litany of bodily requirements. Pee, drink, change nappy, feed, burp, feed, drink, soothe, pump breasts, change nappy, feed, burp, feed, soothe, eat, drink, soothe. Then panic when I realised I hadn't even showered yet, and it was nearly 10am.

Crying babyAs for healthy living? Forget it. I sucked on spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar. Ate family-sized blocks of chocolate to help stay awake. And if I was lucky enough to snatch a yoga stretch in between bouts of colic, it was to the tinkling melodies of her play gym rather than Sanskrit mantras.

My biggest daily excitement was waiting for my husband to get home so I could pass our baby over and pass out for 15 minutes. And every night included bouts of after-midnight breastfeeding hell.

The only time I felt like an actual person — and not just a baby-burping milk bar on legs — was during our daily walks. There was nothing like a friendly wave to remind me I was still alive. And it was rare that someone didn't accost us on the footpath, peek into the pram, and exclaim with delight over the only thing produced by me that didn't need an edit.

So there I was, strolling along the esplanade, steering the pram with one hand and holding a half-gulped churros with the other. As I pushed the pram past a pub, a man with broad shoulders and a black crew cut leaned over the rail like a debauched cock-fighting spectator, shouted 'We can make it another one for ya!' and raised the foaming head on a glass of frothy beer enthusiastically in my direction.

My first reaction was to squint at him in disbelief. I mean, really? In my sleep-deprived neurons of my brain I felt something akin to pity, and wondered if the idiot had any idea what state a woman's body was in after birthing. Does incontinence turn you on? How about stitches? Or cracked and bleeding nipples?

My second reaction, a nanosecond later, was more visceral. How dare he disrespect me? I was a nursing mother of a newborn baby girl. His comment was sexual harassment. It demeaned me. With a sense of outrage, I pulled the cover down over the pram and we kept briskly on our way.

One of my friends once said to me, 'Having kids is like a drug. They heighten your experience of living, but destroy you in the process.' I laughed at the time. Now, of course, I could see it was no joke. I had no idea, when I was trying to fall pregnant, that becoming a mother would be one of the hardest things I would ever do, and how my life would become consumed with rushing from one task to the next.


"Could I really have sunk so low that there was a part of me — a hidden part of me that was bingeing on comfort food and drowning in a hellish sea of baby — that could possibly feel flattered by the drunken remark of a lout?"


That afternoon was no exception. The second we were in the door, everything was urgent. I was busting. My daughter needed changing. Not just changing, but bathing, since runny poo had squelched over her nappy and trickled down her legs. She was hungry and wailing, which meant my breasts had done their let down. Milk squirted from my nipples and soaked through my dress. I was hungry and thirsty. And the washing machine was beeping because halfway through its cycle the clothes had become unbalanced.

When I'd finally done it all, I wanted to collapse into a coma. But I didn't have time for such luxuries. I still needed to hang out the laundry, empty the nappy bin and mop the milk spots off the floor. So I headed to the fridge for the next best thing: a hit of sugar. In particular, a Toblerone bar I'd hidden from my husband under the bag of lettuce.

My hand was on the fridge door when I caught my distorted miniature reflection on the temperature display panel. My pudgy, pasty face, which still hadn't lost its pregnancy weight. Lanky hair, long and loose because I'd had no time to style it. And my wrinkled, blue-striped cotton dress, bulging from my milk-engorged breasts. My hand dropped from the fridge.

Now it's true that being at home with a baby can sometimes feel deadening. Like an infusion of thick sludge seeping through your veins. Shrinking your life to the bodily bare essentials: food, water, toilet. But could I really have sunk so low that there was a part of me — a hidden part of me that was bingeing on comfort food and drowning in a hellish sea of baby, baby, baby — that could possibly feel flattered by the drunken remark of a lout?

And that's when I realised something. However disrespectful the man's words had been, I had also been disrespecting myself. Perhaps it was time to consider that I wasn't just the milk-stained, messy-haired, slack-thighed domestic slave I'd become. Perhaps it was time to stop reaching for the Toblerone and choose a healthy snack instead. Perhaps it was time to have some pride in myself and my role as a stay-at-home mother.

Since that day, I haven't looked back. I eat well (most of the time), dress well, and try to show up to my life as a stay-at-home mother with the same courage and the drive required from any high-powered job. Because it's about respecting yourself, and being there for your baby. And when you smile at your baby and they give you that wonky, gummy grin back, there's no pay check large enough to beat that.


Suvi MahonenSuvi Mahonen is a freelance writer based in Surfers Paradise. Her non-fiction has appeared in various publications in Australia and Canada including The Weekend Australian and Practical Parenting. Her fiction has featured in The Best Australian Stories and Griffith Review. She runs an online shop of arty things.

Main image: stock photo

Topic tags: Suvi Mahonen, loneliness, sexism, motherhood



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Existing comments

Memo. To: mum. From: baby. Message: those long, lingering, loving looks into my little face (when there was housework to be done). that rocking and soothing when I wouldn't stop wailing (and you couldn't find a reason for it). checking on me when I was sleeping (even though you were sleep-deprived). thanks mum, that's teaching me about love and security. look after yourself, because i'll be a teenager one day. Lots of love, baby.

Pam | 02 December 2016  

Wonderful to see Suvi back in print where she belongs. I hope to see more wonderful words from her in the future.

john bartlett | 02 December 2016  

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