29 Jun The Five Month Funk
The five month funk. That’s what we called it in our house. That point, as a new mum, when the fog has finally started to lift and things are becoming (dare I say it) easier. You have the makings of some kind of a routine; the sound of the baby crying doesn’t send you into a blind panic; you’ve found your methods of coping with less sleep; you can do most things with one hand now (or with your feet); and (for me) you can confidently operate the breast pump (get that girl a cocktail!).
But… around the same time that this happens, just as you are starting to recline and say to yourself “yep, I’ve got this,” and, just as you start to have visions of yourself being one of those super parents that takes your baby to trendy, cultural things like outdoor theatre (because he’ll totally sit still on my knee for 3 hours), or hiking up a local volcano as you have finally started to use the front pack… it hits you. Almost out of nowhere, it hits you right around the head. Life has changed. Life has changed FOREVER.
You almost don’t recognise yourself.
For me, this epiphany occurred in the middle of one Wednesday night. Baby had been put to bed without too much bother (nailed it!), hubby and I did the quick tidy up of house and garden, before some sofa snuggles (ok, blobbing and staring at some random rubbish on TV) and then we were soon off to bed ourselves. I’m not entirely sure who said what, or what exactly happened – but next thing we were full throttle into a very heated, albeit whispered, argument in the dark. Most of which consisted of me telling him to “just whiiiisperrrrr, or you’ll wake the baby!” and him telling me “I AM WHISPERING” (he wasn’t). It was a meaningless argument, and was absolutely the result of my several weeks of irritability and moaning at him. He’d run out of patience, I got defensive, and then there was the punctuated “good night then,” before rolling over and listening to each other huff and puff and not go to sleep.
This was a low point. When did we become a tired married couple who bickers before bed? Where did the young, loved up newlyweds of last year go?
Suddenly it occurred to me that all I wanted was to hug him. So I rolled over and reached out in the dark, hoping he wouldn’t reject me. But, before I could grasp him, he had already pulled me into his arms; I let go and cried into them. “I’m sorry I’ve been pushing you away” I said and realised all at once. He pulled me closer and I just kept crying. I cried about my exhaustion, the constant demands on me, the importance of doing it right, the uncertainty of what “right” even is, the irrational fears, the guilt whenever I am grumpy or fed up, the unmet expectations, and the simple enormity of being someone’s mother. “Life’s changed forever, hasn’t it?” ”Yes it has,” he honestly said. And I realised he was going through all the same things, in a completely different way.
I had reconnected with my husband, but suddenly the rest of the world felt further away than ever.
So, yes. Around 5 months the fog has lifted alright – but what you now see is that your relationship has changed, friendships have drifted away, and the rest of the world has carried on without you. You are left feeling forgotten about, isolated, and (despite a little person almost always joined to you) lonely. You even start to question who you are now. And despite having the world’s most supportive and understanding husband, who has been there for you through all of it, even he can’t truly understand what it is like – to have grown another person inside of your body, to have brought them into this world, and to have given yourself to them, completely, to ensure their survival. You have had to push the rest of the world away, to protect and nurture you both, and now you have no idea how to rejoin the human race again… you find yourself on the outskirts, waiting for the phone to ring, trying to figure out what you would say if it did.
You know other mothers will understand you completely. But the irony is – we are united in our isolation.
And even though we are happier than we ever thought possible, that we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, or to be anyone else but our baby’s mother, and not a day goes by without an awareness of how grateful and blessed we are – being a mother is hard. And it is lonely.
We live in a time where we are kept afloat through social media – kept up to speed with current affairs and the adventures of everyone else’s lives. And, to an extent, everyone else is kept up-to-date with ours. But the beauty of social media is also its downfall. We are connected, yes, but to an unrealistic reality. Only the best parts of our lives get shared… our happy faces, our humour, our celebrations… no one posts about needing a friend. I guess people imagine that new mothers don’t have the time or the inclination to socialise anymore. And they would be absolutely right – except that doesn’t mean we don’t want to. We just can’t. We still need to feel included, wanted… missed… but after a while nobody is interested in sending (or receiving) another ‘declined.’ It’s no one’s fault, it’s just how it is.
The biggest adjustment to motherhood – even greater than the debilitating exhaustion – is the loss of our freedom.
For me, after reaching this point, it became strongly apparent that I needed to start doing something for myself again. However small, I needed to find some time for me. Time to be alone, time to be an adult, time to rebalance, and regroup – or, as I also like to put it: taking the best care of myself, so I can take the best care of my baby. “Any time you need, just take it. I’m here for you,” my kind husband would repeatedly say – but that was far easier said than done, when almost all of your energy is required for baby and you’re still exclusively breastfeeding. The effort required to pump some milk, make yourself presentable, and decide what to do/where to go… it just didn’t seem worth it. It was easier to just stay at home and watch my husband look after the baby from my seat on the sofa. But I continued to need this ‘me time’ and my husband continued to insist. So, I found myself having an hour or two, a couple of times a week, to ‘go do something for yourself’ – but I had no energy to think of what. So I would drive in my car, park, and just sit there. Yes, this was time alone, time out from mothering… but it wasn’t enough.
What eventually worked for me was scheduling this time. Locking it into mine and my husband’s diaries. Putting notes on the fridge. Booking it in advance. Committing. So, I planned to attend a yoga class every Monday night, to get a beauty treatment every Thursday, and to have a couple of hours writing every Sunday. This still left me with freedom if I felt like doing something different on the day. Sometimes, my husband could only get home five minutes before I needed to leave for yoga – and I laughed at the ironic panic that would ensue just so I could make it to class to relax. But these commitments were an honour to myself – telling myself that I am worth it, and I am important – so I am keeping them.
I also starting using my baby’s nap times more effectively – he naps twice a day, so I do my housework and some exercises during his first nap, and I put my feet up during his second. Sometimes I read, sometimes I drink a cuppa in the garden, sometimes I try to nap myself. And some days our plans go completely out the window and he is in my arms from sunrise to sunset. And I enjoy those days. It’s usually those days when I’ve planned to do a little too much (it’s like my baby knows this). So he keeps me grounded, and I’m getting much better at letting go. Because I know that, 3 times a week, I will have the chance to do something for myself.
But at the same time, this need to start doing something for ourselves again can also make a mother feel terribly guilty. Aren’t we supposed to enjoy every moment of motherhood, not yearn for time out? I had once thought this. But it is absolutely not true… being a mother is the best thing to have ever happened to me, but it is not always enjoyable. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes it is scary, or infuriating! And that’s ok! Motherhood is not a job, broken down by component tasks, it is a practice. It evolves. There are peaks and troughs. Ebbs and flows. We grow, alongside our babies.
And here’s another thing: our clock is 24 hours. Which means that even though we are exhausted, and interrupted all night, we can actually sleep whenever… we are not limited to “bed-time.” We can nap on top of the covers in the afternoon sun, or on the sheepskin rug in our baby’s room, or on the sofa surrounded by cushions and cuddly toys. When we stop checking our phones, or busying ourselves with to do lists and chores, we do have opportunities to stop. To close our eyes. And just breathe. And at night we can lay awake instead, gazing at the stars, breathing in the solitude, the tranquillity found in nursing our baby. All this talk, this obsession, of ‘sleeping through the night and getting our lives back’… why not ignore it? Embrace your exhaustion and get comfortable with it, welcome the interruption, and be a family for this fleeting moment in time. In essence, we haven’t lost our freedom at all – it is waiting for us to claim it.
These are the days of our lives.
To all you wonderfully exhausted and emotional Mummas out there. You are still you, just a new you. And our babies adore us, exactly as we are.
For me, taking more time for myself has given me more time with my babe. I am more centred, more present, and more readily embracing the lessons along the way.
As I move into my sixth month of motherhood, that funk is a lot more upbeat.
Hayley Greer. Xxx
About the Author
I am a lover and a writer. Wife to Nick. Mumma to Beau. NZ Marriage Celebrant. I have a degree in Psychology and a background in Theatre. I used to write poetry, but now I write: Love Letters to Baby, where I openly share my experience of this terrifying, challenging, and utterly magical journey we call motherhood.