At home after the birth. Two months old. Mark’s mum is with us and we decide to get fish and chips for tea, since none of us have the wherewithal to cook. After a difficult birth I’m just about well enough to get on my bike, so I think – maybe, just maybe I could go and get them. Could I? It’s my first time out the house without him. I feed him right before I leave, so he should be ok for half an hour until I get back. I still worry. I text Mark from the chippie to make sure he’s alright. Just after I leave the house, it starts absolutely chucking it down. I don’t have waterproofs on and get completely soaked. I don’t care. I’m so happy to be out again. To be on my bike again. To be getting rained on again. I feel properly alive.
On holiday in Anglesey. Nearly four months old. Mark has taken Rory down to the nearest village in the sling to buy some stuff for dinner. I go down to the beach, by myself, for forty minutes. I’m the only person there. It’s late afternoon, quiet and breezy and delicious. I take my shoes off and dip my toes in the freezing sea. I walk along the wet, shiny shoreline and look at the horizon. I write ‘I EXIST’ in huge letters in the sand with my foot. I close my eyes and listen to the birds and the waves. Bliss.
Mark’s parents are visiting. Five and a half months old. Finally, I make it out to the hairdressers for the first time since he was born. Two hours. It’s the longest I’ve ever left him awake. I sit in the chair with a conditioning mask on my hair and sip my berry tea and feel like the fucking queen. The woman asks if I want a magazine and I say no thanks. Just doing absolutely nothing feels like the best thing ever. When I cycle home it’s raining again. The novelty of getting rained on has kinda worn off now. My new hair gets a bit wrecked. Oh well.
At my dad’s house. Six and a half months old. My sister looks after him for an hour and I say I’m going to have a stroll down to the meadow. It’s a beautiful summer evening. On a whim, I decide to head over to the hill behind my dad’s house and see if the path I used to love is passable again. For years it wasn’t, after a rainy spell followed by a hot, dry summer, deep holes baked into the earth where the cows had churned up the mud. I figured I’d never be able to walk that way again. But now there’s no trace of it. The path has grown over, or been restored, who knows. It’s easy walking. There are four-foot-high thistles now, though, and huge patches of nettles to pick your way through, that I don’t remember being there before. I begin to feel like I’m walking through a giant metaphor. I carry on up to the top of the hill and look out over the hazy Derbyshire landscape. I see a sheep feeding her lamb and salute her. Here’s to you, sheep mum. I walk back along the road. It’s quiet and I can hear the sound of my own footsteps. It’s strangely comforting.
At home again. Seven months old. We’re going to a wedding on Saturday and I go into town with Mark’s mum to buy Rory an outfit. I spend about half an hour choosing which adorable tiny shirt to buy him, plus a back-up shirt for when he inevitably voms all over it. I pick out a pair of tiny trousers plus a pair of tiny shorts so he’s prepared whatever the weather. Practical things, stuff he’ll wear again. I deliberate over which size to get. I then realise I have given literally no thought to what I’m going to wear to the wedding myself. We go to the next floor of the store and I try on a dress. It’s beautiful. It’s not super expensive. Can I justify buying it? What am I talking about, I just spent nearly this much on baby clothes. I’m buying it.
The next day is today. Mark and his mum have taken Rory out to a storytime session. The house is quiet. I try my dress on again. It needs pinning at the neckline. I dig out a pin badge with a tortoise on that says “self care champion” and use it to pin the dress together. It’s the first time I’ve bought myself something nice and non-mum-related for nearly a year. I stand in front of the mirror twirling like a little girl for about ten minutes. I’m absolutely bloody delighted. Then I open up my laptop and write this. Probably I should be working. But I don’t want to forget these moments, the moments I felt myself waking up a little, remembered that I’m a person, began to inhabit my own existence again. I sift through my memories for them and it’s like panning for gold. I hold the memories up to the light and they sparkle and shimmer. They feel precious. I exist. It’s going to be ok.
July 31, 2019 at 12:30 am
I learned about you from the recent Guardian article and looked up a bit of your work. I was pleased to read about the growth of a left wing economics movement.
I am a PhD researcher at the University of Melbourne in educational statistics but have previously been a union organiser in the Australian construction industry and have long been involved in left movements.
I have written an article on wealth concentration and economic stagnation. It draw’s heavily on Piketty’s book and data available on his World Inequality Database, mainly in reference to Australia. It is a sound piece of work but its main achievment is it coins a new term ‘stagtration’ to label the intractable confluence of problems plaguing neoliberal capitalism.
Obviously this is a nod to stagflation, the term which was hung around the neck of Keynesianism in the 1970s and helped the emergent neoliberal movement rise to power. I think stagtration could and should achieve the same currency in the current climate and help bury neoliberalism.
I would like to have the article published on a site that does popular economics, which doesn’t really exist in Australia. Would you be interested in reading the article?
August 13, 2019 at 8:56 pm
Christine what a fabulous blog to have read, I empathise entirely with your thoughts and feelings. Motherhood is a new and exciting challenge and it’s great to see you taking it all in your stride.
January 5, 2022 at 2:36 pm
Hi Christine. I read your recent article about burnout due to the pandemic and am contacting you because I wonder if you might be interested in doing some research with me… I am the parent of a child with complex needs, who passed away in 2019. A long story short, I am working to try and improve the support for people with complex children and this line in your recent article struck a chord: “But nobody can stay alert for two years straight, at least not without consequences”. My daughter was tube fed and had no voluntary movement. She lived until she was nearly 3 but I have many friends with similar children who are living well into adulthood. We live in a state of high alert 24/7 and are provided with very little support by the public sector -any support received is usually won through court battles, and even that provided without going to court is usually hard won and the result of an incident of some kind. We didn’t receive anything for our daughter as we weren’t eligible until we could prove that she wouldn’t live for more than 6 months, by which time she had become so sick that she sadly died. Better support earlier on may have prevented her death as we would have been able to get better equipment, and it certainly would have prevented the extreme burnout I have experienced since she died. This goes beyond grief and is a mixture of burnout and PTSD. In fact, we could have been eligible -but we didn’t present ourselves as ‘in-need’ enough. To me my daughter was a wonderful little girl and I didn’t see why I had to turn her into a burden before I could receive any help. I was slightly blinkered in this way as well. I was had to prove myself -I had to prove myself worthy of my little girl. If the statutory services you expect to support you tell you that you don’t need support you of course blame yourself -and for me I think I felt that I daren’t fight too hard as I didn’t want people to think I couldn’t cope with her.
Anyway, I would like to do a piece of research around quantifying the ‘extra work’ that parents of complex children do that is unrecognised. I would really like to expose it in order that the burden is no longer on families to prove that they are ‘struggling’. To me, living with a seriously disabled child is, of course, different, from living with an able bodied neuro-typical child. It need not be worse though. And it cannot be good for parents to live continuously on edge for the entirety of their child’s life because services don’t listen, because they are not given adequate training to support their child etc etc. I really would like to do something positive that can highlight the impact of this unrecognised work and enable the public sector to better understand and step up. Thanks so much
January 6, 2022 at 4:44 pm
Hi Gabriella, thank you for getting in touch and I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I’m going to email you privately but just wanted to acknowledge your message here as well. Sending you love and admiration as I’m sure will everyone who reads your story. –Christine