Today I had the misfortune to see a video clip of myself from summer 2011. My son was 10 days old. I was laid out on the coach looking floppy and jaundiced, wearing my go-to ‘safe’ nightie and leggings for the 10th day straight. I was having a break from the baby and waffling on about my birth story, as new mums are wont to do. No doubt I was giving inappropriate detail to my Step-Sister-in-Law, who was 3 months off giving birth for the first time herself. (I am so, so, sorry SSIL)
I was mad, reader: unsteady, shocked, deliriously happy but fragile as hell. On the video I look tired and yellow, but otherwise normal. In fact, eerily calm. It’s weird to see how normal I look, when I remember feeling so insane.
One thing I was grasping for at this strange time was the knowledge that other women had felt the same. That it wasn’t just me with the problems, the mania and the intense confusion. I searched for and found it it in all manner of places. But of all the places I found it, I can honestly say that the best source of all was this book: What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen.
Reader, I love this book. I keep a copy by my bed pretty much all the time, where it has stayed since I first dipped into it when Ted was just 11 weeks old. Back then it was a life line: I’d dash to read even just half a page of it whenever I had a hand free, and nodded in recognition so many times I’m sure I wore out of those tiny little neck bones that you don’t really need. It got me through some confusing times, and made me cry tears of relief, joy and disbelief that other people got it. It was like discovering the Smiths when you’re a teenager, but a bit more of a hassle, to be honest.
Stadlen has spent hours talking with new mums about their experiences and feelings. From her work and research came this book, which is stacked full of quotes from real mums that illustrate the highs and lows of early motherhood. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of early motherhood and the chapters are titled using direct quotes from mothers she spoke with. Just reading them gives me goosebumps:
Nothing Prepares You
I Get Nothing Done All Day
So Tired I Could Die
I Was Surprised I Still Had the Same Name.
You get the idea. It’s like every conversation you have ever had with another new mum poured into book form and as such is a total work of utter genius. For every mum quoted who you identify with there will be one who you don’t. As such it is a brilliant reminder that in motherhood we’re united yet divided. That while we find community and solace from other mums and parents, we’re on this journey all on our own.
Now this book sits by my bed as a reminder of what once was: the intensity, confusion and vibrancy of those early days that now seem like another life. I’d buy a copy for every new mum I knew if I didn’t secretly think it would diminish its magic. Like a weird, enchanted goblet.
Photo taken by Matt Preston and reproduced under CC license