On Tuesday, January 29, 2019, you made your grand entrance into this world, all seven pounds, eight ounces of you, and my heart doubled in size.
You were stubborn, and insisted on remaining the wrong way round in those final weeks, despite our best efforts to coax you to turn. You were eventually born the same way that I was; by scheduled C-section.
It all became irrelevant, however, as snow fell softly outside the Cork University Maternity Hospital, and you were placed upon my chest for the first of oh-so-many cuddles. In that moment I felt vulnerable yet strong, fragile yet fierce. I became a mum.
Several months later, and it’s difficult to imagine life without you. That first night, I barely slept. Adrenaline and oxytocin made sure of that. Your daddy left at midnight, and I stayed up holding and feeding you, counting your fingers and toes, and watching your little chest rise and fall. Your perfection took my breath away, but so did the weight of responsibility I now felt upon my shoulders.
I tried not to become overwhelmed by this new job of keeping you alive. You were so tiny and precious, I wanted to be the very best mum that I could be. I wanted to keep you safe. I was afraid of the unknown.
That week, nurses and midwives were conducting their strikes outside our hospital window, so cars beeping to support their cause became the soundtrack to our first day together as mother and daughter. Quite fitting, considering the phenomenal help offered by those same nurses and midwives during our stay. We spent the time in hospital gradually getting to know one another, both of us learning as we went.
You took well to breastfeeding, despite my post-C section worries. New to it all, I slowly became familiar with your cues. I quickly realised, though, that there was no manual for this motherhood stuff. All the research I had done before your birth gave me some confidence and reassurance, but could only get me so far; it was actually less about textbook knowledge, and more about intuition and support.
The learning didn’t stop in hospital either, it has been ongoing. There’s always something new to master, whether it’s nap schedules or starting solids. So I’ve thrown away the idea of a rigid “right” answer, and have tried to trust that we’ll figure things out together. It seems to be working so far.
Motherhood has been exhilarating and rewarding, but demanding, exhausting and challenging too.
The night we brought you home stands out as being one of the toughest of the last six months. I think that’s probably because I left a hospital setting, surrounded by other new mums in the same boat, to suddenly finding myself back in my own bed, as if I hadn’t just brought a tiny human into the world. I was back to my old life, except it wasn’t my old life anymore; there you lay in the cot next to us. I was drained and emotional and just wanted to sleep, but of course you were oblivious to any bedtime routine. I think that was the moment when it hit me that life had changed completely. It was no longer about just me. The show must go on.
Those first weeks at home are now not much more than a blur of tea, visitors, nappies and Netflix. Episodes of The Crown got me through many a cluster-feed on the couch! Daddy kept the house running smoothly, allowing me to rest whenever possible, and to focus on feeds and naps.
You had your most unsettled period at around six weeks, when you seemed to be suffering with colic. You would scrunch up your little face and roar, and nothing nor nobody could pacify you. I remember feeling so unsure and helpless. If only you could tell us what to do, Grace! Then one night you began to go down more easily and sleep for longer stretches, and thankfully we haven’t looked back, apart from the occasional developmental leap, which promises to produce a cranky baby!
My gorgeous Grace, you’re the only person who knows what my heartbeat sounds like from the inside. The day you were born was the day the most wonderfully fulfilling part of me came to be. But with that came a shift in identity. I’ve gone from being just “Michelle,” to being “Michelle” and “Grace’s Mammy”. It was difficult at first to navigate the balance between those two titles.
There was zero balance in the earlier days, to be honest, which is to be expected. I’ve found over the past few months however, that there can and should be space for both. The catch-ups with friends I’ve made time for, or those date nights scheduled with daddy mean I return rested, refreshed and dying for cuddles. For me, that time away from you just makes me cherish our time together all the more, and prevents me from losing too much of myself in the process. It’s something that is very personal and different for everybody, but for me, this is what works. I find it’s also vital to manage my expectations of myself.
Being a mum is hard. It’s a 24-hour job, and there are days when I just have to remind myself that when it comes to all the other things on the to-do list, sometimes “good enough” is good enough.
Motherhood is a complex phenomenon that I’m still trying to get my head around. I never anticipated how intertwined strength and softness could be. What I know for sure is that while life has changed utterly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I marvel as you grow and learn and progress before our very eyes; rolling over, sitting up, discovering exciting new tastes and experiences, all bringing a renewed sense of magic to our world.
It amazes me too how much I have learned from such a little person. In six short months you have taught me how precious life is, how capable I am, and how much love I have to give. You put things into perspective, and remind me of what’s really important. The smiles and giggles you reward us with are priceless, and the joy you bring to our lives is indescribable. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t count myself incredibly lucky to be able to call myself “Michelle, Grace’s Mammy.”
I am embracing every moment of watching you grow up. If only we could pause time, for just a little while!
All my love, Mammy