I was looking through photographs on my phone that I’d taken last year when I stumbled upon this one. I distinctly remember taking it. I’d just got home from a café and I was feeling so sad. So lost, and lonely. I took this photo so I would remember. I wanted to remember how low I felt at that moment in time. How alone I felt, and how homesick I all of a sudden felt. (I stay in Cape Town but all my family are overseas and my in-laws are up in Durban.)
When I saw this photograph again, I hardly recognised the sad face looking back at me, yet I remembered instantly how I felt. I wanted to be able to give that person a huge hug, and to tell her it would be ok, and she would be ok. I wanted to be able to go back in time and give her a letter to tell her all about the woman she is now:
A letter to myself:
I see you there sitting at your table in the busy café with your newborn. You’re crying softly into your decaf cappuccino whilst your little one sleeps next to you. You’re hoping you can finish your coffee before she wakes and demands some lunch and the whole circus that that entails. You think no-one has noticed, but I have. I see you. I want to tell you a story, and I hope it will help you feel a little better, a little more human again, but most of all, I hope that it will help you feel a little less lonely.
Once upon a time there lived a woman who was pregnant. She was so excited about the impending arrival of her little one, and all her friends kept asking how she was feeling and inviting her for lunch and catch ups. Then on May 3rd 2016, that woman went into labour and out popped her daughter (we both know what actually happened there so I’ll just skip that part). Her friends came to visit one by one at the hospital and then at home, and she felt so completely in love with this new little person in her life. But then, gradually over a period of time, the visits became less, and the invites too, until one day she found herself in that café with her newborn, crying into her drink.
Loneliness is such a sad feeling, and you can often feel lost. You can be sitting in a café full of people, yet feel like you don’t exist. You crave adult conversation and will try to engage with anyone just so you can get your words out and feel less invisible: the waitress who is busy and politely returns your conversation; a car guard who’s eyes have already glazed over as you explain to him that you’re a new mama and how long it took you to finally get dressed and out the house; random people in the shop, in fact any adult really. Anyone who will listen. You spend your days waiting for your husband to come home, and then bombard him with words and sentences the minute he walks through the door. I know this, because I felt this.
I don’t want to tell you that it gets easier, because in reality it doesn’t. You just become much more efficient and capable, and you will grow in confidence each day. Slowly, but surely, you’ll begin to listen to your mama’s intuition and less to old wives tales and advice from well meaning friends and family. You’ll trust your gut and as you begin to grow in self confidence, the new you will begin to emerge. You will feel confident in feeding your babe out of the home, whether it’s mastering the art of freeing a boob, juggling a crying babe and flailing about with a blanket over her whilst not sweating for once; or by giving her the bottle and not being bothered by the stares. You’re feeding your child milk not poison, so don’t feel judged and as flustered as you are now.
You’ll begin to get out of the house more, even if it’s just a walk in the fresh air. You’ll join a mama group which the very thought of at the moment fills you with such anxiety. No you won’t be doing jazz hands and singing at the top of your voice, it’s really not that bad. What you will do though mama, is have a goal to get out of the house for. And some mornings you won’t make it, because your little one just won’t let you out of her sight for a second. You can’t even dip your toe in the shower without her waking and screaming at you for daring to be naked and not want to hold and feed her. You’ll feel frustrated and exasperated, but it’s not the end of the world, it’s ok. You can just go the next time. You’ll go and you will meet other mamas who are just as frazzled as you. Who are just as lonely, though no-one cares to admit it. And you’ll also meet mamas there who look like they have got it altogether with perfect hair and make up, whilst you’ve not even combed yours for the last 3 days, never mind even looked in a mirror. But you will meet all these different types of mamas, and you will talk and chat to them and gradually make friends with them and they will become your biggest network of support. Especially as you have no family close by.
Your hair will stop falling out. I promise you mama. Whilst at the moment you might feel like a Golden Retriever has nothing on your moulting, it will stop, and no, you won’t be bald. The night sweats? Oh gosh the night sweats. Legs out of the duvet because you’re melting, but now your legs are soaking, your sheets are soaking, your night clothes are soaking, so you put your legs back under the duvet because you’re cold, but ugh it’s damp under there now too. You get up, dry your body with a towel, lay a towel on your bed and change your night clothes. Those also stop, thankfully.
You’re tired, oh so tired. You feel like you’ll never sleep properly ever again. I hate to tell you this mama, but you will never sleep as soundly as you did before, but you will have nights of uninterrupted sleep. For you, they only started some 15 months later, and they’re still hit and miss too, but you learn to cope. You will learn all about what great things are happening in your tiny babe’s brain, how she’s learning to move her hands, to hold her own head, to make her legs move, and then to master rolling, sitting, crawling and walking. In 1 year your little babe will grow from a tiny newborn who can’t yet focus, into a toddler who can think, and begin to talk. Who can sit and crawl and begin trying to walk. A whole mouth of teeth need to move down from her jaw and erupt through her gums. Is it any wonder her sleep is interrupted? You’ll learn all this alongside her, holding her hand as she does, and only then will you begin to understand why both of your sleep is all over the place. You will gradually begin to think differently and to have so much more patience.
You see mama, you were given this child for a reason. To help you to become the woman you are today from where I am writing you this letter. A much more patient, kind, fun loving person than I was 17 months ago. So don’t be so sad, look up and be prepared for the beginning of the new and improved version of yourself. You’re doing great, be gentle on yourself, and one day soon, you won’t feel so lonely sitting in a café. You’ll see a mama just like you now, who needs this letter just as much as you do. I’ll leave you with this photo, I took this morning. Nothing special, but look at the difference. You’re smiling with your eyes and that means your soul is happy. You’ve got this mama, I promise you.