You know her right? The Relaxed Mother? The mother you’re always compared to? Georgina Langdon-Pole takes on the myth.
Gather around, ladies and gents. I am going to tell you the story of a magical sorceress. Legend calls her the ‘Relaxed Mother.’
The myth of the Relaxed Mother is perpetuated by the Baby Whisperers AKA visitors AKA your great auntie’s cousin’s best friend’s neighbour. Shortly after I gave birth they came in their droves, bringing the smell of musty perfume and tales of the Relaxed Mother. Legend has it, she can be found having a hypnotic birth beside a stream, or sitting happily in a deafening cafe just a few days after her birth. The high-pitched gushing seemed endless. “Oh, she has SUCH a good baby. It must be because she’s SUCH a relaxed mother,” they’d cluck, while I thought about more pressing matters like the fear of my first poo, or wondering if I’d ever leave the house again.
I wanted to meet this incredible woman. After the birth of my son I stumbled around the house in my nana nighty, anxious, covered in a thin layer of milk and baby pee. I cried on average once an hour. Sometimes for genuine reasons, like over my dishevelled vagina, or at the realisation I might never sleep again. Other times for stranger reasons, because – oh, I dunno – my partner made me peanut butter instead of nutella toast, or I saw a dew drop on a leaf in the garden.
I had every intention of being a Relaxed Mother. Smart looking people in books told me that during labour, the more tense you are from the pain, the slower the cervix dilates. So I figured I’d just need to relax a bit, right? Like, take a chill pill, bro. Meditate. Go to my happy place. Think about fairies and butterflies and sunsets on beaches. This did not happen. Instead, I fantasised about getting a giant needle in my spine. Chanted for it like a possessed demon. When the anaesthetist arrived she was wearing normal, serious doctor clothes, but she may as well have been covered in gold and glitter with giant angel wings sprouting from her back. I was all like: “YES!!! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE CAN YOU STICK A GIANT NEEDLE INTO MY SPINE I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER YOU ARE MY SAVIOUR!!!”
Post-birth on my first outing to a cafe, I tried to breastfeed my baby. He wailed so loud you could barely hear the painful/repetitive/monotonous music overhead. I fumbled with my nipple shield (which made me look like a bit Madonna, only housewifey). Meanwhile, my breast hung out as milk projectiled directly into his eye. At moments like these, appearances matter. You want to avoid the judgement that you being unable to calm your baby is a reflection of how uptight you are. Cue slightly concerned but relaxed look. Casual, nonchalant laughter. Keep calm; look at ease. Actual internal dialogue: “Oh god everyone is staring at me. What’s wrong with you you little shit! If you’re hungry, just eat!”
Yes, I admit it. I have called my precious bundle of joy a little shit. This was usually followed by uncontrollable weeping. Out of guilt – but also because he did something excruciatingly cute, like blinked, and it was so perfect and adorable and beautiful. Those first few weeks are a roller coaster ride, naked and without a seat belt. Unless you’re a 1950s housewife who has developed a strong appetite for tea and codeine, most of us first time mothers are not relaxed. We flick from extreme to extreme, calling our baby a ‘dick’ one minute, the next cradling them and sobbing, plotting never to leave their side before their 21st birthday.
Not everyone understood this. Some Baby Whisperers gave me subtle (and by subtle I mean in your face), encouraging (and by encouraging I mean pushy) advice. The kind of advice followed by a stale smile, the smile that said: “I am worried for you, Georgina. Worried you’ll become a crazed hermit, breastfeeding your baby until he’s 16.” Again and again, I was encouraged to just get on with life and be ‘normal’ again. And in some other pre-mangled genitalia, pre-night is the new day, pre-tiny human dimension, (THE PAST), I wanted this. But in the present? I didn’t want to go out for a chai latte, while I sat there analysing how the trendy chair hurt my hemorrhoids. I wanted to curl up into a ball, crawl under my duvet and rock gently. I wanted to sit there, stare at my sleeping baby and weep because this tiny human was the embodiment of perfection. And because my vagina hurt. It hurt bad.
So who is this Relaxed Mother, this mysterious shape-shifting creature? She is that Barbie doll you played with when you were five and that really together looking person in the latest issue of Woman’s Day. She is off over there in the distance riding her unicorn over a fucking rainbow. Real mothers are exactly that: real. Human. And, although they often come into the world looking like a cross between a sultana and a martian, our babies are only human too. When they cry it is usually less a reflection of our mental state and more to do with the fact that we ate cabbage and bok choy for dinner.
I anticipate there will be a few more concerned smiles before my son grows up. Because I’m too soft or too hard, or not relaxed enough. But if the cry of my baby didn’t make my brain pulse and my heart race, I’d probably be sitting in the bath with a whiskey while my toddler graffitied the lounge walls with his faeces. I might accidentally take the wrong child home from the park, or even worse: the odd socks would never be found. I am happy to let the Relaxed Mother ride her unicorn off into the distance. I’ll be the one in the car park, swearing at my stroller as I try to assemble it. I’ll be right here on planet earth, being human, thank you very much.
Georgina Langdon-Pole is a writer, lecturer and community development practitioner passionate about social justice and giving a shit. She’s also the proud mother of two tiny humans. Follow her on Twitter.
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