How to disappear completely


Last weekend I went for a massage, leaving the baby with her dad and a bottle of expressed milk. It wasn’t hard to leave but it was strangely hard to be there, both glad to be alone and not, knowing this window of freedom was just that.

Previously I had wondered what women meant when they talked about a loss of their sense of self when they become mothers. I have been thinking a lot what this means for me, and it is simply that I am tired and the baby is very demanding and there is simply not time or energy to contemplate myself – the things I like to do, the things I think about the world, how I feel about everything. And most of all exactly who I am now that I am someone’s mother, in addition to everything else I used to be. The baby comes first, I fade into the background and when I come face to face with myself – in an hour off, when confronted by a memory from my old life – it can feel overwhelming and sad to be reacquainted with this person who I used to spend every day with.

I am still here. I know this, and I know I will reemerge in stages, even if this “I” is different from before.

Our daughter is 4 months old, by most accounts a cranky, difficult age where babies are coming to terms with their fast development and are overwhelmed by these changes and the world around them. Her sleep, which had previously been relatively ok, went totally fucked a few weeks ago and though it’s improved a little, she still wakes frequently and then at 5.30am, full of beans and ready for the day (if you’d had a decent night’s sleep yourself this would he doable, but ya know …). She wakes too early from naps and her lack of proper sleep makes her tearful and scratchy, and she sails from joy to hysterical yelping better than any teenager. Totes emosh, I think as I hug her little wriggly body.

Naughty baby sleeps fine in a sling on an Irish hill

Naughty lovely baby sleeps fine in a sling on an Irish hill

In this “phase” she cries approximately 2 seconds after I leave the room and often wails until she is carried, so basic tasks like getting dressed or making a cup of tea or hanging the washing out take hours and must be interspersed with feeding and cuddling and singing and cheering up this little grumpy person. I can no longer always feed her to sleep like I used to so I spend some of every day jiggling her to sleep while she screams in my arms and flails about and I silently count to 20 and try not to think of people having cocktails in a bar in Dalston, and sometimes kiss her chubby tear-stained cheeks, and tell myself that she will sleep eventually. Sometimes I am so tired that my ears have a constant slightly painful swish in them, and I cry at everything and even my teeth hurt.

Through it, I love her so much I think my insides will explode. And I constantly think to myself: this is the hardest, most grinding, exhausting and frustrating thing I have ever done. Who knew babies were like this? Everyone lies about it, including me when I speak to mums with brand new babies in cafés, because you HAVE to. I feel guilty about everything, including napping when Adam gets up with her at 6am, how I STILL feel tired and sad after a long nap, any time away I have, my ingratitude at wanting MORE time away, the minutes I leave her grizzling while I do essential tasks like, you know, cleaning my teeth or taking a shit.

Occasionally I stand next to her in the early morning and consider the 12 hours ahead of us and think I cannot do this and Adam leaves for work and I really, really want to say “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME” but I never do because I am not a total cow. I can barely write about it because it is often a bit misery memoir, because all mums suffer, because I don’t want to look like I’m moaning, because I’m lucky to have a lovely baby and a lovely flat and lovely partner and lovely family and live in a great part of London and not have to put my children in a small boat to escape a marauding gang of murderers. There are always mothers with less support than you, getting less sleep than you, with more children or crankier babies than you, so everyone is silent on it except in their friendships and everyone is quietly shouting “FUUUUUUCK” as they mainline coffee and push their buggies up hills.

Every day has some moments of joy, sometimes lots of them. Today I was hugging her in my bedroom and I caught sight of the mirror and her face looking at me in it, lit up with pure happiness. When I sing her certain songs, or she spots her favourite toy, her jaw drops in ecstasy. She has started to do a real dirty cackle whenever I make miaowing sounds against her neck (what? Miaowing into your baby’s crevices is totally normal), the best sound in the whole entire world.

Things are tough at the moment so I’ve lowered my expectations accordingly, which make it a bit easier. If she sleeps beyond 5.45 or if I haven’t sobbed by 8am I feel like I’ve triumphed! Although I feel frequently brittle I also feel tougher than I ever have. I feel like a warrior, like I did after my 2-day-long home birth with no pain relief. (I remind myself of the birth, a lot!) I see my reflection in a shop mirror while I push the baby in her yellow buggy, with my Nike Airs and my mom Parka and I note that I have washed my face and my hair isn’t too dreadful and I even put on mascara. And even if I don’t feel like it I say to myself: I’m still here. And even if I don’t feel like I am, I say: I’m nailing it. One day I hope Rosa will be proud that I am trying my best.


2 Responses to “How to disappear completely”

  1. I LOVE YOU CHLOE!!!!!!!!! AND YOUR WRITING! you’re doing fantastically and i can’t wait to be just as miserable and in love and tired and incontrovertibly strong, someday soon!!!

  2. 2 SR

    Oh my word. I feel exactly like this!

    It’s nice to read something that is an honest portrayal of motherhood. Thank you.

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