When you don’t recognise yourself anymore

Often I look in the mirror and don’t recognise the person staring back at me.

I recognise the shape of the mouth, eyes and nose. I recognise the hair, the cheeks and the teeth, but, where did those grey crescents under my eyes come from, where did the pallid skin come from, where did the blood shot eyes come from, and where the hell did that drab hair come from. Since when did I turn into a washed out blimp? This sucks!!!!

It is at this point that I want to scream: Who are you reflection?? And, what on earth have you done with the real me??

Of course, standing in a public loo prevents me from doing this but the point remains the same. I am horrified at the person I have become post-marriage and a baby.

Once upon a time there was a young woman who went to her job looking like an extra from Suits. She looked immaculate. She went to gym, she had monthly facials and pedicures, she always worked longer hours than required. She was in essence the face of shithot.com. But she was lonely, she wanted more, a family, someone to come home to, maybe even a mini-her to enjoy. She eventually meets a great guy, bada bing, bada bang, and after three years and some change they are married, living together and with a real live boy to call their own.

The end right? ……..happily ever after yeah? Hmmm, not quite

Truth is, what you don’t see in the script of the ol’ romance movie is how they paid for their own wedding (which required a hefty “donation” from dear ol’ bank). They don’t tell you that baby biscuit was actually a surprise angel who they were neither financially nor mentally prepared for. They don’t tell you that they were on two separate medical aids and the one that covered the baby was far less than adequate for the expenses of having a newborn (think monthly obstetrician visits and the doctor’s costs that were triple medical aid rates). They don’t tell you that the pressure of regular costs – food, levies, car payments, bond payments, RA payments, bank loan repayments, baby-related costs etc – in the midst of unpaid maternity leave turned an ordinary couple into stars of “the Break-Up 2″ (the movie never released as it was more of a horror gone wild).

Then to top it off, let’s add a colicy – reflux – baby to the mix. Long days and exhausting nights later and you’re thinking it must get better right? Just one more month, just one more week. These are the consolatory words you give yourself as you lie in bed in the dark, wearing a vomit stained nightgown feeling anxious about the next round of “baby bonding time”. Your boobs are sore either because you have cracked nipples (and I mean cuts on the nipple boys – this aint no joke!) or because they painfully swell up with excess milk. You may be leaking milky liquid from the very puppies hubby used to love, which can give you that cool, wet feeling that everyone must enjoy when they need a few winks (signal sarcasm flash card). You don’t remember the last time you have had a chance to have a proper shower (with the bathroom door closed). And, the stretch marks that essential oil makers the world over promise they can prevent now look like purple worms bubbling under the skin.

This added to the general anxiety of raising your first baby with little to no emotional support (besides the odd, “I can imagine what that must feel like” remark or the ever so popular “It gets better”) will eventually age you by about 10 years give or take.

Aha, note to self, now I get why people have babies young. Even if its a disaster they can still look under 35.

A few months down the line and you need adult interaction, let’s face it you need a distraction that focuses your mind. What could be better to make you feel like a sensible human being than your career.

So, off you go starting a new job or going back to your previous job, only to feel like a fish out of water. You haven’t been around for a minimum of four months. Everyone looks so efficient, and energetic, and you’re sitting there feeling like a rag just wrung out. And if you feel terrible, you sure will look even worse.

An average day starts at 04:30am and ends at 07 – 09:00pm. And those are the days  when I don’t have pressing work that needs to be done, or when little baby boo does not wake up in the middle of the night for a nightly bottle or some teething gel/Nurofen. Let’s also not forget that the week for a mum is a 7 day week.

What does this all mean? It means that you are the victim of a well-known vampire. It has a special name – Life! How many of us have not wondered how naive we were in our youth. To think our parents had it easy. Parenting is not a calling, its a job. An everyday job. And if you’re a working mum, its a job on top of a job.

Does this mean you love your babe any less? Of course not, you are as fiercely protective and caring of your bundle of squishiness as the regular Martha Stewart types of this world. You’re just not willing to pretend that its all giggles on Monday, and cuddles on Tuesday. If you’re a single mum, then Lord help you. You are forever within a rock and a hard place being both provider and nurturer 100% of the time.

So, how do you balance it all? Marriage (with all its ups and down, and everything in between), your career (with all its demands), your baby (and the never ending vacuum that this little person can seem like) and your own needs.

Unless you’re a millionaire who can afford a day nanny and night nurse, a chauffeur, a chef, a part time job that just happens to pay well and demand little of your time, and a three week holiday in Maui, most of us have to take it day by day.

Great advice I was given is to:

  • Ensure that you and your hubby share responsibilities. No excuses and no cop outs. It is terribly unfair to lump someone with all the major baby care giving responsibilities and then still expect gratitude in return.
  • Always say yes to regular help and support. Even if it is once a month, let little Johnny stay over at grandma’s place. Give yourselves a break from him and make it special for the two of you to have that time alone together.
  • Find other like-minded women and men to hang out with. People who get it. And you know what I am talking about. Someone you can bitch to without feeling the inevitable guilt that comes with revealing the grey clouds in the sunny sky.
  • Try to eat healthily. The more nutrients you consume the less lacklustre you will feel.
  • Don’t deny post-natal depression. Its real and if undiagnosed it will affect you physically and not just mentally. Happy pills work, take them!
  • Choose to live in the moment. Take each day as it comes rather than thinking about the time you used to have, or the demands of tomorrow.

My face is a map. It represents all the places I have been. Anxiety, uncertainty/self-doubt, unhappiness, loneliness, exhaustion, anger, resentment. What you don’t see though is my growth. I am a wife, a mother, a team leader, a client manager, a friend, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, taxpayer and home-owner. I am every woman as the dearly departed Whitney Houston once sang. A lioness who only happens to be in tired skin.

Kamantha Müller

Kamantha Müller

Kamantha is a working mum, wife, PR specialist and proudly South African. She has three pet peeves - 1. Rudeness of any kind and under any circumstances; 2. Micro-managers; and 3. Arb Facebook posts - I don't care that you're drinking coffee at Tashas. As a first time mum she has lived through the ups and downs of motherhood only to come out the other end a wee bit wiser. For this reason, she wishes to share the reality of motherhood and how she would advise preparing for it. http://offyourocker-byebaby.com/

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