Thursday, 17 September 2009

Dressing gown



Why the dishcloth photo, Emma, I hear you cry in your ones, and possibly twos. That's no dishcloth, internet. It's my dressing gown.







Why your dressing gown, Emma? I hear the other, er, none of you reply.

Because.



Because I love my dressing gown.



I bought it from Liberty in spring 2002, when I thought that childbirth would be all rose petals and kittens and unicorns. It is (was) pale blue and made of the lightest Indian cotton. I bought soft pale blue leather slippers from Penhaligons too and had fond visions of sitting in a cloud of, what's that bonding hormone? I want to say OxyContin, but I think that's wishful thinking. Whatever. Anyway, sitting in a cloud of happy hormones and flowers and tiny muffins with my new baby.



Ha.



Anyone who has ever experienced, or seen childbirth in even the smallest of mammals will already be snickering at how deluded I was. Sure, I got the natural birth I was so insanely fixated on. Though I might query whether there's anything natural about having to sit on one of those kidney shaped dishes on top of the bed for two hours trying to expel a placenta. Passons. The whole business was protracted and messy and frankly, kind of revolting as the CFO's ashen face testified. Not to mention that the first thing the beautiful infant Lashes did was to shit all over me. The ward was more revolting still, with snail trails of unidentified body fluid snaking around the grey green linoleum. The dressing gown remained in my bag with the pretty suede bottomed slippers, untainted by five varieties of amniotic fluid as I grappled through the night with the terrible realisation that noone was going to DO anything about this screaming infant but me.



The dressing gown came out after a couple of days at home, when I remembered about it, and I never really took it off. It was my constant companion from 4 to 7 am when, hypervigilant and unable to sleep, I would sit in the sofa of our top floor flat and watch the dawn. Those early weeks with a newborn can feel like Isabella and the pot of basil, as the new mother fades away in a sea of tears plopping softly on the baby's head as it gnaws tirelessly on her bleeding nipple, and the infant grows and unfurls, gets more beautiful and demanding. Ok, the analogy breaks down without a severed head, but you see where I'm going. The dressing gown came to feel like a tiny shred of the 'before' me. A sign that I was still in there, somewhere. The person who loved beautiful, elegant things she couldn't really afford, nice face creams and mountains of books. It became very hard to believe I would ever emerge from the fog of fatigue and anxiety and not really caring what I looked like or ate, or being too edgy and tired to read a book. But the dressing gown helped me believe it.



(I am making motherhood sound like the Vietnam war. I always do this. I am ridiculous. But young, cosseted and selfish; used to being in control, it came as an awful shock to me. I was a mess - anxious, resentful and bewildered. I loved my son enormously, but I had fuck all idea how to cope with the long, formless days of early motherhood in the West End, completely alone. I spent a lot of time wandering round department stores, crying )





I've worn, and loved it ever since. It's covered in tea stains and I'm not sure where the belt is. My two pots of basil are huge and beautiful and robust. I haven't broken them yet. I still love beautiful things, nice face creams and mountains of books. I'm still here, somewhere.

24 comments:

Mrs Trefusis... said...

Motherhood *is* the Vietnam war, particularly in the way that the super-power who went into it convinced of victory came out the other side completely vanquished.. Infants wage a guerilla war on their mothers. They have to, to survive, otherwise we might leave them in the bedding department of Liberty and run away. And thank god for oxytocin: beautiful chemical love that gets us through the smothering tiredness and impossibility of those early weeks.
Beautiful post, Waffle. And beautiful dressing gown.
Xxx

Jaywalker said...

Not as beautiful as yours Mrs T! xxx

Top Bird @ Wee Birdy said...

Brutally honest and beautiful.

Just one small question from the non-mother type: why on earth do they make you sit on a dish when you have to push out a placenta? (actually, don't tell me. Ignorance is all I'm clinging to at this stage. And I plan to get pregnant v. soon!)

Love your dressing gown, too. xx

Jaywalker said...

Top Bird - No, don't worry, I think that was a special treat for me because I was being so crap at it. I mean, something else to push out AFTER the baby? It's just wrong. TAKE THE PLACENTA EXPELLING INJECTION. This is my main piece of pregnancy advice.

Susan said...

Lovely, lovely post. My dressing gown was white linen. I did not take into account the, er, staining potential.
The person who loves beautiful, elegant things, nice face creams and mountains of books is there. She's just all coked-up on oxytocin at the moment.

Mr London Street said...

Dressing gowns have belts?

No wonder I get such funny looks from the people who pass by my window every Saturday morning. All my life I've felt like something was missing and now I know what it was.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Aha, I recall 'coming around' after a drug-free childbirth (blasted National Childbirth Trust!), speaking to my (non-mother-yet) midwife about childbirth being a conspiracy by women against women! Not in a mad, raving, way but more implying that we do not know what the hell it is we will go through, because we each go through it on our own, whether there's a partner there or not - And no-one can or will tell you what it's life...

So we harbour our dressing gowns and mirrors and comforting night-gowns while we are stripped of our dignity and self, and then we find ourselves again, piece by piece, in the beauty of being a mum and loving unconditionally, despite being terrified, horrified, battered and knackered...

And we live...

And then they become teenagers... and you think you might have them adopted - Seriously!

Anonymous said...

So true. I felt utterly destroyed by how my life and body had changed. I was also desperately lonely, literally panicked if my husband was going to come home late. I remember, a few weeks after my son was born, looking at a picture of myself from my honeymoon and thinking, "Who was that person? She's gone." I was lost.

It was so much easier the second time around and not nearly as traumatic. I adore my boys, but you couldn't pay me to relive those desperate days again.

Your words are beautiful. Thank you.

Laurel said...

Having supportive people around helps a lot. No new mother should be left on her own with a screaming infant (unless she wants, I guess). We have absolutely lovely nurses on the maternity ward of our hospital, and a strong community for supporting women once they get out, and I think my experience was all the different because of that.

That said, toddlerhood has almost destroyed me at various points, so also I think some people have an easier time with one stage than another.

I had extraordinarily ugly red satin pajamas from Sears, which were about as attractive as one might suppose, but even those went untouched. All one needs to know about immediate days postpartum is that disposable underwear seems like the best thing EVER.

And, gosh, I went natural too but did not have any particular placenta issues. I did NOT go natural for the stitching up afterwards, however, thankyouverymuch, and it was still gruesome enough for me.

Iheartfashion said...

I would have much prefered OxyContin to oxytocin myself. And no, no one tells you about the desperate loneliness of the early days, where you're kind of adrift with this needy infant and feel utterly incompetent.

Laura Jane said...

Oh Emma....what a beautiful post.

This is all so true. The wistful projections of oneself as in a Kleenex ad, postpartum, watching fluffy bunnies gently lop across the lawn as we trail our hand lovingly across the cheek of a sleeping infant, dressed in our divine and romantic pale blue dressing gowns, washed hair, creamed faces. What bollocks.

And you were very special and lucky to do the retained placenta thing, not everyone gets to do that trick. Ashen faced husbands are quite disquieting aren't they? I had one of those too, he described our first birth as 'the closest modern man comes to trench warfare and hand to hand fighting'. He was reeling in a corner with horror at times, but would struggle to my side when I looked around for him. Poor darling(s).

That Emma is still there. All grown up and responsible, however reluctantly. She is perfectly entitled to still like expensive face creams, while soaking in the oxytocin that still wafts around her boys.

Its also known as LOVE.

Katy said...

What a wonderful post. I'll never forget the look of sheer relief on the midwife and doctor's faces when I opted for the injection to get rid of the placenta after a drug free birth. And the joy of those bulky ugly disposable knickers! Fortunately their appeal wore off eventually.

Bath bun said...

Lovely post – anyone who says they had a beautiful birth was either drugged to the hilt or has no sense of aesthetic. Can only say the Belgiums at least try to make it more palatable – your own personal physio stays on to "massage" out the placenta after cheering you through the birth for a small fortune. And, as you have midwife, gynaecologist and physiotherapist all present, there are enough people to administer to husband when he faints and still keep an eye on your pain relief and birthing progress. Shame though that they then make you take the baby home, why can't they just give you a medal and tell you to pick it up at a later date when you've recovered and they have taught baby to walk, talk and use a toilet?

Persephone said...

If someone had told us what it was like, would we have believed them?

Ali said...

Jesus woman. You keep prattling on about having nothing worthy to say and still you manage to dig up posts that are this moving and beautiful.

First time motherhood is hell. No denying it. I think we all feel like we have lost ourselves a bit to the cultivation of our small people. I've tried gently warning friends about such things. None of them ever believe me. They think they will be able to overcome it, Fools.

Margaret said...

I think the problem is that if you don't want children you believe the stories because it supports your desires. If you want kids you dismiss the stories as overblown. I never wanted kids so I read your stories with a pleasant mix of horror and relief.

fabhat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fabhat said...

I remember going to a leaving do when I worked in magazines, where the young mother-to-be was given a beautiful delicate white dressing gown and nightdress - embroidered and gorgeous - and probably from Liberty too, as that was our local shop. Still innocent of maternal horrors in those days, I was standing next to the ed and dep ed (both with more than one child each) who hurrumphed and cackled at this gift, like waldorf and stadtler on the muppet show. When I asked why it was so funny, the dep ed very kindly explained to me the true horrors of the trail of bloody mucus and other delights that follow childbirth FOR WEEKS she assured me, and of course not including the shit/piss/sick etc that the baby will add to the mix. I've also made the mistake of READING AHEAD in my pregnancy book recently...and so I know far too much about all this. But I do like your dressing gown - might have to get myself something like that as well, for the dark days ahead.

everybodysaysdont said...

I had bedsheets from liberty from 2001 that look ALOT like your dressing gown (but a cat I was looking after was sick on them! so I don't have them anymore) I miss the detailing....and the softness... If it had been my dog I could have washed it and lived with it I expect, but not some random cat...This doesn't really add much to your story - except to say any sick/poo/etc that is your own or family's is generally dealable with... On that note, Have a good weekend, lots of love x

Anonymous said...

You are 34 and still believe that childbirth and a few stubborn placentas constitute pain. I hope you think the same as the years go by...

emily said...

as said by many others, lovely post and beautifully written. The dressing gown also looks gorgeous... i myself do not have one yet, spending my lounging around timw wrapped in a cocoon of soft fleecy blankets instead (i live in Scotland...its blooming cold!)
It is a testiment to how broody iam at the moment that even the horrific childbirth stories have not put me off!

Red Shoes said...

Anonymous 21:46 seems so bitter. Must be the same "All your days are easy." Anonymous. I wonder what it feels like to be so callous and judgmental. Can't be any fun.

I am terrified of new motherhood. I plunge doggedly toward it but am terrified, terrified.

Nell said...

Suspect anonymous 21:46 of trolling. Whatever.
Apparently new babies exude oxytocin through their head. Which is my excuse for smelling my nieces and nephews so much. Just to get high you know.
Mmmmm, babies heads. Lovely.

black said...

bridal online shop bridal gowns wholesale wedding dresses high quality bridal gowns wholesale custom wedding dresses wedding apparel wedding dresses top sellers wedding dresses2010 new arrivals 2010 new arrivals wedding dresses beach wedding dresses Luxury Wedding Dresses plus size wedding dresses wedding party dresses bridesmaid dresses junior bridesmaid dresses flower girl dresses mother of bride dresses wedding shoes wedding bags wedding accessories evening dresses prom dresses cocktail dresses quinceanera dresses little black dresses