Saturday 21 April 2018

Group therapy during maternity leave

New mum Siobhan O'Dowd is finding that hanging out with other mothers is absolutely essential for a successful mat leave

Siobhan O'Dowd Photo: Kip Carrol
Siobhan O'Dowd Photo: Kip Carrol

How is maternity leave going so far? The first two months have largely been a blur. I've watched Making a Murderer, Peaky Blinders, The Good Wife and would have watched The Bridge except my exhausted brain can't process subtitles. My husband John was away or studying a lot, so my friends and family were amazing, driving west and pretending not to notice I hadn't showered in three days and that my dressing gown had stains on it; sending me back to bed and playing with 16-month-old Charlotte, and on one occasion, cleaning out my fridge (a job I absolutely hate!). Now Will is 9 weeks, I have graduated to three and four hour periods of sleep and I don't know myself. I have stopped deliriously buying mini skirts I will never wear on Ebay at 4am, I can finish the occasional sentence and I've even made soup from scratch. There is a lot of work to do, but the reclaiming of self is slowly happening.

I went out. Like proper out. Twice. The first time when Will was three weeks old to see the Villagers in the Black Box in Galway where I felt overdressed in a parka, and my boots stuck to the floor, which was a sea of discarded plastic cups and spilled beer. My boobs hurt, I was standing behind a couple who really should have got a room and I felt like my mojo had exited the building, along with my will to live. The second time was more successful (Will was eight weeks and it was my first overnight away from him - kudos to Cousin Orla and her boyfriend Ali who were very polite about the night feeds). As a special treat we headed up to Dublin, and went to Chapter One for dinner with a gang. My only miscalculation was to combine the tasting menu with wine (seven courses/ seven glasses of wine/ approximately more wine than over last 12 months combined) with new ridiculously high heeled boots (part of project reclaim self). If you've ever driven past Wesley on a Saturday night and seen the teenagers with wobbly Bambi legs, that's what the result was. And I was bed by midnight, Cinderella-style. The drive back to Galway the next day was from a dark dark place.

I have friends. New maternity leave friends. John set me up on a couple of blind friend dates of people he knew from his time in Galway - pride goes out the window when you're facing six months on your own in a new city with raging breast feeding hormones. Throw an absent husband into the mix (exam year - apparently it'll all be different now he has passed, yay!), the fact it's been raining since November and it's a pretty bleak horizon without a few like-minded people to meet for coffee or walks when the non-maternityers are at work. From a combination of blind friend dates, and my dragging poor Will around 'the circuit' of Baby Sensory, the December Mums Group and soon to start Waterbabies I have found some great ladies and have had some very enjoyable coffees where we trade war stories on husbands (lack of cop on/ overly copped on), sleep (lack of, someone elses baby always doing better/ longer/ earlier), breastfeeding (mastitis/ pumping/ cluster feeding/ formula top ups), weight (spare tyre, spare tyre, spare tyre).

Interestingly, from a December Mums' vox pop, the majority of the partners have migrated to the spare room. The ones that remain in the marital bed generally snore through the night feeds, and then upon waking refreshed after a full eight hours say things like 'he was great sleeping through last night' blissfully unaware that you were up at 12, and 2, and 4, and 6am.

If I learned anything from my last maternity leave, it's the importance of having one thing to do every day that makes you get the baby organised, have a shower, put on make-up and leave the house. Otherwise the chances are you're still in your PJs at 5pm, you've eaten an entire Romantica because that was all that was in the house, food-wise, and you're clock watching for your partner to come home from work. And if you're like me, you're a teeny bit jealous that he was out in the real world with real people. Maternity leave is great, but it can be isolating and a very lonely place. Having a posse around you of ladies going through the same thing makes all the difference, and I reckon I might have struck gold with the current Galway crop.

Irish Independent

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