‘My friends are married and have kids – that seems to be enough for them.’ ‘Everyone’s moving to the Dandenongs, having kids, and not wanting to have fun anymore.’ These are just a few of the things that friends, and friends of friends, have said to me. I’m an artist. I’m 29 years old. I’m also the mother of a two-year-old girl. I live in Berlin, and since Anja’s birth I have moved three times – from Cardiff, to Melbourne, then back to Berlin, where I had lived for six months in 2009. I have spent the last two years trying to move my family back to Melbourne – my hometown. And yes, we’ll probably live in the ’burbs.
When I was pregnant, I read of lot of literature that told me how I should behave when returning to work and seeing friends. These books and articles warned me against talking about my baby all the time because not everyone cares; not everyone has a baby. They instructed me on how to fit myself back into society, friendship groups and the workplace. I was being told that I had to extend myself to make friends and colleagues able to relate to me again, because I had made this enormous change to my lifestyle. There was nothing about how they should try to understand me.
For most of my daughter’s life, I’ve tried to fit in to other people’s routines. A lot of my time is spent analysing and worrying about things I’ve said to friends. Did I ask about them enough? Did I mention Anja too much? Oh my God, I talked about leaking boobs! Oh my God, I talked about birth! I laughed too loudly when someone compared contractions to period cramps! Did I act too offhand when someone talked about how having a baby will not change them? [ ]
I try really hard not to offend people when I talk about how I don’t care about the things I used to care about – that I don’t care about gossip, I don’t care about competing; I just want to make it through the days and weeks. I try very hard to articulate these things to help people to understand me, to help them understand that my motives and choices are not a judgement cast on their motives and choices.
Nothing prepares you for the change a baby brings. It’s a monumental, life-changing experience. Pregnancy is hard yakka on your body, while the birth, well… Let’s face it – you’re never really sure how the birth is going to go. You could be that barefoot, water-birthing goddess, or a screaming banshee drugged up to the eyeballs. Or you could be someone who opts to have a caesarean (which the thoughtless have often dubbed the ‘too posh to push’ method).
Giving birth changes you forever – it changes the way you relate to your body; it changes the way you relate to sex. Then comes the attention and love that a helpless, newborn baby needs, which is ceaseless, 24-hour care: temperature monitoring, feeds (breastfeeding, expressing, formula feeding), nappy changes, bathing. Then watching them develop: little smiles, head control, squeaky noises, endless crying, colic, teething, crawling, standing, walking.
I am constantly fascinated by Anja’s development; I’m in awe of this ‘everyday miracle’ I made. It’s been two years and I’m still marvelling.
Sometimes I am so overwhelmed with love for my daughter that I could burst. I’m leaking pride all over the place – I’m as messy as hell as I watch her toddle through the streets, pointing and saying ‘dog’ at every moving creature that isn’t human, and sometimes not a dog. She tells each creature ‘woof’, then says ‘bye bye’ as we walk past. Sometimes people respond, but most just ignore her. I have to restrain myself from clipping them over the ear and yelling, ‘Look at her – she’s amazing!’
One night, late last summer on one of my few evenings off, I was sitting and waiting for a friend, who was late, as all people seem to be these days, and it occurred to me that if she had a kid she wouldn’t put up with this. If she had a kid, she’d probably do something else on her time off. Instead of going out to a party, going out for a drink and trying to recapture a moment similar to pre- baby times.
Is this why there is the ‘us’ and ‘them’ division? Us being people with children and them being those without. Is this why parents make parent friends? Should I go make some parent friends?
Around this time, I was sharing a studio in Kreuzberg – a place I rented so I could be alone and make art. People in the studio quickly got to know me as a single entity and expectations were attached. I didn’t go to their exhibitions and parties; I didn’t partake in their fallouts with friends. Questions were asked, speculations were made. ‘Why don’t you just get a babysitter?’
I began to get anxious. It’s hard to explain, and when I do I feel like I’m trying to make excuses and contributing to the division. I want to make people understand that life is completely different when you have a child. But it was a losing battle in the studio, so I handed in my notice. The extra pressure on top of all the pressure of being a mum, and a mum with no support network, was too much.
At the beginning of this year I began a blog, Berlin Domestic. I created it because I was tired of repeating myself to indifferent ears. I got tired of people telling me how amazing being in Berlin is; there’s a complex reality that goes with living as an expat and there’s an even bigger, more complex reality to being a mother. I wrote my blog to help people understand me, but also for me to understand the changes and complexities I was facing.
I sometimes feel very alone as a mum; my life revolves around my baby. My husband works long hours; I’m in a town that’s unfamiliar and I can’t speak the language. I feel alone because in making another human being, my life seems empty of them. I try hard to extend and explain myself, but no one seems to understand or be listening. The articles, the books, they all talk down to me, but Anja – she’s looking up at me. So perhaps I should stop trying to make myself heard to people who can’t hear and find new people – those who understand, who accept me and my limitations, my observations and my having a baby.