Before I had kids, I was a waitress and, for a briefer time, worked a day job at a bank. Whether I started work at 8 a.m. or 5 p.m., I woke up to a quiet house. I laid in bed after waking in the morning from a full night’s rest, remembered some dreams, and went over the plans for the day in my mind. After a few minutes, I got out of bed and got ready, with only deep stillness behind my own movements to keep me company. Physically, I got cleaned up and fixed my hair. Emotionally, I centered myself for the day ahead. Mentally, I collected my thoughts.
Home equaled home: privacy, quiet, recharging, thinking (uninterrupted), processing, planning, resting. Sanctuary.
I had no idea that a countdown was ticking away in the background, and that I was going to have exactly 12 adult years of peace and quiet, of order rather than chaos in my personal space.
I labored, in the most agonizing pain of my life, in my sanctuary. Those were the last hours it existed, ever. I had absolutely no idea what I was permanently giving up. July 2012, I heard a baby cry for the first time in my home after exiting my body. The first of literally millions of cries to come.
There is no preparing for the sheer noise of the inevitably unhappy babies and toddlers. The hours upon hours of screaming from both of them was merciless. It was like receiving several electric shocks a day, rattling my nervous system to its core. I struggled to pull myself back into equilibrium for just one minute, but it just wasn’t possible. My ears literally hurt, and my heart was racing half the day. All the while the staggering reality sinks in that you aren’t going to get care, respite, sleep, quiet, or just space again for a very, very long time.
Completing a simple train of thought became impossible. There was a constant interruption of noise and needs, like a timer going off every 20-60 seconds. I always thought hanging at home with a baby or child would be fun, and the comfort and even entertainment of my own thoughts, as well as my simple self would be there, in the background. But, mind-bogglingly, even thinking straight became a rare luxury, and my self vanished into servant.
After baby, I woke up seven days a week to the sound of screaming, and scrambled to make it stop. My son even woke up screaming from naps. Rather than having even five minutes to collect myself before diving into baby care, I began work from the literal second I came into consciousness — then struggled all day to get even one step ahead of him so I could sneak in caring for a need or two of my own. I rarely succeeded.
My home went from a place that gave to me to a place that completely and utterly drained me. I couldn’t prepare for work, and I couldn’t recover from work. I lived at work. There was no escape from the screaming infant, and there was no respite from his needs, least of all at night. Every other (kidless) man, woman, child, and animal is at least allowed to sleep — despite whatever havoc was wreaked during the daytime. Night was worse than day, and I positively dreaded going to bed.
Now instead of looking forward to walking in my front door, all I wanted to do was leave. Coffee shop, bar, anywhere. Public places, rather than my private one, were sanctuaries — but poor ones. I still mourned the fact that I had turned over my home to my infant terrorist.
These days my kids are older and usually sleep all night, but my home still isn’t mine. My husband, trying to help, says, “Go get out of the house! Have a break!” Public places aren’t sanctuaries for me now, though. I just want my home. Alone in my house is my Holy Grail. I beg him to take the kids to the gym or park, but even though my daughter is almost three, he still gets nervous doing anything with two kids rather than just one.
Remember evenings and weekends? I used to come home from work and relax. I used to go to work knowing home was there for me, and I would be in it eight hours later. That it was a place where I would get to stop working, forget work existed, and be alone again in a nurturing, nourishing, regenerating space. I used to watch Monday through Friday tick by, knowing I got my two-day vacation at the end.
No one ever spelled out for me the fact that weekends would be gone. Nothing resembling what used to be a weekend will ever exist again. The closest thing I get to a weekend is two mornings a week when my daughter is in preschool and my son in elementary school. My weekend is five hours, spread over two mornings. Saturday and Sunday are the hardest days. Both kids are home, plus the husband with our inevitable squabbles. We both look forward to Monday by the end of it.
As a stay-at-home-mom, home as I knew it is a faded dream, as home is now equivalent to work — intense, demanding, round the clock work. And it’s the hardest work of my life, not only physically but psychologically, as both my kids are willful, high-needs, talk-constantly, play-with-me-constantly personalities.
I know stay-at-home moms don’t make a glamorous subject of a scientific study. But I believe there to be a trove of data to explore the effects of constant ambulance siren-level, jarring noise, unending interruption, and punishing sleep deprivation over a period of years. And I, for one, would like to have a look at it! While we can’t change the facts and reality of this time in our lives, a little more study, attention, recognition, and understanding go a long way in giving us that nurturing we all need.