I Want A Break From My Baby

We’re programmed to think we should spend every moment with our baby but sometimes a break can do us good.
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On Fridays I smoke. And on Fridays I walk, fast, and light. I’m trying really hard to remember what a day to myself felt like before; flicking ferociously through layers of hazy memories, of anticipation, of trauma, of endless days, or maybe one. But I can’t quite grasp the feeling. It’s just out of reach. Although it was nothing of note then.

I breathe in the fresh air long and slow and exhale the heaviness and chaos of my world. The freedom trickles through my entire body and soul, electric. I glide purposefully through the streets, taking everything in, acutely aware of my body moving unladen for the first time since I can remember. No pregnant belly, no pram, no sling – no frontal appendage whatsoever! I feel strange and awkward and exposed, but for now at least, I feel like I can do anything.

I physically shiver, and I’m giddy. It’s exhilarating, but like I’m pretending. I’m waiting excitedly for my Great Day to begin – for something to happen, although I’m not sure what, and I’m pretty sure nothing will. The fact is, I’ve forgotten how to be what used to be normal, and it feels all wrong. I’m stealing this time, and I’m savouring it, like that last sweet and sickly drag of a cigarette.

Being naughty makes me feel alive again. I just ordered a beer at 2pm and I feel glorious.

But soon enough I’m sneaking around, head down, like an imposter with a sinister agenda. My heavy, aching breasts are a primal reminder that this is no longer my reality. Our bodies aren’t designed to opt out.

Each afternoon, sitting by her cot as she cries, too tired to sleep, I’m suffocating. I ache to be in a different place; to be out in the fresh air connecting with the world. I’m trapped and I want to be free. And here I am, with the sun shining on my face, self-loathing and ashamed of my freedom. Later tonight I will weep as I nurse her and feel like I am failing her.

It’s a weird feeling – like I’m supposed to feel guilty for wanting a break, and then feeling ashamed for not feeling guilty. Deep down I know I have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed. I want a break, I deserve a break, and that’s totally fine, actually. But I still feel like shit.

We’re programmed to believe the natural thing is to dread being apart from our baby, and if we are separated for any reason, to spend the whole time miserable and missing them, yearning to have them back in our arms. Together. Close. How it should be.

If we feel anything other than this deep longing for togetherness, something isn’t right: we lack maternal instinct, we’re selfish, we’re just downright mean, or we’re depressed.

In the early days, breaks were no more than snatches of mental detachment: a flash of calm somewhere in that blank sludge between wakefulness and sleep; a moment caught staring into space on a busy supermarket aisle; a robotic chorus of ‘Horsey Horsey’ briefly silencing reality; barely conscious and feeding in the middle of the night, catching sight of the dazzling moon lightyears from here. Or the numbness of sleep.

I’ve had enough of togetherness, for a moment. I want a real break. I just want to be with myself.

Whoever said parents weren’t entitled to a break – just a few hours of frivolity – or that it wasn’t ok to want one? I think it’s better for a child to have parents who want, and get, a break. If you are encouraged to take time for yourself, surely you will be a happier, better person and therefore a happier, better parent.

It seems to be some sort of badge of honour to be an exhausted, quivering pile of worry, just trying to do the best for your baby, never leaving their side. But I challenge that. I didn’t cry when I left her and neither did she. In fact, we both smiled. We’re both learning to be independent, and loving it.

Each Friday I get a little more comfortable doing what I know, deep down, is the best for me, confident that rebuilding my solo identity, maybe in a slightly different configuration, will enable me and my baby to thrive.

Walking back, as I edge closer to home, and closer to her, it’s like waking from a dream. I shut the door behind me, and she is mine and I am hers.