There are times, a lot of times, when I feel that becoming a Mum has forced me to sacrifice my grace, my dignity, in general my ability to be embarrassed. Starting right at the beginning after the birth of my first child when my breasts were closely examined and poked, prodded and squeezed by the midwives while trying to teach me how to breastfeed. This was the beginning of the end to my shame.
I hadn’t really realised that I had gone beyond the point of no return until the other day (6 years on) at the pharmacy, the perfect place to be embarrassed about the strange and gross things that our bodies do, a forum if you will for the discussion of bodily fluid, mucus and other such lovely things. I suspected my preschooler had worms and so went to talk to a Pharmacist about it, and as embarrassing as that is, as I was speaking with her a couple of other customers swarmed around us to ask her questions too. The old me may have stood back until they were all gone before delving into the processes I had been though, but the now me hasn’t got the time. So I began the description of how I snuck into my son’s room while he was asleep with torch in hand (some of you may know where I’m going with this) and upon looking into the poor child’s anus with the torch to try to see the little photosensitive buggers, I couldn’t see any worms as such, but did see some mucus. Anyway, I don’t need to go into any more detail, this isn’t a medical lecture. This IS however, a small insight into how, over the years, I have lost all sense of personal space when it comes to the body and all it’s glory. I just hope that the elderly couple and the middle aged woman who were listening intently to the conversation in the chemist enjoyed the full description of what I found inside my son’s arsehole. God could they have not waited a little further than a metre away?
And in terms of space, I can’t remember the last time I closed the door when going to the toilet (unless outside my house or with company). It would seem I am not allowed. The privacy isn’t worth the screams, shouting and the banging. But when I get to the business end of the experience and 3 kids are looking at me, asking me for food, asking about Santa Clause, and telling me about the spider they found in the backyard, I cannot for the life of me understand why they choose this moment to have to tell me this lest they burst. My toddler actually likes to try and climb up on my lap while in in the can. What the hell??? Give me a break! Almost as good as the time I had a severe bout of gastro and had to run to the bathroom to explode, both ends at the same time. It was only a minute before I had kids crawling all over me and was forced to shout (exorcist style) GET AWAY FROM ME!!! It worked. I had to jump fully clothed straight into the shower.
Unfortunately for my hands, they (along with my nose) have suffered a lot of indignity over the years. They get to touch the poo, catch the snot, pick up the vomit from the seat (how on earth does one pick up vomit?) patch the blood etc. In a netball match a couple years ago I was on the sideline and a player on the other team had a fall and skinned her knee. The girls on her sideline were reacting with “eeewww, its dripping, ew, oh, is that puss?? What should we do?” and so I stepped in and mopped her blood, cleaned the graze, and bandaged it all under 30 seconds, game on. The other girls looked at me and said “Wow you must have a strong stomach!” and I simply said “No, I’m a mum. This is nothing”. And it is true. Give me a skinned knee any day over having to witness the snot that droops so low it is dangling in the mouth (gag worthy) or wiping the chunks of vom off a pillowslip with my fingers before chucking it in the washing machine. When both of my boys were babies and their poo was starting to solidify (which is a nice change from the days of those nappies I tenderly referred to as ‘up-the-back-shitters’) it took them a while to adjust to the motions. So a couple of times when changing the soiled nappy I would wait for them to do a little more. This is an easy task. Lift the legs up as far back as they will go towards the head. The poo just comes out. Had you asked me 5 years before if I thought being a mother had anything to do with catching a poo in your hand, fresh out of the bum, I would have screamed, giggled, and then said with all certainty -NO! How wrong I would have been.
Poor old Daddy hasn’t escaped the gross stuff either. One day when holding up our first, our beautiful little girl, precious little angel, gazing fondly into her eyes while holding her up above his face, she vomited straight into his mouth. You can taste it now can’t you? Another time in her bedroom having just changed her nappy he turned around and stepped right into a nugget of her treasure which had somehow escaped from the evil clutches of her diaper. And yes, it squished well and truly in between his toes. He has definitely had his share of pooey hands and vomity shoulder for sure.
You know when you have mastered the art of ignoring any squeamish feelings when you can nurse your son who has a badly broken arm all the way to the hospital without being reduced to a quivering mess – well done to my friend Amy – or to the local doctor with your daughter who has blood streaming from her eyebrow – have added that to my own repertoire. Visits to hospitals are not lovely experiences for anyone, let alone kids. Yet it seems that at some point there is always something, some poor kids spend long periods of time in hospitals, and all respect to them they generally make the best patients. My third kid had a bruised scrotum at 4 days old and we spent the best part of 2 days in 2 different hospitals having people examine his crown jewels. There are much worse things to experience than that, but even our 48 hours was enough hospital time to last us a while.
These poor little creatures have a lifetime of learning ahead of them what their bodies will do over the years, the gross, the painful and the miraculous. Until they have completely mastered the art of their bodily functions and fluids, we are the ones who are ready to step in and help teach them how to keep their noses clean. Perhaps the least desirable task in the job description of parent, is the one that deem us teachers of hygiene, good aim, how to wipe front to back, and why tissues are better than sleeves. For mums it is a lifelong commitment from the moment your legs are up in those stirrups to feel no shame, to forget dignity, because we have a job to do and we need to get on with it. Once you have mastered the art you can face anything, the clean-ups, the hand-holding, the smells, the works. Parenting is a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. That someone is you and me.
Emma Eastman 2012