The Darkest Hours

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Everything is better with chocolate, Ottawa, March 2015

Everything is better with chocolate, Ottawa, March 2015

“Adèle! Tell your fucking cat to shut up!”

In the stunned silence that followed, I realized how stupid I sounded. “Juliette… it’s a cat,” my dad reminded me. “He won’t understand if your sister tells him to stop meowing.”

Yeah, well, the entire apartment—seven of us—had just spent hours putting Mark to sleep and it was late. I was scared the cat would wake him up. I was afraid any noise might wake him up. Lights too… come on, lights off, people, now!

If I recall correctly, we ate dinner in the dark that night. I would have made everyone eat without knives and forks if I could have—you know, the clatter of cutlery—but even I knew it was pushing it a bit.

I’m not a dictator. In fact, I’m pretty laid back. But when you are exhausted, you can’t think straight. And I was often exhausted during the first couple of years with Mark.

We’ve all been very tired at one point or another. The fix is obvious—sleep, relax, whatever. But what if you can’t? Then it’s hell. And with Mark, we had stretches of crossing the Styx, days after days, weeks after weeks. All I wanted was to lay in bed, pull the blanket over my head and sink into a deep sleep… and fuck, he is awake again.

These were the darkest hours. I don’t like to remember them. But I can’t pretend they didn’t exist.

I remember the day we had a tough morning. Mark wasn’t cooperating, it was winter, we were like rats in a cage at home. Eventually, we drove to Target, one of the closest stores, just to get out of the house. I stopped at the Starbucks at the entrance and ordered a coffee. Mark was fussy. I put him in the cart. He started screaming on top of his lungs. I knew there was nothing wrong—he wasn’t hungry, diaper was clean, etc.—he was just cranky. I tried to sooth him, pushing the cart around, the cup of coffee in my left hand. I just wanted to take a sip, a damn sip. I stopped the cart, Mark screamed louder. “Oh yeah?” I said angrily. I stormed out with the cart, threw the cup of coffee in the parking lot and buckled Mark back into his car seat. We drove home, I handed him to Feng and left, just like that. I took the bus, ended up downtown, called a friend. I spend the afternoon sobbing on her couch, her two huge dogs nested against me (fortunately, my friend raised four kids alone, my mini breakdown didn’t faze her the slightest—been there, done that).

On yet another night of trying to make dinner with a very fussy Mark, I stormed upstairs, in the bedroom, locked the door and called my mum. Must have been middle of the night in France but I was past caring about time zones. She picked up the phone. “I can’t do it anymore, I can’t do it anymore, I can’t do it anymore!” I repeated like a broken record for about ten minutes. Feng was standing at the door with Mark, helpless. I was helpless too. I really couldn’t do it anymore.

I didn’t live a particularly sheltered life before Mark and I had my share of tough life experiences. I sailed through. I’m not a drama queen. How could such a small human being create such a big earthquake?

I felt like a complete failure. I mean, having kids is hardly a unique event only a chosen few experience. Teens have kids. Single parents have kids. Some people have twins, babies with a medical condition.

I had it easy, I thought. I only had Mark, he was healthy we had a roof above our heads.

When I had enough energy to think straight, I was realizing that my issues—or more precisely, the sum of little things that added up—were mostly environmental. Mark was a demanding baby: until he walked, he had to be held by either Feng or me, else he would scream—despite trying a thousand of methods, I was never able to leave him in a crib or on a play mat. Feng and I had no sanity breaks: Mark was 14 months old when we first left him overnight to my in-laws (and this was because of the whole eye injury drama). Day to day, we had no help around and we were both freelancing full time while caring for Mark. The weather conditions in Canada are brutal: winter is tough on everyone but being stuck at home with a cranky baby is pure hell. I tried too hard to handle everything alone, I tried too hard to be what I thought was the perfect mother.

It got better when I finally learned to ask for help, and when I finally looked around and realized that I was not alone feeling like a failure.

We had plenty of great moments too, it wasn’t all dark, depressing and miserable. But I have to acknowledge the lows for two reasons: first, so that I don’t repeat the same mistakes; second to share the experience because I don’t think I’m the only one who went through these dark hours.

Maybe it was written somewhere that I had to see the lows to appreciate the highs.

I think I came out of it stronger. Hell, wiser too, maybe.

 

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

29 Comments

  1. Word to this whole post. I remember many breakdowns myself – and feeling so broken that I just couldn’t handle it all. I’m so happy these days that women are able to share stories like this, of the really hard parts of parenting – I think it’s so helpful to get this kind of stuff out there so new moms know what to expect and can take heart that it gets better.

    • I just… hate pretending that it’s all lovely baby smell and cute little toys. It’s not like you HAVE to go through tough times, everybody is different, much like not every single teen is going to burn down the house and do drugs (… I hope? I was a nice teen!). But yeah, I think the mix of being tired and new responsibility is a recipe for a (short period) of disaster.

  2. Thank you for your honesty, it is deeply appreciated, I wish more women shared this realistic and sometimes not so fun side of motherhood, rather than seemingly always perfect mother/perfect wife/perfect career woman that is completely unrealistic. Often I see bloggers post about their picture perfect lives, Instagram fab pics, new mommy’s post only cute and mushy stuff.. it’s all nice and cute, except all those photos are not too realistic. Caring for a baby or toddler is exhausting, your house is NOT always picture perfect clean, meals probably won’t look like out of a magazine and yes new moms sometimes have a slight nervous breakdown. That is reality and it is completely normal. It’s called being a mother. Thanks for sharing, really appreciate it:)

    • I don’t understand why people feel the need to show how perfect their life is. It’s not all gloom, mess and breakdowns, obviously. But come on, everybody argues, cries, has a messy house, slacks off at work, etc. ONCE IN A WHILE. Life is never Hollywood perfect, which is why it’s such a fun adventure.

      I don’t mind reading about positive experiences and I know I can also show my best side as well and forget to mention the other side of the story (for instance, when we travel, I tend to blog about the highlights or the adventure, not the fact that we maxed out our budget and got eaten alive by mosquitoes…).

      The problem is, many people feel pressured into having a perfect life. And it’s easy to feel completely hopeless and useless if you think your life isn’t as good/easy as what you see in magazines. That’s what bothers me the most, I think.

  3. Hello ma belle Zhu,
    Je ne viens que trop peu fréquemment sur ton super blog mais, ça, j’ai lu, attentitvement et je t’envoie des TONNES de coeurs.
    Ton histoire est superbement inspirante et at résilience est vraiment belle.
    <3 xxx
    A.

        • J’ai longtemps pensé revenir au yoga, mais je ne pouvais vraiment pas pour des questions pratiques. Maintenant je pourrais, mais j’ai l’impression d’avoir tiré un trait sur cette période de ma vie et je ne crois pas que je veuille revenir dessus. C’est pas le yoga en lui-même, hein! J’en garde les bases, les trucs, mais je crois que je me tournerais vers autre chose.

          Je sais pas…

  4. Almost every morning when I reach office, I have about half an hour before the work starts, I have about 15 minutes left now. I open your blog or flickr (to check out how Ottawa really looks like, not just the wallpapers on Google), when you post something new I usually read a few lines and plan a time when I’ll read the article with a cup of tea. But then sometimes it is something strong and so nicely put that I forget about the planning bit and finish the whole article without my tea. Today it was just that, I have no opinions and no experiences to revert with; I’m not a woman (wait, yes, that’s right) and not a parent yet. Yet one can feel what you are saying.

    Lovely post, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Looks like I owe you a tasse de thé now! 🙂

      I find it incredibly comforting to see, through the comments, that so many people feel this way. Wait… that’s not a good thing. I don’t want anyone to go through tough times! But it’s funny that no matter where people live, regardless of their age, gender, background, etc. we experience the same feelings. This is what bind us together–our human side.

  5. Martin Penwald on

    So … You’re ready for the next one. Good, good. Make it two, I need someone to pay for my retirement.

  6. I know each baby is different and some aren’t as demanding as Mark could be (for example, my brother’s 2 daughters slept throught the night, from 9PM to 7AM only 2 weeks after their birth! Now at 3 and 5, they sleep 12 hours a night!), but I have to admit that I might never be ready for that kind of experiences, even if, of course, there’re a lot of joys from it. Kids definitely aren’t for me…

    • I don’t think anyone can be ready because all kids are different and you never know… well, you never know anything. Plus they go through so many different stages!

  7. Je crois que le pire, c’est de se rendre compte à cet instant de ce que le manque de sommeil peut faire, à quel point ça peut rendre dingue. Vous avez vécu des tough hours oui, bien sûr qu’il y a pire, mais c’est bon aussi de se rendre compte parfois que ce n’est pas forcément un long fleuve tranquille au cours duquel l’amour pardonne tout. Même si Billie était un bébé facile, je dois ma sanité d’esprit au fait d’avoir toujours partagé les choses avec le papa et d’avoir eu du temps pour le faire surtout. Nous avions des horaires normaux, et jusqu’à ses six mois nous étions à la maison avec elle tous les deux tout le temps. C’est une chance inouïe.

    • Je crois que j’aurais dû demander de l’aide plus tôt. Feng était très présent aussi, mais il n’avait pas d’expérience avec les bébés et moi, je culpabilisais, dans ma tête c’était MON travail. On est bizarre, des fois… Avec le recul, je vois bien les erreurs!

  8. I think you might need sometimes for youself. I send my kids to my in laws every school holidays, everyone is happy this way. I’m tired of the never ending laundry, tidying up the floor, preparing food for them… I just need them to get out of my life a little. I won’t be able to stay home with them all days, so I chose to work, in an office environment.

    • I completely understand and yes, I should have taken a break from Mark more often early on… but we didn’t have “respite care”. I wish we had.

  9. Hi Zhu

    I love to read your blog. You’re always so sincere and frank on sharing your experience. Frankly, if I have known how difficult it is to bring up the kids and keep myself sane, I wouldn’t have tried so hard to have kids. Life is hell when we are tired and lack of sleep. Everything is unbearable. We jump and break our nerve at every little incidents. I have been transform into a screaming and cranky person since I have two kids. All I can think of is to leave my two kids and my husband. I miss the carefree time that I used to live. Why nobody tell me that it is tough? I guess we want to drag everybody into the same shits. Somebody got to pay our retirement, non? I’ll say to you, “courage, on est tous dans la même merde!”

    • Oh, I hear you… and I’m sure you are not the only mother fantasizing about walking out and leaving husband and kids behind! I think you have to take care of yourself first, then you have the energy to take care of your family. Unfortunately, we’ve been programed (and brainwashed) to do just the opposite…

      How old are your kids?

      • Yeah, everybody tell me the same thing, take care of yourself before everybody. But it’s so difficult when you’re a mother 🙂 Kids will always be our priority.

        My eldest girl is 5 years old now. my youngest is starting her troublesome two now. She’s very stubborn and wants to do everything herself. You can be sure that I had forgotten all the darkest hours that I had with the first one when We decided to have a second. Lol.

        I guess when we’re far from our family, raising kids on our own is tough because we have no breaks. We can’t drop them off to our parents to breathe over the weekend. I always tell my mum that I admire her because she has never whined a single complaint. Whereas I’m always whining how I miss her presence.

        • Wow, no wonder you are tired. Two kids, 5 and 2, challenging ages. Okay, this is NOT you…!

          I feel for you because this is how I felt and still occasionally feel. And I only have one kid! Yes, not having our parents around is tough. You don’t get sanity breaks. Now, you remember your mom as stoic, but she may remember your childhood otherwise. I know I kept on wondering how my mum did it too, and now, looking back and talking about it with her, she says she had plenty of help (her own mom), plenty of “fuck my life” moments (even though she loves the three of us!) and ups and downs. We tend to idealize other parents, including our own. I kept on feeling completely inadequate, which is why I shared my feeling on this blog. And then bam… suddenly I received tons of emails and comments from other parents feeling the same!

          Mark is my priority, yet I’m learning to recognize when I must step out (literally or not!) for both of our sake.

  10. Not to brag or anything but realized that i was lucky to have my mom for the first 4 and half months to help with baby (being sick while nursing a newborn sucked!). When she left and it was me and my husband and baby and this damn winter, we did the best we could to not lose our minds (though i lost a few times). I had to learn that i am not the perfect mom and partner. I just try to do my best and ask for help to my husband and in-laws. We all need a break at times. I also learning not to be afraid to be alone with the baby (i know it sounds odd) and just keep telling myself that i will be all right even if laundry is not done and/or house is a mess.

    • I think you did very very well, especially considering you went through many big milestones (married, moving to Canada, having a baby) in such a short timeframe. You seem to handle everything so well! You have this magnetic inner strength 🙂

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