A crazy year has come to an end: my little one is turning one next Monday, Germany has finally started vaccinating people against covid, my next parental leave is about to begin in January and I finally feel like writing a blog post again. So I thought this is a good opportunity to write my own personal review of this year, month by month, to conclude with it and reminisce about all that has been good, bad, funny or utterly shocking and what I learnt through all of this.
The year was ushered in by the most important, if also most physically painful, experience of my life: the birth of my son. And just as the popular instagram-hashtag says we quickly noticed: a baby changes everything. It’s a 24-7 job with no breaks, not much time for self-care and lots of challenges that our previous lives have not prepared us for. But just as in professional life, you learn fast with a strict training-on-the-job and we started to grasp what our new life with a little one would look like.
What I learnt in January: I used to think that you can prepare well for everything in life by reading books and articles, talking to people, watching documentaries or taking classes. Giving birth has proved me wrong. There are certain events in life that you just can’t be really prepared for.
We started having visitors pretty fast because we love having people around and the little one didn’t seem to mind. Most visits of our friends and family were very joyful and supportive, others were rather a bit rude. One time, a close family member with whom we had scheduled a visit to meet the baby for the first time brought over another rather distant family member, with whom we have almost no contact – without asking or even announcing. I had had a very bad night with almost no sleep and was a little on the edge anyway, but opening the door and seeing this person at my doorstep made me furious. The first weeks after birth are a sensitive time and coming over unannounced felt highly disrespectful. I still become angry just thinking about this incident.
What I learnt in February: People have different understandings of polite manners. A behavior that might seem totally normal to somebody might feel unacceptable to somebody else.
At the beginning of March I finally felt like having it all under control: how to handle the baby, how to handle my healing body, how to structure my days to have a bit of normality. And then the pandemic started to kick in. My birthday was the first day of the first lockdown. I celebrated with french toast and a roll of toilet paper. All my baby-classes were cancelled, my birthday party was cancelled and long walks with the baby were cancelled because all the cafés that were essential for a breastfeeding-and-diaper-changing-stop were closed. Slowly it seeped into my consciousness how much freedom I actually had before the lockdown and that I had valued it far too little.
What I learnt in March: Never take anything for granted. Not your health, not your standard of living, not your freedom.
April and May
April was warm and sunny, which made it easier to endure the lockdown and the sleep deprivation. We scheduled Skype-meetings with friends and ordered lots of take-out. And then in May: finally the first meal „to-stay“ at Barrio again – I was so happy that all our favorite food-places in Offenbach had survived the lockdown. At the end of May I also had my first night without the baby: the massive sleep deprivation forced me to spend a night at my parent’s house, because I was close to collapsing. Instead of sleeping through the night I woke up every two hours – the baby’s feeding-rhythm – and worried how things were at home. In the morning, after pumping my overflowing boobs, I drove home quickly just to find out that everything was well.
What I learnt in May: Only if I take care of myself I can be a good parent and sleeping is kind of essential when it comes to that.
Desperate for a change of scenery we had decided to spend six days in our favorite hotel in Austria, although we knew upfront that it was going to be difficult: the little one didn’t like driving long distances, wasn’t able to sit in a chair yet, had just started with solid food and woke up almost eight times each and every night. And in the end my gut feeling had not betrayed me: the “vacation” was even more exhausting than staying at home, although the good food and the fact that we did not have to do any household work helped us relax a little bit.
What I learnt in June: With a baby, you have to put your own needs on hold for a very long time. This is hard, but it makes you appreciate life’s little pleasures more.
Returning to work was easier than expected. I returned to the office on a Monday morning and in the afternoon I felt like I had only been away for a two-week vacation. Spending time in a self-determined way felt good and I enjoyed the baby-free lunches and coffee-breaks with my colleagues. At the same time I knew that the little one was in good hands at home with my boyfriend and I noticed very fast that working a full-time office-job is far less stressful than taking care of a baby all day.
What I learnt in July: Being a product manager and being a mom are two very different roles that require very different skills. And I wouldn’t want to miss one or the other.
When summer was coming to an end, lots of friends of us had also had babies and we suddenly had a vast network of friends and acquaintances with children around us. Spending time with them and talking about the challenges they were facing gave lots of perspective to me and helped to cope with our own problems. But we also noticed that the gap between friends or family members without children seemed to widen up – sometimes only in a subtle subtext during a converation, sometimes blatantly evident in behavior that was incomprehensible to me. I got the vague feeling that closing this gap, or at least keeping it from widening up, would take a lot of work.
What I learnt in August: A strong network of people with children is essential for a family, but friends without children are just as important, although it might take some work to bring those two worlds together.
September and October
There is so much stuff that you constantly need when you have a baby. New clother every few weeks, a stroller that needs to be adaptable to fit the growing baby, a baby-chair, blankets, diapers, age-appropriate toys, a bike trailer, a car seat…the list goes on. Since I follow a rather minimalistic approach for the things I own myself, it was and still is very hard for me to accept the fact that we currently need so much stuff in our life. I try to follow the “one in, one out”-rule – which works very good for clothes (for every new piece, one old piece is sold or given away), books or decorative items, but taking away toys from my child feels wrong and so we keep everything that is not broken or clearly not age-appropriate anymore. I sincerely hope that some day I will be able to reduce the amount clutter in our household again.
What I learnt in September and October: A child forces you to adapt your habits constantly, sometimes only small ones (the apartment is not as cleaned up as before), sometimes really big ones (we get up every day at 6am — working days, weekends, holidays; sleeping in is out of the question).
After fife months of working a full-time job and taking care of our child the rest of the day I felt very exhausted. I felt like a robot that was “on” twentyfour hours every day without time to recharge. We didn’t receive any support from our families, which was on the one hand due to Covid-restrictions, laziness or disinterest and on the other hand more or less serious diseases that prevented our close family members from taking on any responsibility as far as childcare was concerned. This was very disappointing to us — not only because we were desperate for some minutes alone as a couple, but also because we wanted our son to have a family that extended beyond father and mother. But since you don’t choose your relatives we had no choice but to accept the situation and swallow our massive disappointment.
What I learnt in November: Keeping expectations low is the best protection against disappointment.
I am a bike-person now. I haven’t ridden a commuter train since the pandemic — I ride my bike everywhere. To the office, to go groceries shopping, to meet friends for a coffee-to-go or just simply to move my untrained body. No matter what the weather is like: a little rain, a lot of rain, zero degrees. I have always admired my boyfriend who used to ride his bike to work all year long and I never thought I could do the same, but owning the right gear to defy the weather and having the right motivation helped me to change my mobility-habits. And I am quite proud of this because it proves that you can change your habits even if you seem to have no physical and mental resources at all — who knows what else one could be capable of with a little effort? Even in the new year, much is still uncertain: When will the pandemic be under control? When will we have a normal life? Will we ever get a childcare spot? In those uncertain times it helps to know that we carry a lot of resources in ourselves to change our lives for the better, no matter how exhausted we might seem.
What I learnt in December: You are never too exhausted to make little changes in your life.