Before I had children I had a theatre company. We wrote, devised and performed hilarious, experimental, visual, form-busting productions. We had a fantastic reputation and a shoestring budget, huge imagination and drive and belief in our ability to defy all limitations. I regularly solved six impossible problems before breakfast. We travelled to festivals, staged all-night rolling shows, built our own venues, created and inhabited club installations that were their own worlds.
I thought I would have a baby and just… continue. Any problems, I would solve them: I’ve always worked hard; I would just work harder. I’ve always loved children. It was time to have some.
I sailed through the pregnancy. Six weeks before my son was due I was up a ladder painting a mural at the Edinburgh Fringe. A few weeks previously I’d been performing in a tent at Latitude. No problem. Then suddenly, one routine check-up later, I was told I had pre-eclampsia. The next six weeks were all about taking it easy, being monitored, arguing that I was fine. Honestly: I felt fine. I managed to stave off the threatened induction and made it to a natural birth.
It was after the birth that I was no longer fine. I haemorrhaged. My blood pressure didn’t come back down. I was kept in hospital, then when I got home, exhausted, I went straight into the relentless sleepless routine which quickly became my life. My world shrank to this one small human I had to keep alive. I had no idea what I was doing. And suddenly I couldn’t do anything. Getting dressed, eating a meal, going to the bathroom: all these things now had to be negotiated around a totally dependent and attached little person. I was used to rushing around, achieving things. Now I could barely achieve getting off the sofa.
Also, I was suddenly doing everything wrong, and it was suddenly everybody’s business. I was holding him wrong, feeding him wrong, letting him sleep wrong, putting him in the wrong clothes. Everyone from my mum to strangers in the street felt I needed to hear their opinion. And I couldn’t get back to doing the things I did know how to do: it turns out that work which involves long hours and late nights and total commitment is not really compatible with babies. Anyway, it was taking all my energy just getting me and my son through our day.
But at the same time as my physical world shrank down to my buggy-pushing, please-go-to-sleep circuit of a few streets, my emotional world opened up. It was as if I’d never realised I’d only been seeing in two colours and now here was the whole spectrum of light.
In fact I found what ended up being the years I spent at home with small children relentless yet full of revelations. I certainly learned a whole lot of stuff about unconditional love.The number of times I caught vomit in my hands also probably grounded me quite accurately in my place in the universe. The public tantrums certainly taught me the humour and humility of the just-about-good-enough Mum.
I began to meet other women trying to deal with the crashing magnitude of what motherhood had done to their lives. I started to help run playgroups and street play events and craft tables. I like organising, I like finding something I can do to improve things, and I love meeting inspiring people. Luckily Brighton is full of them.
My children connected me to my community, but also to the future. I’d been political when I was younger, but I’d drifted away during the Blair years when both main Parties seemed much the same, there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about any of it, and I was having far too much fun anyway. Now I felt angry again about every issue that would affect my kids, and guilty that I hadn’t tried harder to make a better world for them to inherit. I started to find out more about Climate Change, and as every new report brought the timescales down I realised they were now predicting catastrophe within my children’s lifetimes. This is hard stuff for any parent to wrap their head around. I was already a carless vegan cloth-nappy mother, but I needed to do more. I joined the Green Party and started volunteering in their office. And when the local elections came round I agreed to stand as a candidate.
So that’s where I am now: kids brought me back to politics and made my environmentalism central to them. They connected me to my community. My previous life taught me to work hard, leaflet harder and believe in my ability to do six impossible things (on a shoestring budget) before breakfast. The further-future is terrifying, but my present and immediate future I feel pretty good about.
Thanks to Sarah Neild, a local parent and campaigner who wants to encourage more women to get involved in politics. She stood for the Green Party council for Withdean ward at our local elections on May 2nd, 2019 and UMEUS are thrilled she’s contributing to our community too.
Sarah Neild @ThatSarahNield