The sight, and thought, of a breastfeeding mum being asked to move from a park bench in Sydney’s eastern suburbs last week cracked my heart in two. I know why she was approached by police. I know why sitting on a park bench in a public space, at this moment, is not allowed.
But, I also know, viscerally, why sitting on a park bench outside to feed a baby would be appealing. And necessary. And tempting.
It’s been almost ten years since I experienced the life-altering milestone of bringing a newborn home for the first time but I remember it vividly. I suspect most parents do. If not all the finer details, certainly the bigger picture. The haze. The uncertainty. How it all felt.
I only have to close my eyes and I am back standing beneath the shower, letting hot water wash over me in my first few days as a brand new mum.
I am practically hypnotised with disbelief, wonder and the shock of it all. In the shower, momentarily, the responsibility of my new role stops just long enough for me to survey the situation. The door is closed, the water almost scalding and our daughter is either asleep or being held in her father’s arms, or perhaps her grandparents’.
I am alone. My body feels tender and overwhelmed and overused. It is mine but it is unrecognisable. The scars, both literal and figurative, from labour linger. Milk is leaking. It is all so foreign. It is my body but it isn’t. I am comforted, no end, knowing that outside there are three loving, capable adults to help me adjust. I am not alone in raising the tiny package my body delivered.
Not being alone, with the exception of long, therapeutic showers, was the greatest gift in those early weeks. It smoothed an otherwise rough landing.
When enough weeks had passed that being alone with my baby became necessary, when grandparents returned to their home on the other side of the world and my co-parent’s obligations out of the home came back into effect, I quickly discovered that parenting in proximity to others was my salvation.
Being outside, among others, was the tonic my soul needed. Stopping in at a busy café to sit, among others, with my bundle attached to my chest. Walking along paths dotted with other people in the open air.
Attending a free baby yoga class that was actually just an excuse to sit in a circle with other brand-new mums (and they were all mums). Meeting up in various living rooms with the women I’d met in antenatal classes. Wandering the streets. Having my co-parent home. Meeting up with friends.
As a first-time new mum my desire to be physically close to others – friends and strangers alike – and the outside world was immense.
From an unscientific poll I’ve been casually conducting in the intervening decade, I’ve deduced that new parents go one of two ways. The first is to stay inside as much as physically possible and doing everything to avoid being outside of the home with the baby for as long as possible.
The second is to spend as much time as physically possible out of the home to avoid being inside with the baby for as long as possible. Personally, I fell into the latter camp. Big time.
Two a bit years later when we welcomed our second daughter it happened again. Getting out of the house with a baby and a toddler was a mammoth exercise in logistics, time-management and organisation but from the minute the three of us were properly awake getting outside was the goal I worked towards.
Even after disastrous sleepless nights that robbed me entirely of energy the only idea that filled me totally with dread was staying indoors for the whole day. Being outside, pushing the double pram along the hilly streets, stopping in at a park filled with other parents and children, doing the same, was the balm I needed daily.
In both instances we lived in small apartments which, I know, bolstered my determination and desire to be outside. But it wasn’t just about space.
It was about a desire to connect with others. I liked being outside because it made me feel like I was part of the world. I liked existing beyond the walls of the various apartments in which we lived. Smiles from others and even banal exchanges with other parents in cafes or over the swings were life-affirming. It sounds trivial but it’s true.
I have never needed the outside world the way I did as a new mum. For lots of parents of babies and toddlers isolation isn’t a huge stretch from their reality. ‘Err, my life has barely changed!’ is a comment two friends with babies separately made to me this week.
For any parents inclined towards staying home or accustomed to being forced to stay home on account their small children, that is certainly true. They have a home-ground advantage in this realm.
But my heart goes out to parents who fall firmly into the camp of craving an outside connection. Parents who are already isolated enough by their own circumstances, for whom further isolation is torture.
It is, of course, a necessary torture. There is no way around it. There is no alternative but that doesn’t render it any easier. For all of those parents I am eagerly awaiting the day we can all – safely – recommence life beyond the walls of our homes.