When my baby was six months old, I spent my first night away from him. I had always taken him with me when I travelled for work, but I decided this time to go by myself. I knew he would be okay at home with his dad, and I was looking forward to being able to work again without worrying about balancing the two responsibilities at the same time.
Still, I approached the trip with some trepidation. I sought reassurance from friends who had similarly returned to interstate travel without their small humans in tow. “You’ll both be fine!” they reassured me. “It’ll be harder for you than it is for him!” I hoped they were right.
Reader, the moment I stepped on to the plane I felt amazing. I sat in my seat and revelled in the freedom of not having to wrangle a six-month-old. As the plane reached altitude, I ordered a glass of wine, watched something idly on the inflight entertainment system and daydreamed about the full night of sleep that lay ahead.
I took my time getting ready that evening. I was due to speak at the National Library of Australia, and in honour of having my body back for a brief window of time I deliberately wore a dress that wasn't breastfeeding friendly. Afterwards, I had a few drinks in the hotel bar with some old university friends. It was wonderful to be reminded of what life was like before the responsibilities of parenthood! I went to bed mildly drunk and slept straight through until morning. And although I woke up with red lipstick smeared across my face and desperately needing to pump, I was more rested than I'd been for what felt like a lifetime.
I’ve been on numerous solo work trips since then (and some pleasure ones too), but that night in Canberra was definitely the most important one. Children are meant to be raised with the support of a village, but a lot of modern Western families operate in silos. I’ve lost count of the number of exhausted women I’ve seen complain about bearing the overwhelming bulk of the baby labour, with many of them able to count on one or two hands the number of times their partner has even gotten up to settle the baby at night. It’s too easy to settle into unhealthy patterns of childcare, and it takes a conscious effort to challenge this dynamic. One of the most valuable things I did, not just for my relationship but also for my partner’s relationship, with his son was to excuse myself for 24 hours and let him figure it out. We cannot rise to the occasion if we aren’t given the opportunity to try.
I’ve been toying with the idea of forming a tradition along these lines. A rite of passage for mothers that involves them honouring themselves with anything from a night out to a night away (appropriate care for their baby permitting of course). Because some of the best words for complex ideas come from the German language, it would be called “Mutterfeier” (as suggested by a friend of mine) or “mother celebration”.
I’m aware that a full night away isn’t achievable for everyone, but the concept of Mutterfeier can still be embraced. Maybe it’s marked by organising care for your baby for an hour or two and spending that time doing something you loved in your Before Life. It could be as simple as going to a movie or seeing a band. Maybe it’s sitting in a park and reading a book with a bottle of wine or a thermos of tea. The only rules are that a) it has to feel luxurious for you b) you have to be left undisturbed for its duration and c) you aren’t allowed to spend it on anything other than your Mutterfeier.
If you’re pregnant and reading this, you should start your Mutterfeier fund now. It can just be a jar with a big sign saying MUTTERFEIER FUND on it, and you can put as little as $2 a week into it based on what your budget allows. (I personally feel that if you’re partnered with a man, it should be his money that funds your Mutterfeier but that’s up to you both to decide.) If you can manage $5 a week, that will conservatively provide between $120 and $300 by the time the baby is six months old – enough for a night in a hotel (or Airbnb), a nice dinner and maybe even breakfast the next morning.
Mutterfeier isn’t about escaping your baby (although we all need to do that every so often). It’s about honouring what you have been through to reach this point. Reconnecting with yourself as a person rather than as a mother (even if just for a brief period of time) is so important for mental health and happiness. The strain endured by pregnancy, childbirth and then infant rearing deserve to be recognised by our families as significant and in turn marked by some kind of celebration. We acknowledge our children’s birthdays. But we don’t properly honour the birth of ourselves as their mother. It’s about time we did.