This post is a little extract from my book that I’m sharing ahead of Mother’s day this Sunday – it’s all about celebrating mums and the absolutely amazing job they do…
‘Ok you’re good to go!’ said the doctor. We’d been sitting around for hours waiting for the forms to be filled in and final checks to be done but those words still came as a bit of a shock. Buckling the baby into his brand new car seat and exiting the ward felt a bit like smuggling pick n’ mix out of Woolworths up the sleeves of my school sweater (which I obviously never did mum!). Was no one going to come and ask us if we knew what the hell we were doing with this kid?
But despite feeling like total amateurs we were also incredibly excited to get home and start life as a proper little family of three. Do you remember your very first days at home with your newborn? I do.
I remember getting through the door and feeling a funny shift in the atmosphere, like everything had changed. I remember feeling so tired and so happy all at once. I remember snuggling on the sofa, greeting visitors, eating cake, admiring the flowers, passing the baby around and constantly disappearing to the bedroom to get half naked to feed him. I remember greeting midwifes, crying on their shoulders and people bringing food. I remember the precious milky smell of my sons head and the sweet buttery popcorn aroma of his filled nappy. I remember looking at all the cute clothes that people bought and laughing at the size of them.
I remember looking like absolute shit but feeling like a celebrity.
I remember the ridiculously inflated boobs, hot baths, cracked nipples and the hour I sat on the toilet carefully birthing my first poo. I remember watching crappy daytime TV and crying at the soaps, even though they weren’t sad. I remember the careful arrangement of cushions on the sofa that made it just about possible to sit down and I remember it all being made ok because I was surrounded by love.
I remember the most beautiful little boy I had ever seen feeding until he was full and then sleeping curled up as a little ball on my chest. I remember thinking it didn’t seem that hard and I remember waving my husband back off to work feeling slightly terrified but otherwise confident I could cope looking after a baby on my own.
Then something happened. The milk coma thing stopped working. The baby was only a couple of weeks old and he had already malfunctioned.
I fed him and he remained awake, and not only that – he was unhappy awake. He was crying and he wouldn’t stop. So I did what many a new mum does. I scoured the internet and devoured baby book after baby book looking for the answers.
The advice all sounded so sensible. We needed a routine and a feeding and nap schedule; instead of sleeping in our arms whilst we ate our lasagne one handed, he should have a proper bedtime.
There was only one problem. He refused to get on board with the goddam book.
I was confused. All the babies in the books fed less regularly and slept much longer. Why did I get the duff version?
Not only could he not follow a simple schedule he was also colicky in the evening and I began to dread what a lot of people term ‘the witching hour’ but should more accurately be described as ‘the witching five hours.’ I would pace about swinging him in my arms so fast I was scared he would fly across the room.
Help I thought. Help me.
‘Enjoy the early days!’ people said, ‘It goes by so quickly!’
I remember thinking… I fucking hope it does!
‘It gets easier!’ people said, ‘You get smiles at 6 weeks, they stop crying as much, they start giving back.’
But I don’t remember it getting easier. I remember feeling like a failure, I remember a vicious cycle of expressing milk because I was too sore to feed and then topping up with formula because I never had enough milk. I remember feeling exhausted and guilty because I’d made such a hash of it all. I remember watching breastfeeding councillors trying to explain the perfect latch with stupid knitted boobs and willing one of them to just say ‘You’ve done a great job but it’s ok to stop now.’
I remember the reflux, the constant changes of puke covered sleepsuits and I remember desperately trying every type of bottle and colic remedy I could get my hands on. I remember feeling lonely, even when I was surrounded by familiar faces and I remember lying awake at night too anxious to sleep. I remember feeling utterly confused as to how and why anyone goes on to have more children. I remember looking at my son on his playmat and not knowing what to do with him, I remember feeling scared and I remember thinking… what happens if I can’t do this anymore?
I don’t know how I would have coped if I had of been on my own, I used to wake in the middle of the night and have panic attacks. My husband J was always there for me, taking over the job of the rational half of my brain that had been replaced with a fog of baby induced paranoia. He made me book an appointment at the doctors and I went to stay with my mum and dad.
I was lucky, with some support and packets of pills I was feeling so much better a few months later.
It’s strange now when I look back on that time because despite all the stuff I remember, it also feels like I’m looking through a pane of steamed up glass, at another version of me. I question how I ever found it so difficult to look after one small immobile baby. Having a toddler in tow who enjoys running at oncoming traffic when you are trying to breastfeed in public is surely much harder right?
But it wasn’t because this was the point in my life where everything shifted from it all being about me to it all being about somebody else. I couldn’t nip to the corner shop to buy a bag of pickled onion Monster Munch grabbing my keys and purse on my way out; I had to relearn how to live, putting another person first.
I’m not sure that anyone finds their first foray into parenting easy, even if you take to it naturally and have a chilled out dream of a first child. The feeling is impossible to explain or prepare for, it’s amazing but it’s a burden; a heart that’s so full of pride, love and excitement can also feel very much like one that’s been broken in two.
So I can’t write this with much useful advice or explanations for expectant or new parents. Nothing, no one and no words can truly prepare you for parenthood. And even If they could, your experience would be different to mine, easier (hopefully), harder (I hope not) – who knows.
However here are a few things I have learnt along the way: –
- Reading baby books and incessant googling can help some people but for me they were the root cause of my problem. The second time around we worked out our own routine (which is kind of what you’ve got to do with a second baby anyway) and we were all so much happier.
This is me having a huge bonfire burning a big pile of baby books. In reality I just returned them to the library/gave them to charity shops (but that doesn’t sound quite so dramatic).
- It can be hard, it’s ok to find it hard but if it feels overwhelmingly hard then you need to ask for help.
- Despite failing miserably at breastfeeding my first son I went on to successfully feed my second. I can also tell you that I notice not one iota of difference between them and the only regret I have is wasting so much time beating myself up about it.
- Some babies cry all the time because that’s just what some babies do. They all stop… eventually.
- Despite what people tell you, you don’t need to embrace every minute. Some moments, say for example when your son pukes into your actual mouth, are totally un-embraceable. Embrace what you can where you can and don’t feel bad for wishing some of it away.
- You will eventually work out a system that enables you to leave the house before midday (even if it does involve a lot of swearing).
- But if you find yourself still sitting in your PJ’s at 6pm, surrounded by sicky muslins, half eaten bowls of cereal and cups of cold tea – don’t feel disheartened than you did ‘nothing’ all day. I’m betting your baby is clean, fed, warm and safe and that’s not nothing, it’s everything.
- If you are a new mum, if you know a new mum who could do with a bit of support, or even if no one ever told you 20 years ago when you needed to hear it then this is for you…
- Just being there, and occasionally shutting yourself in the bedroom for a good scream is still doing a brilliant job. As is hiding in the bathroom and eating a secret Twix… Oh and counting down the minutes until it’s socially acceptable to reach for the wine is also cool (I hope).
- I didn’t know what I was doing then, I still don’t know what I am doing now and I’m not sure anyone else does either. 99% of parenting is actually just winging it.
**************P.S. I have a new book OUT NOW! You can nab it on Amazon here or in your lovely local bookshop :)
How wonderful – I completely relate to this!! I also remember all the other new mums at my parent and baby group being so smug and self congratulatory, with their babies who slept through the night, didn’t cry, smiled… blah blah blah. Then the week I cracked and sobbed uncontrollably infront of them saying that I couldn’t cope, I learnt the truth about these ‘perfect mums’ – they also weren’t coping, but no one was brave enough to say it – we were all trying to be these perfect television mums with clean houses, clean, smiling babies, wholesome food being prepared in advance because that was the image we were being fed – I was so glad when I ‘came clean’ and admitted that I was unable to cope. I am soooooooooooo glad it’s over!!
This takes me right back. Felt completely out of my depth, would push the pram around in miserable weather with tears running down my face – other mums would walk past and I’d think ‘how are you doing this and not crying???’. Dark, colic-filled days. When people told me it would get better I wanted to punch them, but thankfully they were right!! Always new challenges, but so much better now. And there’s always wine for the really crap days!! X
Thank you for writing this. With a toddler now I don’t miss the “precious” first few weeks of his life at all! Too bad there’s not a way to get a guarantee of “Your second child with [sleep/breastfeed/etc.] better than your first one did” when contemplating having a second child.
The baby is 22 now & yes, I went on to to have two more. Admittedly the third one is constantly threatening to phone child line and report me but he’s 13 so it goes with the territory!
Having the first baby was an era of terror, self doubt, intense love for such a tiny person and eventual success at breastfeeding (with the aid of Savoy cabbages from the fridge) as well as learning everything I needed to know about mastitis.
If and when I ever become a grandmother, my chilled, laid back attitude to child rearing will shock my children. I’m not going through the unnecessary worry again, I’ll leave that to the parents! Look on the bright side, they all lived to tell the tale….
Tears……just tears of joy that it’s over and tears for all those mums like me and you and many others who thought the first 6 -12 weeks was utter fucking torture. I loved the snuggly first few days and then I struggled through the next 100. As a mother of 2 now (the second one pretty much fitted in and raised himself) I look back and can see all the stuff that freaked me out….googling “why won’t my baby sleep” “is my baby normal” “am I a bad mum”
Trying to pretend it was all ok in public whilst struggling horribly behind closed doors
Mums you’re all brilliant, hey you grew a small person and if you didn’t grow it yourself you’ve still taken one home to raise…..without a handbook!!!
So here’s to all of you raising kids…..drink your gin, hide your chocolate and enjoy your little monsters one day they may pick your nursing home!
PS hide the chocolate in an empty pasta sheet box…..They never look there!
I swear it felt like I didn’t come up for air for the first 2.5 years. He’s 5.5 now and makes me laugh every day (and sometimes cry and want to kill him!). Things can only get better!
This resonates so much with my experience first time round.
I wrote this post on Mumsnet 7 years ago, which helped because I realised I wasn’t the only person to be feeling like that.
BURN THE BOOKS!
Yep, making shit up one day at a time. Sometimes I act confident to reassure the wife, but she can see through the bravado. Still, 9 months on and I haven’t dropped him or fed him rat poison by mistake. So we’re good.
If only I’d had your brilliant advice when my daughter (now 14 – being a mum of a teen is a whooooooooooole other thing!!) was a baby – you are completely and utterly spot on! My resounding memory of the first few days at home with her is me sitting upstairs trying (unsuccessfully) to feed her, while everyone else was downstairs, including my father in law who insisted on setting up the freeview box he’d bought us “so we could watch CBeebies”! It was a nice gift, but at the time I would have preferred a lasagne and a bottle of wine! Luckily, my mum soon arrived to stay for the week when my other half went back to work, and was the voice of complete common sense. Along with my health visitor (an older lady, and not a member of the breast feeding mafia), she told me in no uncertain terms to “stop beating myself up and just get that baby a bottle” – which I did, the clouds lifted and things were so much better! We then proceeded to rip my “Gina Ford Contented Little Baby” book into tiny pieces!
I kept expecting someone to stop us as we walked out the hospital with our baby.
“Excuse me? There’s been a mistake, you can’t leave yet, there’s a crap load of training you need to do first”
“Oh thank god”
Thanks for the lovely honest story. I only watched Mrs. Amazing go through similar. Wish I could have shown her this, or at least had read it and understood what was going on at the time.
They should at least give you a pamphlet as you leave, a receipt would do..
This is a brilliant post, thank you! My ‘baby’ turned 30 in December (my god am I really that old???? How did it happen!!!) and I only remember the first few weeks because I was so sick with pneumonia and dreading the thought of going back to work but I had to to keep my maternity pay!!
And what a little sod my son was, whinging and whining all the time, never sleeping through the night until he actually started school, but he’s a lovely well adjusted adult now, so I must have done something right somewhere.
Keep up the good work!!
Hugs Sharon in Spain x
I have a four year old son and when he was born I just carried on and on and all of a sudden I just lost, tiredness and loss of identity was a terrible thing but then when he got to six months life got easier…. I had my second in July last year and she was the opposite of him, chalk and cheese, which made it all seem new!! I feel like iv grown up lots as a woman and mum and my husband works away during the week too so I’m sole carer mostly and that scares too incase I’m doing a shit job and the mum friends I have made see me through, they take the piss too and make me laugh at the baby groups… we all need to be realists and not try and be competitive… We are all in it together (or just try and meet mums similar minded who get you through the dark days! ‘ love your blog! X
This is the best thing I’ve ever seen written about those slap-you-in-the-face-holyshit-this-is-really-hard days. It’s 9.20pm and I’m STILL waiting for my now 6 year old to fall asleep! Your article brought tears to my eyes (of laughter and the kind of recognition you can only get when you’ve been through the same damn thing.) The very worst part for me was not understanding how a reasonably intelligent person like me could be getting it so wrong. The sheer weight of incessant responsibility was overwhelming. And yet, we muddled through and I gave him love and attention when he needed it, not when a bloody book or a well meaning friend or relative told me to. He is now the sweetest human being I know. And he has a two year old sister, who luckily is a better sleeper but she’s a whole different story temperament wise . Thank you so much for this spot on, well balanced article.
It would have been wonderful to have had your brilliant book around 37 years ago when I had my first daughter! I can totally relate to everything you’ve written. I remember greeting my husband one evening when he came in from work by nearly throwing her into his arms, grabbing the car keys and just driving anywhere with tears streaming down my face (somewhat of an overreaction but very real at the time)! Glad to relate that I have two beautiful daughters who survived my parenting skills and are wonderful loving human beings
I’m just glad someone else thinks that baby poo smells like popcorn! My husband keeps telling me how weird I am when I say it.
My husband and I had a popcorn poo song that we used to sing! (to the tune of hot cross buns would you believe) We’ve just started on solids so those days are over but the song will definitely go on! :)
So so right. i had a nightmare pregnancy with my waters breaking at 24 weeks and being a normal human being one day to being on complete bed rest indefinitely the next. despite the support of husband, parents, friends and family i never felt so alone and afraid. my daughter was born by emergency c section at 32 weeks and miraculously was absolutely fine expect being only 3lb 13oz. coming home was the scariest thing i have ever done. needless to say she was an only child, i am sorry but no assurances ever convinced me that i could go through another pregnancy. she is now in her 17th year and a fantastic child – i guess we did a good job without a handbook and looking back it did go incredibly quickly. at the time i thought time would never pass and remember many dark, dismal and long days and nights wondering what i was doing wrong!! keep up the good work all you mummies out there, we will survive and carry on the good fight!
Thank you. I so needed this today. I’m right here with our first child who is 22dsys old and just become the crying colicky baby. My husband is amazing thank god but still, it’s so hard sometimes.
Totally took me back there, did this. It’s an age and forever ago for me (well, 7 years) but I so clearly remember all those feelings. Like “WHO IN THE NAME OF HOLY FUCK HAS MORE THAN ONE CHILD?????” But then I got over it, and had another one. I still look out for new-ish looking mums in supermarkets, in public, on their own and make a point of telling them how amazing they are. Someone did that to me once and it made me cry, but also made me feel so much better. Up the sisterhood!
Well done for a reality check. It’s beautiful and amazing to have a first baby but hard and frankly at times hideous. I had a dreadful time especially when a health visitor had me in tears due to her putting my daughters weight mark on the wrong line – she marked her age as a week later on her weight line so her weight seemed to have dropped. She chastised me, told me I should be very worried, told me I was feeding badly and demanded I see a Doctor. When I did the Gp was furious at her messing it up and traumatising me. That’s when I realised that actually I was doing fine and should have trusted myself more. Imagine though if I had been lower in mood or suffering form PND – we need to share more of these types of posts to reassure women that we are in it together and they are not alone. Sharing our vulnerable moments can help the next wave of new mums so well done on the post. xxx
I remember one dark night when I contemplated putting him on the front step…. just for a few minutes while I calmed down. I cried and whispered “help” until my husband woke up and took over. It’s very hard, even for an old ass mama like me. Crying at the doctor’s office because I forgot to get the paperwork in order. Crying on the sofa at phone commercials. Crying because he was hungry all the time. Getting up at 2 am to feed him, and falling asleep in the recliner, then waking up at 5:30 am in the recliner, hey, it’s time for him to feed again! Now he’s two and a few and talking and walking and being marvelous and more of a handful than ever. He will be my only one, so he gets all of my attention, and I’m okay with that.
I am now a g/mother but all of this rings so true …particularly the breastfeeding probs. At the time I had my children there was a breastfeeding association and those women terrorised me. There was only one page in one book that told me that it was OK if I couldn’t manage. I used to read it over and over just to reassure myself that I wasn’t creating permanent damage. A girlfriend of mine, a brilliant and committed teacher said how hopeless she felt because she was very good at her job, but none had trained her for this one and so she felt so useless for the first time in her life. She went on to have 3 wonderful boys and is still brilliant. The main message that comes through with all of this, and one of the previous writers says it … thou must not beat thine head over all of this. Babies are generally very tough and it is quite difficult to do them damage. They have a very strong life force on the whole and will survive most amateur handling as long as it is kind and loving.
I so wish I’d been able to read this when my first was born as I spent the whole time feeling like I was the only one doing it all wrong. I tramped the streets in the middle of winter pushing an incessantly screaming baby in her pram, tears streaming down my face, she wouldn’t feed, she wouldn’t sleep, I was broken, the health visitors and doctors all gave conflicting advice. I’d had a shit pregnancy (severe hyperemesis and diabetes, continual hospital appointments and blood tests) and was at the end of my tether. Luckily I found an excellent supportive sleep website/forum and we gradually made it through. I even went on to have a second, who had a whole other set of issues (permanent chest infections, vomitting, breathing difficulties). They’re 7 and 9 now, and they’re wonderful children (who sleep really well, and are thankfully very healthy, although they still don’t eat, I never cracked that one). I realised a while ago that I had bought into the shiny TV myth of thinking I had to be the perfect mum with a clean, tidy house and quiet, well behaved children, but the more I talk to other mums the more I realise we all have our issues, no-one has it completely easy, but we’re all doing the best we can.
Thank you thank you thank you for a wonderful article!
My advice to all new parents would be never judge, never compare, always support.
Having had a colicky, refusing to feed, screaming ball of anger baby I was in tears for much of the first few weeks. If I ever meet the “helpful” lady on the NCT breastfeeding advice line I would probably throw something heavy at her. Breast is not always best. It darn well nearly broke me trying to produce enough milk for the daught. We enjoyed each other much more after she switched to formula!! Everyone,you’re doing brilliantly! Parenthood sucks sometimes but the joy of kids being happy and well adjusted makes up for it :) xxxx
Yes, to all! Every new mum should read this. Repeatedly. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for sharing! 5 years ago I went through the same miserable overwhelming time with a crying grumpy colicky baby and a crying grumpy mummy – the pills make me sick so just waded through it. I still remember a health visitor saying ‘happy mum: happy baby’ – talk about shoving the guilt fairy in your face!. Had no more than 2-3 hours sleep at any one time for 2.5 years – he was not the poster child for populating the world so we stuck with just the one even though my partner would have liked more (more guilt). 5 years later, it still makes me wonder how on earth I got through it but luckily he turned into a lovely funny little boy (from age 3.5 or 4). Much more help is needed for new mums out there – if only to reassure you that you’re not on your own! x
I laughed out load as I read this 3 hours into our 6 hour bewitching hours with our 5 week old, and realised I actually hadn’t laughed since she was born. Thank you. It helped me through the night. And now …? Those hours have started all over again today. I’m listening to bloody white noise blasting out the speakers while i hold my baby with a blanket over her head (I promise she has a breathing hole) … I had to read I again to help me through another evening! Can’t wait till hubby gets home to make me G&T!
As a Dad I just wanted to add that “giving up” trying to exclusively breast feed the baby was great. Mum was happier, she didn’t have a baby attached to her breast 24 hrs and day. Baby girl was happier, she was getting full. And I was happier, firstly because they were happier and secondly because I got to spend time with the baby, I could take the 5am shifts and make up a bottle and let my wife sleep whilst being with my daughter and watching the world wake up (or the telly). Supplementing with the bottle was win-win and I wish we’d done it sooner.
As a new mum to six week old twins this has made me feel one million times better and made me realise that everything I’m thinking and feeling is completely normal so thank you!
THIS POST IS EVERYTHING.
Thank you so much for writing this. I remember all of these things vividly, having a currently 8 month old son who was also colicky, had severe acid reflux and dairy-intolerance. Those ‘moments’ of him being awake in the early days and not sleeping were filled with crying — everyone tells you ‘they will eventually stop,’ but in those moments it feels so far away you don’t know how you can possibly make it there.
AND THEN YOU DO. And your baby finally sleeps in his crib, for more than 2 hour increments — and you finally go back to having dreams (without realizing you hadn’t been having them for roughly 6 months amongst your broken sleep patterns). And it’s a relief – a true and honest relief…. and then they start teething again and it all goes to hell.
BUT thank you for writing this! So refreshing and so many ‘ohhh yeah’ moments reading this while laughing out loud to myself at my work desk. Love your site, Instagram, and book — keep it up, your stuff is amazing!
So does parenting ever start to be a nice experience?! Or is it really only satisfying once they’re adults and you can just talk to them as people you know (assuming you get along)?
Asking as an ambivalent woman who is inadvertently 7 weeks pregnant. The whole motherhood thing looks like a complete nightmare and I can’t see much to recommend it, which makes me a double idiot (really enjoy the blog, though).
It’s probably a good thing that you have low expectations. I pictured the perfect tv Mum life and it’s just so not that way at all! But it’s weird because despite all the absolute crap of it all – you celebrate the tiniest little things. First time my baby fell asleep in the car instead of screaming was basically the happiest day of my life. When she learnt how to control her hands and could roll over I was amazed at the sheer brilliance! The relief when I could finally start putting her down for naps and she slept more than one sleep cycle. I guess your life is reduced to really appreciating the tiny victories. It’s the purest kind of joy.
The lovemakes everything worth it. When you first see them, hold them, smell them. When they look at you as their entire world, nothing else matters and it all falls away to pure love. That’s why we carry on. Motherhood is an incredible experience denied to many. It is also incredibly hard, but none of the books tell you that. You have no need to worry, just trust yourself and your instincts and prepare for the tough times. It IS hard, but it’s more than worth it. Good luck and much love x
I loved your comment about the knitted boob! I sat with the Breastfeeding counsellors on many occasions desperate to get the baby back on the boob. My nipples had bled so much I was having to express all the time but was not making enough milk so had to top up with formula. I cried all the time! I just wanted those women to tell me I had tried my best but to give up! They didn’t. I hated that knitted boob demonstration. Work was so easy I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get that latch. They would demo. I would nod. The baby would feed perfectly until the second the counsellor left….
I need this! crying my eyes out most of the time, haven’t left the flat since Tuesday (partner back at work, too scared to take baby out by myself) going stir crazy shut in and three week old daughter constantly wants feeding (like every half an hour, websites call this cluster feeding but for twelve hours solid?) And never sleeps. Don’t want to pack up bfeeding even though my boobs feel like chew toys and I hate it, she was in neonatal for nine days with pneumonia and I feel like I need to give her the best start but I’m starting to realise that it’s making me unhappy and isn’t good for both of us. Neither is my obsessive forum reading (which isn’t helpful for anyone, so much conflicting advice/information).
Dear H, I hope you found some help and advice with your breastfeeding and ditched the forum readings!! I was a little obsessed with them too to begin with! I realise it’s now been a month since your comment but yes, babies can feed non-stop all day/night when they’re that young. It doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, in fact you are doing everything right!! And even if you decided to switch that’s ok too. I hope you have hit out of the house now, I remember I got out on my own with baby when he was 4 weeks, literally took him for a walk up the lane in his pram but I was so proud of myself!
My sister sent me the link to this blog when I was pregnant but I’ve come back today with a nearly-three-week old to say THANK YOU. I have a great baby (he’s pretty chilled out) but it’s still really really bloody hard and I’d started to buy into the “everyone finds this easy except me” myth and hate myself for how little I’m enjoying these first weeks. Reading this today gave me back the confidence to grit my teeth and get through it, enjoying what I can and being ok with not enjoying the other bits. Love my son to the moon and back; do not love exhaustion, sore nipples, achy caesarean scar and feeling permanently unhinged!