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.