I was mentally prepared to find it a nightmare having a newborn. Having worked with lots of patients with post-natal depression, and being one of the last of my friends and family to have babies, I had earnestly stored away every single difficult detail I heard. I imagined my baby would be a composite of everyone else’s reflux, colic, jaundice and more.
So far, it’s actually been OK. More than OK. I’m really loving this time. I love hanging out with my baby. My mum apparently said to my brother that I look ‘fulfilled’. I think that’s true.
And there’s something about being brought a cup of tea in the morning, by someone who’s going to work, when you’re not, which is pretty wonderful. (Even if the baby did wake me up at 4am.)
However, I’m not surprised people find it hard. So many huge things converge at once.
Becoming a parent is probably the most life-changing event I’ll experience, which would be a lot to adjust to if my body was in top condition.
On top of that, even though the birth comparatively good and I didn’t need stitches, my body still had the biggest battering it has ever had. Everything was swollen around where the baby came out. If I walked up and down the hallway of my flat too many times it made it very inflamed, so it felt like I couldn’t go out for a while. My breasts were all over the place from feeding, a surprising amount of bodily functions were more difficult and even the back of my hand was bruised from the cannula, which hurt every time I picked the baby up. It would be a lot to deal with if nothing particularly momentous was going on in my life.
Put those two things together and add hormones and sleep deprivation into the mix, along with a loud noise at regular intervals which evolution had designed for me to find distressing.
The day my milk came in, I was struggling a bit with feeding as my breasts felt they were going to burst. I thought how strange it was that my body was learning to do something completely new while in such a state. It was like my body was learning to become a catering company but the first customer had really kicked the entrance in.
Nevertheless, it’s been some of the best time in my life. I love the baby. I’m not sure how much I’m biased but my baby really does seem like one of the best ones. She’s beautiful and very easy-going. I think she’s very advanced as well. She started started smiling about three weeks before they are supposed to.
One of the reasons I had low expectations of this time was that I haven’t typically been great with other people’s babies. I dropped my Godson, when I was 18, which was one of the worst days of my life. When someone shows me a photo of a baby, I’m never sure what to say, and I always felt even less sure what to do when someone handed me a baby to hold.
However, it’s not like that with her. It’s natural and I feel confident.
I think that how the sleep is and how the breastfeeding goes can make or break this precarious, intense time.
She is a good sleeper (she started sleeping through the night at 8 weeks, which I’m not even telling my new Mum friends as I don’t want to seem smug). We have had a few problems with things like tongue tie and trapped wind but breastfeeding has gone pretty well on the whole.
Another thing that has helped this time for me is that, from my job, I knew not to believe a lot of the crap people say to new parents.
“Enjoy every minute!” People always say, and write in cards and on Facebook posts about babies.
I don’t think there’s anything in the world I’d enjoy every minute of.
Even at Alton Towers there’s still the queues, and slightly wincing when being told the price of an underwhelming lunch.
Even if you got to go to Woodstock in 1969, and saw Jimi Hendrix, assuming it was like every festival I’ve been to, there would have been moments of being annoyed that someone’s big head was in the way of the band, moments in portaloos which were unenjoyable at best, as well as sweating while carrying your stuff from the car to the place you can pitch your tent.
The best sex ever? There would still be the moment you get up and try to waddle to the bathroom before too much semen drizzles down your thighs.
I can’t describe the feeling I get when my baby wakes up and looks around sleepily, before giving me a massive grin, or when she’s asleep on my chest.
But that doesn’t mean I enjoy it when I’m struggling to have a poo because the muscles down there have only just recovered and I suddenly hearing her screaming from another room.
Or when I was in Sainsbury’s trying to change her nappy in the toilet, while she was crying, and weeing all over her clothes and the changing table, and I accidentally pulled the toilet roll dispenser off the wall and someone hammered on the door for us to hurry up.
“Just wait until [X negative thing]!” is something else everyone says. When they’re not telling you to enjoy every second, they’re trying to ruin your enjoyment by reminding you things will get shitter any minute.
When you’re pregnant, they say, “Get your sleep in now! You’ll probably never sleep again. Haha!”
When I told someone my baby is sleeping through the night, they said, “just wait til she starts teething!”
“Just wait til the four month sleep regression!”
“Just wait til the terrible twos!”
“Just wait til she’s a teenager!”
I saw someone posted about this on a parenting forum, and they said “forget about this. There’s something wonderful about every age, and the wonderfulness accumulates.”
I am enjoying lots of the moments, and not feeling guilty about the ones which are metaphorically or literally shit. I’m trying just to drink in how she is now, instead of feeling nostalgia in advance of whichever lovely things will end.
I did feel sad the first time she was too big for newborn clothes, and each week the birth gets further into the past, but one of my favourite things is when she learns to do something new.
I think this time is so amazing, not because none of it is hard, but precisely because some of it’s so hard. When she was first handed to me, in the birthing pool, it was one of the most extraordinary moments of my life and I think about it all the time. However, it wouldn’t have been so incredible if there hadn’t been nine months of gradually growing her, the stress and sickness, not to mention the miscarriages.
The first time she smiled was more special because of the weeks she couldn’t smile yet.
I’m glad I was mentally prepared for how hard it is. It has made me enjoy it more. I won’t be writing “enjoy every minute” or “just wait until…” in anyone’s card. The best thing other people have done, which I’m going to try to remember, is just to seem impressed when I’m rabbiting on about the latest unremarkable thing she’s done, or nod sympathetically when something’s gone wrong (closely followed by offering to wash up or make me a cup of tea).