It’s like life before never, ever happened. Although I do rather fondly remember a daily cup of coffee in bed and a lot of time spent on Instagram. What follows will I fear read just like so many of the other posts shared by new parents because every cliché is painfully true. Although pain doesn’t seem to have the lasting effect that it should as even in the recovery bay I was starting to think about a sibling for our first born. Labour, birth and having to walk out of the hospital 48 hours later doesn’t come without its own challenges mind you. Like, how on earth do you tighten the straps on a car seat (call the midwife) and shuffling and wincing past all those folks waiting for their 12 week scans on your way to the car park is like the worst advert for a positive birth experience ever. Babies are sent home sleeping deliberately. During those final midwife checks before discharge they’re slipping them all whisky, I know they are.
I seem to remember we enjoyed our first meal as a family of three, at a table with a baby in her bouncer. This is alright, we thought… The next two nights I genuinely can’t recall. There was sleeping in shifts, frantic pram pushing in the living room and a look of terror in our eyes that so desperately questioned “is it going to be like this forEVER?!”. When the adrenaline evaporated I was running on fumes.
What did people do before WhatsApp and Twitter? Who the heck helped them out? We closed the doors for the two weeks of Andy’s paternity leave. Hats off to anyone that welcomes friends and family sooner. I did however open my legs to pretty much every midwife to grace our door and not so casually flash a boob to them at the same time. Most times I was completely topless to be fair. Except when we ventured to Boots for a prescription. The first of so many. If there is a national pile cream shortage at present I am genuinely sorry. But after the piles there is sun. And that irritating “oh, but it gets easier” is thankfully true. So many friends, relatively new parents themselves, rallied together to constantly repeat this “it gets easier” mantra but all I could think was, what if it doesn’t? What if our child is quite frankly the most difficult child ever born?
You turn corners week by week. You can sit down on hard surfaces again and make it further than 50 yards without the ‘I am more desperate than desperate for the toilet’ fear setting in. I can’t even remember the price of a packet of maternity pads despite the number I seemed to be buying on a daily basis. I’ve stopped losing fingers each time I collapse the pram and put it in the car. You don’t really have to do that much with a newborn baby. Feed them, love them, change their nappy and play with them. Read to them apparently if you want to ensure they’re getting a MENSA membership for their first birthday. But, despite this relatively minimal list of cares how the heck is it they leave you with absolutely no time at all whatsoever to do ANYTHING? Anything. at. all. Like going to the toilet is a luxury. Heck, if you even remember to go to the toilet it’s a luxury. I spend most of my days either dehydrated or desperate for the loo. 4pm is the new lunchtime, in a coffee shop with an equally frazzled new Mum friend that you share the woe and gluten free brownie with.
Small people don’t give a great deal back initially, aside from central heating. They’re beautifully warm little things. Like hot water bottles without any of the faff of boiling a kettle and leaving it to cool for a bit. They smell sweet. On a diet of milk there’s no risk of halitosis. And that incredible smell of their head is the smell of the womb apparently, I am told. Eau de Womb. The first anything is guaranteed to be slightly traumatic. Pram outings. Baths. We have two degrees and a handful of A levels between us yet still we Googled instructions on how to bath a baby and propped the iPad up on the toilet seat lid to follow said instructions, as you do.
The night before my husband went back to work I smashed my favourite salad bowl into a thousand pieces. Minutes after the front door closed and he set off on his commute the cafetiere was my next victim. He probably considered turning back as he heard the smash. I cried as if he were setting off for war, never to return. Me, his baby, here, left high and dry to fend for ourselves. We’d made plans and the day went rather quickly. Far quicker than the witching hour(s) of more recent times that start as a grizzle at 4.52pm (guaranteed) and escalate to a full blown hissy fit by the time she’s lifted out of the bath before bed. But it used to be 9pm. My husband and our baby spent a lot of time on the M4 with Classic FM for company when I was casually going out of my mind back in our bedroom. We’d done a tidy spreadsheet of family budgeting before our daughter’s arrival. We didn’t factor in these desperate 80 mile round trips and the amount of Diesel involved.
It does get easier though. You seem to get your sh*t together a bit more. Except when you’re soling yourself on a walk home from town and find yourself cleaning up in a Wetherspoons disabled toilet in the middle of the afternoon. I’m sure wet wipes will continue to quite literally save mine and my daughter’s backside for many years to come. “It’s quite normal” said the [male] doctor. And I don’t think he was referring to a new Mum desperately finding herself in a Wetherspoons with her baby at 3pm on a Monday. It’s not happened since, thank goodness. My daughter and I while away our afternoons in coffee shops where people look at her adoringly, without exception. “She’s so beautiful.” She is.
When an actual bath time, an actual bedtime and a baby that actually stayed in bed happened it changed so much. Week 8. An evening. Cooking. Wine. Conversation. The latter is the most taxing. I spend the last two hours of every day counting down to my husband’s return. Yet once he’s home I’ve got nothing left, especially not any of the upbeat chat and “how was your day?” pleasantries of preconception yester year. A pre-written Gruffalo or Miffy script doesn’t work for him he, quite understandably, needs a bit more. But he does understand. Especially after he spent his first full half day on his own with our baby. “I’ve not eaten a thing”; “How the heck do you do this every single day?”. You just do of course. The exhaustion comes from the emotion. Within 7 seconds you can go from “oh my goodness smiley child you are the most adorable, loving thing to have ever set foot[ish] on this earth” to “why the hell are you crying? Why? Why? Please can’t I just go to the toilet?”
Me time. What even is that? I had some. Which was actually great. I left the house just before 7.30am on a Saturday, headed to yoga, met a friend for breakfast and cashed in a perfect baby shower gift of a facial. On the way to yoga the nursery rhymes CD belted itself out of the car stereo and I pulled off my best performance of Old Macdonald to date. Even when I realised it was still in the stereo I turned it up, kept singing and didn’t even toy with switching to Radio 1 or 4. I sat on my hands at traffic lights. Do not text. You left 11 minutes ago. He’ll realise it’s cold. He knows where her cardigans are. They will, of course, be just fine. As much as I thought about them it clearly did me the world of good. I just remember laughing a lot together that afternoon when I rejoined them, much more like my old self, the person that had so much to give; before a small person was so unwittingly and innocently take, take, taking.
She now gives so much back though. The smiles. Those smiles. The gurgles. The shrieks – they’re my favourite. The surprise and delight in her eyes as she gazes up at the world. The trees. The sky. The ceiling of Waitrose – genetics at their best. Smells. It’s smells that seem to shock and sometimes bother her most. Like when we had a puncture and went to a garage I smelt the oil just as she did and cried not long after. Breakdowns (mechanical, not emotional) and other things in life that would have happened before baby are just that bit more trying. But British Gas are far more sympathetic when you call them up about a leaking radiator when your baby is squawking in the background so I guess it’s not all bad.
No helping hand from family on the doorstep often makes the tougher nights more difficult the day after. When sometimes all you desperately need is a shower longer than 17 seconds or half an hour with your eyes closed in peace. But we’ve survived, of course. Nature has this brilliant way of responding to your internal cries of “I can’t f*cking do this anymore” by switching things up. One less middle of the night wake up, an impeccably behaved child from dawn til dusk, an upbeat guitarist that unexpectedly turns up at a playgroup that you benefit from more than your newborn.
The worst bit? About parenting, not the guitarist? The guilt. It started around feeding. Brought on only by myself and will never go away. Stopping breastfeeding at seven weeks was the right thing for me to do but it’ll never take away from the constant “what if” questioning. The “what if I’d just done things differently from the beginning?’. But soon it’ll be weaning. And I’ll no doubt lie awake at night ruing the days I spent my lunch hour walking to the Portuguese bakery for sourdough loaves when all my child, daughter of a nutritional therapist in training, will eat is white toast. Then it’ll be something else and something else.
Time flies at a terrifying lick. 12 weeks. 12 months soon enough no doubt. 12 years. She’s grown out of her clothes as quickly as everyone warned me she would. We’ve done everything they all told us not to do. But once you’ve stopped convincing yourself an upset tum is a life threatening condition, there’s some comfort to be taken from Googling everything and forums that have very unhelpful high search engine rankings. There are others, so many others just as neurotic as me. My husband might gift me a #fail tattoo this Christmas. I’ve earned it, not least of all for the number of times I’ve woken our sleeping baby “just to check”. Her snoring is met with “thank God, a sign of life, keep it up my Precious.” His? A sharp jab in the ribs.
Poo. I hate that word now as much as I have since forever. But I am as obsessed with it as much as the next mother. I’ve rifled back through a bin to check the contents of a dirty nappy just to determine exactly what it was my husband was trying to report. Couldn’t I have just been content with the fact it was the weekend and one less dirty nappy I was changing? Evidently not. And I’m changing. I hated fancy dress but this Halloween was quite the event. You really do, do these things entirely for your children.
Every small development in our baby is mind blowing. I fear I’ll forget it all. So much to chronicle, this post alone is over 2,000 words long. You notice everything. A change in pitch of a cry, the reaching out of the arms, the circling them round my neck. It’s comforting and terrifying. Tonight she’s asleep in her cot. A move up from her original crib. It’s like starting over, such was her little startle and the number of times she’s already woken in this new place to lay her head. But we are there beside her. Tonight. Forever. Beside her, the most remarkable thing to have ever happened to us both.
Happy three month birthday baby girl. I’m sorry, you are already as bonkers as your mother.