Another post, written in November last year… step back in time to the Before.
This is a post for the mothers of newborns, first time mums, with first time babies. Tiny babies. Mothers who are in, or about to enter, those first grueling six weeks. Or eight weeks. Or three months. That first stretch of time, when they’re so fragile, and their cries are so heart-breakingly desperate.
And it’s for the mother’s who’ve been there, who remember it vaguely, with a sweetness and a bitterness all the same.
It’s not for every mother. It’s not for those of you who’s baby slept through at four days old, or for those women who felt nothing but bliss and security, with a tiny, curly newborn on their chest. I know those mothers exist, and I ache with envy for them. They began their parenting experience in a completely different place to me.
This isn’t for those mothers.
This is for the mothers who are so tired their skin feels peaked and raw. The mothers who are so desperately craving a hot shower and warm meal, a meal that had been properly cooked and not microwaved, they would actually consider trading their freshly birthed baby for one or the other. The mothers who haven’t had more than three hours of consecutive sleep since their thirty-sixth week of pregnancy.
The mothers who feel their lives have been taken, crumpled, decimated. The ones who feel like I felt- that they cannot possibly shift the myriad elements of their quite simple life enough to accommodate the massiveness of this tiny child.
The mothers who are starting to feel desperate.
There are things you should know. Things that I only wish someone had told me, over a hug and hot cup of tea, while they quieted and shushed my constantly screaming child.
It’s going to be OK.
I know it might feel hopeless right now, but this will pass.
It’s not always going to be this difficult. As the baby gets older, things will get just that little bit easier. Babies don’t feed for so long as they grow bigger, they don’t need so much sleep.
The process of leaving the house, that will get easier too. I know that, at the moment, the prospect of packing up a squawking baby and heading to the shops is momentous, but do it. You will feel better for it.
Or, ya know, don’t. It doesn’t matter. In a month or two, you’ll be cruising all over the place, shops to friend’s houses and back again, baby in tow.
It gets easier. It has to.
And, while we’re being honest, night feeds don’t last forever. And certainly not at the frequency and intensity you’re experiencing them now. The night feeds, they become shorter. I promise. And here’s a major secret I’ll let you in on- unless you have nappy rash problems, really, a newborn actually doesn’t need a nappy change every night, after every feed, especially if they’re feeding every two hours. No one will ever know the difference.
Oh, and one more Big Parenting Secret The Clinic Nurse May Not Want You To Know- it’s OK to put your baby in your bed, with you. Seriously. As long as you do it safely. It will be warm and snuggly and lovely. And at 2am, it will save you countless minutes of precious, energy-giving sleep.
Since we’re on the topic, you need to sleep. I know how difficult it is to catch a catnap when your baby only sleeps for 45 minutes at a time, but sleep when you can. Don’t worry about the housework, the washing, the stuff you should be doing. Sleep. If you can’t sleep, try and relax. The world will go on without you, that’s true. But I can guarantee you won’t be missing much. There’s nothing so important that someone won’t fill you in on it later. And no one will forget about you because you’ve dropped out of life for a few weeks, because your taking care of yourself and in a baby-moon bliss. And if they do, they really weren’t adding much to your life anyway.
And do try and resist the urge to smack your childless, hung over friends in the forehead when they complain about being tired. (“You don’t not know what tired is.”)
Having a newborn baby the first time round was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I mean that, with all honesty. It was torture. My entire body ached. It felt as if I’d been in a horrible car accident, my son’s birth took so much from me. Breastfeeding was hot cylinders of agony in my chest, blood leaking from my nipples, weeping as the clock turned round two hours, too quickly, and it was time to feed him again.
I was so alone. So deserted. No one came, no one called. When people did call, if the baby was sleeping, they wouldn’t bother coming to see me, as if I were a ghost, a transparent image, nothing but a keeper for my child. No one listened to a word I said, they were so focused on this tiny newborn. And everything was different. Not only was leaving the house was an insurmountable task, all the little things that used to fill up our lives- our garden, our dog, a million other interests that slid in here or there… suddenly, the time we once had for them was gone. Evaporated by the heat of a new life. And in their place was a baby.
A tiny, fragile, soft and sweet smelling baby. A baby who I alternatively felt nothing for, resented, was terrified for, and loved so much I thought my heart would break. It was incredible, how much I loved this little person. Beyond anything I felt possible, a love so like a fog that was crushing me. A love so intense it was a physical ache in my chest.
And, at the same time, a total awareness of the tininess of him, of how fragile he was. A memory of a baby, bright blue at birth, struggling to inhale through slow popping bubbles of mucous.. A baby who I now watched, for hours, monitoring the up and down of his chest, the rhythm of his breath. Watching a baby, listening for their breath in the darkness of night, it’s a ritual for mothers is it not? As if it is only our attention that keeps them respirating at all.
A new mother. Broken, stretched, changed. And tired. So very, very tired. So tired I could, would, did weep, often. I know what it’s like to be prepared, quite literally, to beg the Gods for five hours unbroken sleep. To be so tired you can’t fall sleep. So exhausted that the act of surviving has left you wired.
The exhaustion? That will pass too, or so they tell me. I’m still tired- I’m always tired- but the ache, the desperate sweet memory of sleeping till noon- that’s no longer an experience that is mine. That’s what someone else used to do, someone vague, a character in an obscure movie I once watched, in a cheap paperback book I picked up at the newsagents.
The grass is always greener. It’s just that, sometimes,
it takes you a little time to realise what side of the fence you’re on. The life I had before was jagged and lovely. But it doesn’t compare to the sweet, everyday raptures of what I have now.
Even if I am exhausted.
And I know that you are too.
Hang on in there. It’s tough, I know it’s tough. All bets are off. This baby, this tiny new life that you may actually be cradling in your arms right now- this changes everything. Your life, your soul, your mind, your body, your boundaries, your sense of empathy and existence and reality.
But it’s OK.
Everything is going to be OK.