Our baby is three months old now and I’ve finally found time to sit down and write, as it’s true what they say about it all starting to get a bit easier by this point. And thank goodness for that.
I wrote before our daughter was born about how impossible it was to be ready for something this life changing. And I know now that I was definitely right about that. But there are some things that have been particularly unexpected, which I wanted to share.
That feeding a baby would be the hardest work I’ve ever done
You just put your breast in their mouth, right? They’ll smell the milk and just automatically start suckling, yeah? You’ll be able to cook a meal, ride a bike, and write a 12-novel series with a child attached to your body, eh boys?
Breastfeeding comes naturally for many, but for us it has been tricky, and I did not see that coming. I gave birth via c-section and with that can come a slow or reduced milk supply. It also brings with it a mother who is recovering from major surgery. And you’re working with a newborn baby who doesn’t necessarily know that they need to eat, so you have to wake them up for each feed. We did get there – we put the hours in and we got our girl’s weight up – but I wasn’t expecting that element of becoming a mum to be so difficult.
I also didn’t expect to give myself such a hard time along the way. We do combination feeding – meaning our baby has formula and breast milk. It’s a pretty unremarkable sentence to read, but it remains a battle everyday to forgive myself for it. I don’t have enough milk for her, and she requires a lot, so there we have it. But people can be very hard on new parents about feeding, and we can therefore be tough on ourselves, too. But we can only do what we can with what we have.
The opportunity to help a little baby grow is a gift, and it’s important not to confuse having to come up with a Plan B with doing a bad job.
That I would feel so guilty
I feel guilty when I’m pleased that she’s asleep because it means that I can eat breakfast/take a shower/sit down and stare into the abyss.
I feel guilty when I spend the morning preparing us to go out and I’m concentrating more on keeping us on schedule than I am on her beautiful face.
I feel guilty when she’s napping on me and we’re having the nicest cuddle but I’m desperate for the toilet so I have to put her down.
I feel guilty when I get nostalgic for how little she was as a newborn, when she is absolutely perfect as she is right now.
I feel guilty when I feel guilty because I’m wasting time that I should just spend enjoying her.
I didn’t expect to fall so hard into this trap, but I’m slowly starting to manage the feeling better. This baby needs a mother who is clean, who interacts with other human beings, and who has the opportunity to empty her bladder. I’m sure she wouldn’t really expect me to feel guilty about that.
That every person we spoke to at the start had the potential to make or break our day
You’re a mess of hormones and exhaustion at the beginning and, in the mother’s case, you’re probably also in a fair amount of pain. That makes you vulnerable, so when people speak to you about your baby – how they’re fed, what they’re wearing, how much they weigh – what they say and how they say it has a big impact on how you feel.
One minute we’d think we were doing a good job, and the next we’d think we were the worst parents in the world. And though it was partly because we’d never done it before, that feeling was also hugely influenced by the interactions we had with hospital staff and other baby-related professionals.
Some people were incredible, just amazing, and some really could and should have been gentler. I didn’t expect to hang on perfect strangers’ every word like we did, or to be so desperate for approval.
But with time you learn who to listen to and who to ignore, and you stop feeling like you need permission to do things a particular way for your baby. You fear that confidence will never come, but it does.
That wind would become our greatest enemy
If you’d asked me what I’d got up to on a Friday night last year, I’d have told you that I’d been out for a meal, or to the cinema, or that I’d fallen asleep on the sofa after Coronation Street.
Ask me this year and I’ll say that Leon and I spent all evening trying to get our baby girl to burp. Life is wild.
The funny thing about having a baby is that you want them to do things that in later years you’ll have to explain are socially unacceptable. I want her to do the loudest burp she can muster, and I’ll happily have her do it in my face. If it gets it out of her body and stops her crying from the pain, mate, she can record it and set it as my ringtone.
It’s a strange moment when you find yourself thinking that the best present your child could give you right now is a large gust of wind, but here we are.
That love and pain are so closely linked
I didn’t expect it to be possible to feel such joy and such agony at the same time.
The love is so huge, so intense, that my whole body aches with it. When our daughter cries, I feel like I’m dying and I would do anything – ANYTHING – to make it stop. And it’s not because it’s loud (though it IS, her lungs are not kidding), it’s because it hurts my heart.
Before you have a baby, babies only exist in general terms. You know that babies cry, babies poo, babies are rather partial to milk… but once you’ve had one, there’s no longer anything general about it. There’s just this very specific child whose every movement, every sound, and every need becomes your world.
I didn’t expect to feel it all so physically, for my body to react so strongly to her existence. But I guess that’s what it is to be this connected to somebody, and to love them with all you have.
The drama of it all is so consuming – the highs and the lows, the smiles and the cries – but there’s no such thing as a part-package deal. We’re here for all of it, every emotion and every pain. And for the opportunity to feel it for this girl, this beautiful baby girl who’s come along and taken over our lives, I’m grateful every single day.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience or you’ve found other things surprising. Either way, I’d love to know.