Aoife has now been in my life for 7 weeks and they have been amazing, life-changing, tiring, exhilarating, incredible weeks. I have loved the vast majority of it, but I have learned a hell of a lot in a short period of time. I fully believe that every pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting experience is different so I won’t begin to be so hypocritical as to say this is what to expect, but this is what I have experienced so far.
“Isn’t she cold?”
People will begin to question your opinion on everything. People close to you, acquaintances, even random people in shops. Everyone has an opinion and it is generally that you are wrong.
Never before in my life has my ability to judge temperature been brought into question so frequently. I choose not to pass comment to random strangers that their babies may not really need 7 layers of clothing on, partially because it is none of my business what other people’s kids are wearing, partly because I have no knowledge whatsoever of what that child needs. Unfortunately this does not seem to be reciprocated and people are very quick to assume I’m forcing my daughter to train for the Ice Warrior Challenge by dressing her in one layer of clothing. We are British, it is 30 degrees here in the shade, she does not need a coat and duvet to leave the house. Worry not, she will have a full wardrobe of winter attire when we are back in a more temperate climate. For now, please just assume, having spent the best part of a year accommodating her in my body followed by going through a rather extreme experience by giving birth, that I have her best interests at heart. You may be trying to be kind by offering this ‘help’, but it is not wanted and I fully reserve the right to burn the next person who utters ‘isn’t she cold?’ with fire.
What Makes A Good Present
Our little girl has been thoroughly spoiled with some absolutely gorgeous presents and our friends have been so thoughtful. We are so grateful for the outpouring of love that has been so pronounced from so many people (and amazed by the total neglect from others, but that’s for another day). Having now been through this experience, I know exactly what I want to get for my next friends who have babies: a bag for life full of microwave meals.
In the first couple of weeks of Aoife’s life I was trying to get out and about as much as possible whilst recovering from the birth and learning to breastfeed. I realised, in the midst of a particularly bad hormone crash, I hadn’t actually eaten anything decent (ie. not cereal) since before she was born. I didn’t have time to blow dry my hair – I certainly didn’t have time to be cooking meals. Ross was back at work and so he was in a similar position. We didn’t want to fill ourselves with takeaways either. What would have been absolutely amazing at that time would have been to be given a stack of tupperwares containing something other than Weetabix or crisps. Whichever friend next has a baby may not appreciate my cooking (I often don’t..), but the thought will be there.
How To Say No
When Aoife was born I was very clear that I did not want to become a hermit and act as though I had acquired an illness rather than a child. Sure enough, on our first day out of hospital (and pretty much every day since) we were out and about. As much as this worked for me and helped me get back to ‘normal’ pretty quickly, I realised it also put me in a bit of an awkward situation with other people. It became the expectation that I would be able to get here and there, spend the day out of the house, chuck the pram in and out of the back of the car and the same with the baby. Although this was absolutely doable, it was not sensible and not easy.
It is a difficult situation because I really want to spend time with people, but I have found this has been to the detriment of my state of mind and, quite often, Aoife’s. Rushing about with a newborn, trying to please everybody and get to places for set times is not a recipe for success. I don’t think for a second that people do it on purpose – to see how much you can take before you break down, like a postnatal game of Buckaroo – I think it’s a combination of forgetting what it’s like to have a newborn at home as well as me giving the impression that I want to be kept busy. Thing is, I can be kept busy without even leaving my bedroom now I have a little one here. Learn to say no, or get people to come to you. I have found myself, on numerous occasions, exhausted and with a grouchy and vocal baby after running about all over the place trying to please other people.
I keep telling myself I’ll just do one thing per day and not keep putting us in that situation but yet it happens again, so if anyone learns how to do this then please do share! I am sure that plenty of my lowest points could have been avoided had I learned this skill sooner.
You’ll Think You’re Crap
I like to think I’m a fairly self-assured person. I trust my instincts and am fairly relaxed about life. Since having Aoife, that has changed absolutely. As well as the (I assume) natural self doubt that creeps in when you realise you are entirely responsible for a human life, the words and actions of others can leave you feeling like you’re a clueless child with no right or ability to look after your own child. Again, I very much doubt that any of these words or actions are spoken or carried out with those intentions, and perhaps it is down to the demonic hormones, but the impact they can have is quite astounding.
Being a new mum, I don’t know everything about raising a child. I am sure the majority of experienced parents would probably say the same thing. If it takes me a while to work out what my baby is crying for, or what she’s trying to tell me, that is fine. I don’t want ‘help’, I don’t want her to be taken off me, I don’t want suggestions. That may sound unnecessarily harsh, and I absolutely don’t mean it in an ungrateful way, but having someone step in when I am working your way through an issue not only means I don’t get to learn how to fix the problem but it also makes me feel entirely useless. Being a mother who, in that one moment, cannot soothe her child goes against everything we know in nature and it doesn’t feel good. Again, it is a difficult situation as, whilst I would never be ungrateful of offers of help, this is a time when I really feel like I need to be the one working through any issues that pop up. I don’t want to say ‘if I want help I’ll ask for it’, because that sounds like a stroppy know-it-all and I definitely don’t want it to come across that way (I’ve never felt like I know less!), but I am very lucky to be in a situation where I know I can ask for help if I decide I want/need it.
I am doing the most important job I have ever done and I have a sum total of 7 weeks experience so far. It is only natural I won’t get everything right first time. Please don’t take my baby off me when I am struggling and think it is helping. Just carry on being there if I need you, because that helps more than I could even begin to say. Which sort of leads on to my next point…
You Are She-Ra
As well as feeling like I am the world’s most useless human being, the past 7 weeks have been interspersed with moments of euphoria and mental high fives to myself. Every time I am able to breastfeed successfully and calmly when in public without flashing anyone or causing people to think I am trying to suffocate my screaming child under my feeding cover, I feel like an unstoppable warrior. It only takes one car journey without crying (baby or me!) to feel like I have achieved greatness. When Aoife complied with our new bedtime routine fairly easily I may as well have awarded myself a PhD there and then.
I thoroughly believe these moments are vital to maintain some form of sanity. It is so very easy to fall in to the trap of thinking you’re completely incompetent. All it takes is a passing comment or a certain ‘look’ from a stranger. The positive moments remind you that, actually, you’re doing the best you can and that is all your baby needs. In my normal moments, I know that Aoife has everything she wants and that, overall, she is a happy and healthy baby. In my low moments I am fairly sure she detests me, her first word will be ‘bitchmummy’ and she will be expelled from school for unruly behaviour and end up taking heroin and blaming it on me. Please consider your actions before passing comment or even looking at parents of crying babies in public. You never know when you might be unintentionally telling someone their precious baby will definitely turn into a lawless prostitute.
You’re Completely Doomed
Although these first 7 weeks have been difficult and far more emotional than entirely necessary, the most considerable, tremendous, whopping great thing I have learned is that my love for this tiny little squidge knows no bounds. Last night I lay in bed trying to describe how I felt about Aoife and I ended up just making a series of nonsensical noises. For someone who has always prided herself on her ability to vocalise feelings, this is quite an absurd turn of events.
Yes, I may have never cried so much in my life. Yes, the rollercoaster of highs and lows is vaguely terrifying. Yes, I know I have more to learn than I could even imagine. But my god is it worth it! My daughter is a magical, mesmerising tiny human and I feel profoundly blessed to have the responsibility of being her mother.