I have found having a baby HARD. And that is not to say I don’t love it. I enjoy the time with my son far, far more than any day at work, mostly. And I feel so very lucky to be in this position. But it isn’t easy.
I have sometimes felt, especially in the early days though, that I was being a bit lightweight and lame about the whole thing. People had babies all the time right? And life went on. People went back to work WEEKS after giving birth, whilst I was still struggling to get dressed. Was I the only one who found it difficult? Was it me? Was it my baby? Mostly, our days were a whirl of feeding (him), sleeping (him), crying (both), and attempting and failing to complete basic tasks that in hindsight were probably still too ambitious (me).
I had no idea, pre-baby; how ridiculously, manically busy and stressful caring for a tiny thing could be. When I thought about it (which wasn’t that often, considering our baby was planned and then gave us 8 months to prepare), I assumed the little bundle would feed, sleep, and sit contentedly in its bouncer whilst I got on with simple but satisfying tasks such as baking and darning socks. OK, not the sock darning, I genuinely can’t sew a stitch; but I really did think that the whole baby rearing business would be quite easy. I imagined basking in the time I would have free; after so many years of rushing to be in work on time, fighting traffic to be home at a reasonable hour, dashing around in my lunch break to find a dress for the weekend and some tea for the evening. What a hectic life I led!
So our son arrived and he was indeed wonderful! Big love surrounded us all and our hearts were stolen completely. However, we were clueless, and it quickly became apparent that he was not a text book. He did not take kindly to napping anywhere but on me, or some days even being put down at all for more than 45 seconds. So days were often a choice of give in to this and accept that we would have no clean clothes or anything resembling a healthy tea, or stress and battle to get him to nap independently long enough for me to shower the sticky breast milk, vomit and poo off me and make a sandwich.
I really did not imagine being stuck under my baby for at least 12 hours per day whilst he either fed or slept. A feeding and sleeping baby is of course immensely satisfying and lovely, but it can be draining. Particularly when you:
A) Have only had 4 hours broken sleep and wouldn’t mind a kip yourself.
B) Are starving hungry and desperate for the loo.
C) Smell of stale milk, are still in your pyjamas and were meant to meet your friend half an hour ago.
So, you put the baby down. ‘Waaahhhhh’ so you pick the baby up. ‘Ahhhh, snuffle, snuffle, snore.’ Hmmmm. Can I wee whilst holding a sleeping baby? No. Can I shower? No. Can I find and eat a cake? Or four? Yes.
Sometimes my son would stay asleep when I put him down. After a brief dance of victory and a prayer of thanks (silent, obviously), I would dash about; weeing, showering and putting loads of washing on like some turbo charged maniac. Looking back I’m not sure why I was so desperate to stay on top of everything – or even be so clean – but I think in part it was about a break from the intensity of caring for this slightly scary, demanding little human. Anyway, those days could be difficult. I now realise it was pretty damn cool to have kept my boy fed, safe and rested and in between that, entertained. Who is for another round of made up song #24, repeated until baby stops smiling and gurgling, and quite frankly looks a bit bored? Yet at the time I felt as if I wasn’t managing much at all. I spent more time worrying about this – and my crib-hating baby who was so different from the cot loving, self-settling tiny tot from the local baby group – than I should. Despite knowing it was perfectly normal for a newborn to crave and be comforted by close human contact and the gentle thump of the heartbeat it was cocooned with for 9 months, I still fretted. But I also watched a lot of Downton Abbey and E4 reruns, so I can’t say I had it too bad.
Perhaps because I really had NO idea about the realities of caring for a baby, when it transpired they didn’t neatly fit into my life, chores and shopping trips, I was a tad shocked. When I realised wearing a top covered in baby sick for the second day running (knowingly) wasn’t lack of effort through sloppiness, but necessity; I was more than mildly surprised. When I spent day after day feeling as though I had achieved nothing and we were having McDonalds for tea AGAIN, I couldn’t believe no one had told me how difficult looking after a baby could be. How life gets turned completely on its head and that being so tired, SO TIRED impacts more than I could have possibly imagined.
But still, I don’t remember anyone else moaning. My Mum had raised five little gremlins and barely seemed to break a sweat. So what was it? Were our forebabies smarter? More affable? Were their parents better equipped? More relaxed? Knowledgeable – even without Google and all the ‘how to raise the perfect, balanced child without disrupting any part of your life’ books? Do we just make too much of a deal about everything nowadays? I needed to know.
First stop, the aforementioned Mother. Babies raised and still she smiles, still she brushes her hair and still she wears lipstick. How did she do it? My Mum told me, yes it was hard, yes it was tiring. She definitely remembers feeling as though there weren’t enough hours in the day to tend to the baby, clean the house and cook dinner – get this – no take away! She cooked! Every day! Already feeling a mix of inferiority and awe, I listened intently for the secret of this multi-tasking universe as she continued. One time, she remembered, laughing, she was painting the bedroom whilst my sister lay on her changing mat and the room took such a long time to finish as she kept having to nip downstairs and soothe and entertain the baby, before taking another five minutes to paint; then repeating, repeating, repeating…
What in the name of Lucifer was this? Could this actually be true? I can barely paint my TOENAILS whilst looking after a baby; I had to be raised by a witch, surely?
Having what little wind I had firmly knocked out of my sails from that encounter, I limped along to meet my New Mum Friends and more of these mysterious, scary and oh so cute newborn bundles.
‘Oh My God it’s so hard isn’t it?’ I open with.
‘YES. Yes, it is so, so, so hard.’
‘I am too tired to drive a car.’
‘I am too tired to steer the pram.’
‘I am too tired to choose a takeaway.’
Hallelujah! It’s not just me then? PHEW. There are other Walking Wounded out there, people who understand, people who know, who remember because it’s happening right now. The relentless days, the exhausting nights, the constant questioning of one’s self and the fear of a hungry, over-tired baby in traffic jam – honestly – there is no adrenaline rush like it.
Lastly, I move on to my friends with children, as quite a few had already reproduced by the time we got around to it. One had even done it three times (superhero). Why did none of them tell me how hard it was? I remember visits with pink or blue fluffy gifts, cuddles and cooing, and laughing over horrific yet funny labour stories. I don’t remember anything about it being difficult. Did they not tell me? Or did I not ask? When I examine these memories closer, my mind becomes peppered with some other, less perfect moments. The friend who couldn’t breastfeed, despite mountains of effort, tears, pain, more effort and even more pain; and how much that hurt and left feelings of sadness and guilt. Or the friends who came for lunch with their 8 month old who would not sleep, and the tense dilemma on either solving this by abandoning their long awaited get together, or riding it out with an over-tired screaming baby and a cold dinner. There were many others, too, once I stopped and thought about it, and I realised I had perhaps just been seeing what I wanted to see, rather than the still amazing but less attractive reality.
Maybe friends do hide their parental stresses and anxieties from those of us without babies; out of politeness, kindness or a social pressure to remain positive. Or maybe they would love a chance to offload and talk, if only we were to ask questions other than:
‘Is it just amazing? I bet you are so happy? It must be the best feeling in the world?’
And the answer to all of these probably is, ‘yes.’ But there is so much more to the most complex thing I will ever do in my life. It IS amazing, and the BEST feeling and I am SO happy. But it is HARD. I am filled regularly with self-doubt, anxiety and guilt over actions and decisions I make that affect my baby day to day. I am obsessed with sleep: his, mine, how much he is getting versus how much he needs, how little I need to survive and keep him safe (not a lot, as it turns out). I am torn, regularly, between trying to get on with it and do all the things that need doing in a day as well as care for him, because I’m not the first person in the world to have a baby; versus sticking to the sacred routine which keeps him pleasant, allows him time to play and sleep, and reduces the chance of bored, grumpy tears from spending half a day stuck in the car seat. I feel silly, often, thinking how complicated I find this, and how though things are loads easier than when my son was a newborn, and play dates really are just a new term for gossip and pigging out, we still have times where I find it tough and I can’t remember the last time that I didn’t collapse into bed with backache and a nagging fear about the night ahead.
I’m quite sure some people find it easier than me, I am positive some find it harder too. Both the parent and baby’s natures and our circumstances must certainly play a part in how smooth and bumpy our days are. But I really don’t believe it is a breeze, for anyone.
I hope that, like for me, there is comfort in knowing that we are not alone in finding this journey dizzying and challenging and amazing and tough. That it’s OK not to enjoy every single moment, and it’s fine not to do 10,000 things every day – and fine if you want to try. But mostly, that what we are doing, bringing up our babies, every day, without fail, is a massive achievement. Anything else, wherever possible, should be considered optional.
How have you found the complex business of baby raising? Tips and tales very welcome for this complete amateur!
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