Friday, 2 March 2012

The whole truth - part two

Yesterday I was talking about how as parents we often seem keener to share either the horror stories - "look how hard we had it" - or a picture of 'perfect family life' - 'we're so good and capable and brilliant that we found all to be just wonderful" - when we are talking to other parents and no more so than when we are talking to expectant parents as we relish our role as the 'font of all knowledge'.

When we were away last weekend with two of The Friends who are expecting their first child in three months time, we got to talking about what to expect from the first few weeks after the baby is born.  They have been told time and time again from other parents about how 'hard' this time will be.  Is this an accuarate description though?  Is it 'hard'? What does 'hard' mean?  The vagueness of the description together with it's negative implications don't exactly provide a helpful picture to someone who is bracing themselves for what will happen once their little person has arrived into the world.

I imagine that everyone will have a different experience of this time, but looking back, this is how I found it. The first time round I was shocked at how little I felt prepared for having the baby here as an acutal living breathing thing. The reality of this new responsibility hit me during the overnight stay I had in hospital after the delivery.  With that very long labour I'd had pain relief which wore off just as The Eight Year Old's Dad was forced to leave the hospital for night leaving me with the realisation that I was now the person in sole charge of this brand new person.  When I needed the loo I wondered whether I should take the baby with me or leave him on the ward.  With few staff around to ask and feeling my question wasn't worthy of ringing the call alarm button I'd been left with (surely I should know what to do?) I shuffled off to the bathroom wheeling the cumbersome hospital crib in which my little one slept.  That was the first of many situations I would face not knowing what I was 'supposed' to do.

Of course we'd prepared on a practical level in terms of buying a whole load of baby equipment that we envisaged needing but on an emotional level I wasn't really ready for how all-consuming it would be or how little control I would have over daily life.  I think the most useful advice to me at this time would have been if somone had told me to 'let go' of what I thought I should be doing each day and to try to relax and trust my instinct.  During the first couple of weeks new parents have a full time job of caring for their newborn and so feeling as if we should be doing other things is an unnecessary pressure.  If all you feel like doing is sitting on the sofa for a couple of weeks (as I did!) and watching TV and napping inbetween the almost constant feeding and changing demanded by a newborn then just go with it. So what if the house is a mess - actually I cared, and then I got a grip on myself and realised that a messy house would probably be a way of life for some time to come!.   

In order to try to gain some control over my new life when The (now) Eight Year Old entered into my world, I did my usual trick of reading up.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of some of that reading being the rigid - and in my opinion, unrealistic - regime of the one and only Gina Ford.  I can honestly say this woman almost caused me to have a nervous breakdown, such a failure did I feel at not being able to make Ms Ford's prescribed baby routine work. I felt so much better when I eased up on myself and realised that we're all different - parents and babies alike - and as such, it's not a case of 'one size fits all'.  Some babies like to sleep, it turns out mine didn't!  Some babies get colic (one of mine did), some don't! Some babies snack all the time, others are happy with fewer bigger feeds! Some Mum's are able to breastfeed, some can't (or don't want to), and that's ok, it's YOUR decision.  I also felt better once I'd ripped up the Gina Ford book and put it in the bin - I didn't want to risk another new parent finding it in a charity shop!

This time round with The Baby (who's now seven months), well, our lack of respect for routine - in both the early weeks and to a lesser extent now - would have Gina Ford rolling her eyes and having us carted away by the 'routine-police'.  Having the benefit of already living in the chaos of family life meant  that it was much less of a shock to the system to introduce another family member into the mix.  I've put much less pressure on myself to 'do the right thing' and instead we've gone with a 'doing what feels right to us at any given time' sort of approach.  As for the state of our house...most of the time it looks as if a bomb's just gone off, I try to ignore it, which sometimes works.  Mainly, I try to be nice to myself whilst doing my best to look after my boys - I am not some kind of superhero-woman who needs to do it all, it's ok just being 'good enough'.

So is it 'hard' looking after a new baby?  Hard doesn't cover it really.  At times it is draining, frustrating, anxiety inducing, mind boggling, relentless. Coping with the lack of sleep and rollercoaster of emotions can be a killer. And that's if things are straightforward! But you know what, it can also be wonderful and magical. During those early precious weeks as you start getting to know each other, it's a bit like being in a bubble. and before you know it, the 'bubble' bursts and you're back in the real world. 


  1. Hello! Thanks for these last couple of posts. I haven't started reading much beyond "What to expect when you're expecting" (my sister's old copy on her recommendation that it was the only one that she really used a lot). I can't see us going down the strict routine route with much success either and it's good to know that it's even worth aspiring too. Common sense is good :)

    Hope you all had a fun weekend together too. I'm sorry we missed you over Christmas but we'll have to catch up when we've finished growing our new person to the outside world phase of life.


  2. The 'What to expect' series are the only books I'd recommend as they seem to be the most balanced - we use the 'What to expect in the first year' as a reference now and again but even with that I find it best to avoid reading too avidly as I start getting hung up on where we should be (this probably says more about me than the book!).

    Looking forward to seeing you soon and meeting your little one :)