This one begins at 11.30pm after one of my 7 month old baby’s ‘needy’ days. These happen fairly often, mostly when he’s tired after a bad night. He refuses to have more than three thirty minute naps between 6am and his bedtime of 7pm, and because he’s tired he’s grumpy, and because he’s grumpy he needs constant attention. That’s partly it.
Anyway, as usual, I’d just fallen into a deep sleep when Robin woke me by rolling about and crying. Not enough to need me to do anything. Just enough for me to wake and lie there wondering if it was going to be one of the times he falls back to sleep on his own, or one of the times he doesn’t. And then can I get back to sleep? Not tonight it seems.
The list I stuck to my wall looks at me cheerfully in rainbow colours: Things To Do Every Day! Ideas like
Ten minutes quiet meditation
|In my mind|
At least 15 minutes excercize
Daily housework chore…
Little boxes next to each item wait to be ticked. Maybe tomorrow…
I was chatting with Robin’s Nan today. She joked about how people always tell you ‘oh this phase passes’ but what they don’t say is that it’s replaced instantly by a new, more challenging phase. This is the voice of experience talking. Four children and eight grandchildren. This is the truth nobody tells you until AFTER you’ve got kids and it’s too late to do anything about it.
This is how it is.
|The Self Suffocation Sleeping Position|
So… flash back to last month.
It’s somewhere around three in the morning. I gave up hope of getting any sleep hours ago and brought Robin to bed with me because I couldn’t cope with jumping up every ten minutes to comfort him when he woke up sobbing and struggling to breathe. A word plays on my mind and won’t go away.
That’s what parenting feels like to me.
First there was the overdue pregnancy. 16 days waiting for my precious little son to get his bloody arse in gear and get born. We tried EVERYTHING. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to face fresh pineapple again after the number I ate in that last couple of weeks.
Then there was the birth. Incredible, mind blowing and self-affirming as it was… it was a SLOG. Three days of contractions and sickness. Thank God for the fantastically designed system of hormones that allows a woman to forget all the hard bits and focus in on the sheer heart-exploding love and joy of the experience. I’m just sorry my partner didn’t get that same hormonal cocktail. I think his word for the birth would be ‘traumatising’. I’ve also heard him use the term ‘brutal’.
Don’t even talk to me about the initial six weeks! Robin lulled us into a false sense of security the first three days by being wonderfully calm and contented, then on day four BAM! Everything went out the window as our world collapsed into a vicious circle of difficulties. We had breastfeeding issues which led to sleepless nights and that emergency midnight trip to buy the first of many things we’d sworn we would never use: formula. Which led to 24hour almost constant breastfeeding and lots and lots of tears (from Robin and from me) while we worked out that I couldn’t make enough milk to feed him. The sifting through endless clashing advice on breastfeeding. The horrendous trial and error while we worked out what was wrong. The dreadful coming to terms with what that meant to me. The trip to the hospital where my teeny two week old was swaddled in front of me and held down while they cut his tongue-tie, then given to me screaming and manhandled onto my breast to feed (the last thing he wanted to do at that moment!) The poorly tummies while we found a formula his tiny body could handle. A&E. The doctors…
|Ah, the innocent anticipation|
I had to almost physically concede and grieve the loss of my picture of what life would be like with Robin. “We’ll have the beautiful handmade bedside cot so we can co-sleep at night, then during the day we can put Robin in the refurbished crib his great-grandfather made, downstairs in the studio so I can carry on working. Yes of COURSE we’ll be at Small World Festival! It’s two weeks after the birth but I’m sure we’ll be fine!” It sounds like a joke to me now.
Robin only ever used that bedside cot a handful of times. In the two weeks before his Dad returned to work, he refused to be put down AT ALL and the little sleep he did bless us with was always whilst lying on our chests. Then Daddy had to go back to work and Mummy had to move into the ‘studio’ (now the bedroom-come-baby-room-come-lounge) and sleep on the sofa bed (My choice by the way, I was awake so much at night I preferred to have the TV to keep me company) because Daddy couldn’t operate power tools whilst sleep deprived!
I struggled to keep working, apologising to clients that their purchases were taking longer than planned to make, giving refunds and finding ways to sew whilst breastfeeding (it CAN be done!) before calling off all made-to-order items and putting my sewing machine away upstairs to get dusty.
A festival? Two weeks after giving birth? I still couldn’t WALK two weeks after giving birth!
They keep telling you ‘Oh don’t worry it gets better at 4 weeks’. ‘It gets better at 6 weeks’. ‘At 8 weeks’. ‘At 6 months’… Dangling this carrot of expectation in front of you. It’s all going to get easy soon.
I’ll say that word again now. Relentless.
The feeding issues cleared up but new issues popped up in their place, mostly sleep related. Sleep is a constant issue and when you’re not getting enough… well if you’ve been there you know, if you haven’t you don’t want to know.
And then for me the thing I really wasn’t prepared for was what it was going to be like to have to care for my baby while I was ill. Not just that, but suddenly I’m picking up every bug going! Whether it’s the lack of sleep causing my immune system to be at a low ebb, or the fact that children share viruses like sweeties; I haven’t had more than a couple of weeks between colds or sickness bugs this winter and the most recent one floored me.
Where does this selflessness come from I wonder? In the past, in this state, I would phone in sick, get back into bed and sleep till I was better, only waking for hot toddies and Heinz tomato soup. Now I’m up half the night caring for Robin despite having coughing fits that are leaving me gasping for breath. I’m sitting on the floor with him because he’s decided its playtime, putting on that excited face we use on our babies, even though my head’s throbbing and my whole body aches. I’m trying to sing ‘row row row the boat’ with the little raspy voice I can manage. Robin looks at me with a confused expression. ‘Mummy why do you sound weird?’
And just when I’m starting to get a little better… Robin gets ill and all hope of a few hours sleep is lost. It’s somewhere around 3am and I’m thinking ‘relentless’.
I understand now, you see. It doesn’t just get ‘better’ when he hits a certain number of weeks or months or probably even years. When you have a baby you are in it for the long haul. You learn how to deal with one thing just to be swept sideways by the next. That’s how it works. Because you’re doing probably the most important and responsible job there is in the entire world: you’re creating a human being. The next generation of people to live on and look after the planet. You’re handed this tiny pink bag of wrinkled skin that can’t even hold up its own head and you have to learn how to turn this into a human being; one you can be proud to unleash onto the world declaring ‘I did this!’
But it’s more than that. The thing that keeps you slogging on through bleary days and sleepless nights; that kicks you up the backside when you’re close to giving in; that forces that playful smile onto your face though your body feels like it’s been run over by a lorry… the LOVE. The pure powerful uncontrollable love you develop for this little soul who’s turned your entire world upside down. The all encompassing joy you feel just seeing that smile light up their face. The chest-swelling pride when they learn to do something new. The warm glow you feel when they snuggle up against you.
Because it’s relentless and it’s completely worth it. Every painful moment of it.