Look at Life: New Baby

4th October 2019

Notes from a New Mum

By Jennifer Lipman

It’s 3am, days after my son’s birth, and he’s screaming blue murder. The last remaining sterilised dummy is face down on the floor and I am cursing that I only purchased one set. Luckily, Amazon does next day delivery, leaving me questioning how anyone had a baby before internet shopping.

They say nothing prepares you for becoming a parent and that’s probably true. How can you possibly anticipate the rollercoaster of life with an infant before you get on board? How can you possibly appreciate just how much you’ll spend online; clicking on things that sound like miracle solutions in the wee hours, only to be surprised when the doorbell buzzes the next day.

That said, there are things I could’ve done with knowing. For one, how strange maternity leave would be; simultaneously the busiest and least busy I’ve ever been. I wish I’d known too that, for a time, I would be defined only by my progeny; that all anyone would speak to me about would be him and his wellbeing. That all I’d have to speak about would be poo, and sleep, and feed times. And that I should savour leaving the house with just my phone and keys: an unencumbered existence that would shortly be curtailed.

More seriously, I wish my antenatal classes – useful though they were for generating a ready-made group of mum chums – had focused more on the emotional side of becoming a mother. I wish I’d known how much I’d cry in those first weeks, sobbing, sometimes because of him, sometimes for no ostensible reason at all.

I wish the midwives had taught me more about bottle feeding, and spent less time warning that if I didn’t breastfeed my son would be more likely to end up obese and/or a criminal. Specifically, I wish I’d been aware that I might not be able to breastfeed, that for reasons known only to biology I might not produce enough milk and be left with no choice. I wish I’d known that lots of women experience this, or have babies who are tongue tied, and that not every newborn suckles contentedly at first glimpse of a nipple.

I wish I’d known that every day would be a new challenge, a new experience; that the certainties of day three would give way to the queries of day six as my baby developed and changed. Equally, I wish I’d known to savour those early days; those tough, maddening hours when he did little but cry or feed. I wish I’d understood that impossibly soon I would be packing away the newborn outfits, nostalgic for the tiny, fledgling creature my son once was.

I wish I’d known just how different my body would feel afterwards, when it was almost entirely in the service of a tiny human. After nine months, I had been so excited to return to normal. I wish I’d realised normal was a long way off, but also that every small step – fast walking on the treadmill, or fitting in to my pre-pregnancy jeans – would feel like one in the right direction.

I knew to a point – but not fully – that being a mum is fraught with pressure. I wish I’d realised just how many decisions I’d have to make, day in, day out, about what kind of parent I want to be; from posting photos on social media to using reusable nappies or feeding on demand versus instilling a routine from the get go, or pink versus blue. It’s impossible to know beforehand how much every moment of motherhood is a new question.

I wish somebody had told me there is no fitting the baby around you; he or she is a little emperor, the parents mere subjects. That I’d be writing this while holding him and trying to rock him to sleep. But at the same time I wish I’d been reassured that I would be able to get him into a routine; that I would, eventually, be able to make a plan and keep to it, or leave the house on time, or steal a few minutes for some task or other, or spend time with my partner just the two of us.

I didn’t expect the constant fear; the fact that my heart would race at every snuffle, and that, as the weeks progressed, I would only worry more. And, as someone who was incredibly nervous before becoming a mother – excited, yes, but terrified too – I wish I’d known I would love enough of it, that the night feeds and constant caregiving would be outweighed by the joy of a first smile or a contented gurgle.

Most of all, I wish I’d known that every parent is just making it up as they go along.

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