Our son is six months old today. Six months. It’s not really that long in adult time, but when it’s the entire length of your time on this planet, it’s quite a while. It’s also quite a long time when you consider that in those six months someone has gone from quite literally sleeping, eating and pooing to seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, communicating and everything in between. The sleeping has taken a bit of a drop but the eating has increased and the other thing has stayed pretty much the same. Our little man came into this world screaming, and he didn’t stop screaming for near on three hours then he slept, and my husband and I spent the better part of our first night staring at him wondering what the heck just happened. A lot has changed in six months, we’ve learned a lot and we’ve grown a lot and everything is completely different and yet oddly familiar. So I figure there’s no better time than the present to share some of the things that I have learned over these last six months.
- The first few moments after you’ve given birth are soooooo not what you expect.
Everyone says having a child is the most incredible thing you will ever do, they say the moment your baby is handed to you, you experience a love like you never thought possible; that it feels as though your heart will explode and you just know what to do. Sounds almost magical right? Like the most natural and instinctive thing in the whole world.
Too bad it’s utter bullshit.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that there are women out there who 100% experience that and just fall so madly in love with their child and are calm and peaceful and content and everything else all in one and that’s awesome. Me? I was handed a screaming, slightly purple, child wrapped so tightly in a blanket that he looked like the smallest doll in the babushka dolls and I went completely blank. I had blood on my face from where my son had been put against me, I couldn’t feel my lower body, I was fighting the urge to vomit (turns out that’s a side effect of the drugs you’re given) and there was this… tiny… little… foghorn… screaming in my face. After about an hour my first thought was not “oh my God, this is just the most beautiful and incredible experience of my entire life.” That was jumbled in there somewhere I imagine, but I can remember very distinctly thinking… “How… exactly… do I get him to not make that noise?”
The overwhelming love and sense of completeness and calm comes later. The calm comes MUCH later (I’m still waiting for that one to kick in fully).
- The births on TV shows and movies are all dirty, dirty lies.
The woman always looks a little bit drowsy but totally miraculously wonderful, ‘glowing’ some may say. Nine times out of ten she is sleeping whenever other people walk into the room, she’s happy and completely mobile wandering freely about the room like a small watermelon did not just exit her body. The baby is all snuggly and warm and remarkably alert for someone who has just been yanked into a bright, loud, cold world. So… Lies.
Here’s what my reality was like: Those first few days in the hospital room were a blur. I think more people have seen my privates in those first few days than my entire lifetime and, more amazingly, I can remember not giving a damn. Sporadically nurses would come in, lift the sheets and my gown, check my bits, inject me with something or other, then ask me to make sure my next toilet trip was made into a pooper scooper that sat on the toilet seat and to call them so they could “check it out”. My dear little boy certainly wasn’t all big eyes and windy smiles. He was puffy, he resembled an angry, pink old man and he spent the entire first night looking like he was foaming at the mouth as he got the remnants of amniotic fluid from his tiny little lungs. I didn’t sleep, I spent the whole time staring at his little cot at the end of the bed watching as more fluid leaked out of his mouth. Of course, because I couldn’t move and randomly couldn’t hear him breathing I would smack my husband across the arm and force him to check that our little boy was okay. The next few days were filled with tears (mostly mine), exhausted smiles, welcome visitors, break downs (again, mostly mine) and a sense of both fear and excitement for the next stage of our lives. When it came time to be discharged I was equal parts terrified, unprepared, excited and all ‘I’m gonna be the most badass mother there ever lived!’ This is true to this very day (last part still pending of course.)
- If one more person so much as uttered the words “sleep when the baby sleeps” I would have gone postal.
The sentiment is a good one. It’s utter bollocks, but the concept is good. Sleeping when the baby sleeps is by far and large a learned skill. The first few months when the baby slept I spent my time staring at him making sure he was still breathing. Then when I started to get comfortable with the fact he was breathing I’d close my eyes and he’d wake up. Because that’s what babies do. They wait, right until you’re about to lie down and have ten seconds to yourself and they decide sleep time is officially over.
- Tired has a whole new level of intense… and it’s okay.
I used to think I was tired before. I hear people tell me they’re ‘tired’ now and I think, “Aw, how sweet. You only strung together a solid six hours last night instead of your normal eight and you think that makes you tired.” No discredit there, I remember what that level of tired was like, it sucked. But this sucks more. There are days where I am certain I have had at a push maybe two hours of (broken) sleep. There are nights where I am awake every. single. hour. There was a whole month where I had so little sleep that I had convinced myself that was how I was going to die. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. You start to go just slightly insane. Your brain plays horrible, horrible tricks on you. Don’t panic. This is entirely normal. It is entirely normal to visualise yourself tripping and dropping your precious baby onto a tiled floor head first. It’s normal to have full blown conversations with yourself, and think you’re talking to your partner. More importantly, it’s completely and utterly normal to burst into tears at any given moment over absolutely nothing. What’s not normal is pretending that everything is just fine. Sleep deprivation sucks. It’s painful and it’s upsetting and it makes you feel sick, but what got me through was the realisation that a) it wasn’t going to be forever and b) it really really wasn’t going to be forever.
- Family and friends are worth their weight in gold.
I think that one pretty much speaks for itself. I have laughed with, cried with, cried at, leaned on, relied on, cried on more of my family and friends in the last six months than ever before. If you’re lucky enough to have good people around you that are willing to help you out or sit with you, or whatever it is you need, use them. They are irreplaceable and they make everything feel just that little bit less chaotic.
- It’s okay to want some time out.
Being a parent is draining sometimes. It’s exhausting and sometimes it’s utterly demoralizing. When you’re into your twenty-seventh hour of unrelenting whining or crying or screaming or whatever, you do have a moment when you think, I can’t do this. I don’t know what the hell my baby needs and I’m a terrible parent. That’s okay. It’s okay to not want to sit and stare at your child every second of every day. On the flip side, it’s also completely normal to spend an hour just watching them do absolutely nothing at all.
- Stand by your style of parenting and for the love of God do not Google
Co-sleep, don’t co-sleep. Your child should only be dressed in organic silk that’s been dipped in hummingbird saliva and woven into a beautiful ornate garment made from baby monks living at the top of Mount Everest, your baby shouldn’t wear anything that wasn’t mass produced in a sweat shop in China. Breastfeed, bottle feed, disposable nappies, cloth nappies, routines, no routines, prams, strollers, baby wearing, baby yoga, baby yogalates, baby rugby… okay maybe not that last one. Whatever the hell it is that you choose to do, if it’s working for you and your family and you’re getting some peace and some happiness and some rest by doing it… keep doing it. Also, do not judge another parent for doing something you chose not to do, or not doing something you do. If their parenting style isn’t harming or neglecting their child and doesn’t affect or interrupt your parenting style, then it’s not your place to judge… But the reality is every mother judges someone else’s style of parenting against their own, for better or worse, it’s what happens. That’s cool, but don’t ever make another mother feel bad for what they’re doing. That’s not cool.
Parenting is a whole other world. It’s full of ups and downs, good days and challenging days. For me, it’s been full of new surprises and it’s hands down the best adventure I have ever had. For one emotion or thought, there is always the opposite. I have moments where I get so utterly tired of hearing my boy whinging over nothing that I can barely stand to even look at him, I have moments where the only thing I want to do is stare at him even if it means I miss out on precious sleep. Hearing his laugh for the first time made me cry, it was the most fantastic sound I had ever heard. Seeing my husband with my son still makes me feel this insane, intense love. It makes me want to smoosh both of their faces with never ending kisses. Being a mother has turned my whole life upside down in the most wonderful way. It would be unrealistic to say it hasn’t changed me because it definitely has, but it’s made me grow. It’s made me realise things about myself that I didn’t know before. It’s solidified my values and my hopes and ambitions. Having my son has changed my marriage as well, it’s made us stronger. It was challenging at first because we both felt disconnected for a while like we were just two ships passing in the night. But having our son has made both of us value the time we get to spend together, even more, it’s made our conversations richer, our emotions stronger and our world that much brighter.
Parenting is exhausting and overwhelming and wonderful. It’s intense and beautiful and challenging and every single day is new and different. These first six months have taught me a lot, most of all it’s taught me that despite appearances, every single parent out there is 100% winging it. There is no rule book, there is no definite ‘correct’ way of parenting. There’s just you and your child and in the end, that’s what matters.
And finally because this guy seems to be popping up in my feed more and more lately I wanted to leave you with this little vibe:
I want him to grow up knowing he’s the shit. I mean, sometimes he pisses me off. He’ll throw something across the room or he’ll keep me up all night, but then he’ll wake me up and say ‘I love you like the ocean.’ And you get up and do it again. It’s the best thing ever – Norman Reedus (on son Mingus)
Being a parent is easy, being the type of parent your children hope they’ll be one day… that’s the bigger challenge.