One whole year of mothering a living baby. Pretty sure I could write another book about this, but a jam packed blog post will have to suffice for now. It has been such a completely crazy year, in ways that I imagined and ways I never imagined. I know now that it is true, nothing can prepare you for the bedlam of caring for a baby. The idea that my life has changed FOREVER and I can’t even remember the days that weren’t filled with this chaos and love. I have only just come to peacefully accept the ongoing nature of motherhood. For me, I feel like I was prepared for sleepless nights, I had read about teething, I knew that I would be tired. But the biggest changes for me have been more of a mental adjustment. A lot of my newfound motherhood has been spent with thoughts floating in and out my head, feeling judged, confused, proud, alone, emotional, conflicted, brave, scared, failing, winning. Each day brings new challenge, my confidence fluctuates by the hour. And really, I’ve come to realise as this first year has drawn to a close, that most of what I worried and stressed about all turned out ok in the end anyway, like everyone said it would. So here is a quick summary of a year of learning through experience…
First things first, I’ve absolutely just muddled through. Each time I found my feet and discovered a working routine, everything has changed. Ravens sleeping, eating, interests, ability, overall mood… it is changing constantly. It took me a while to realise that I’ll never feel in complete control, and that just rolling with it is how all mothers survive.
As someone who has always been ‘a do-er’ I’ve struggled with the frustration of trying to get things done or trying to just ‘nip out’. I’ve wanted to reorganise the spare room and dash off to tick some jobs off. But everything takes longer with a baby in tow, and a smooth trip out is not guaranteed. I’ve had to remind myself often that there will always be jobs to do and sometimes sacking off the ‘jobs’ in place of crawling through a tunnel with a giggling baby is actually the way forward.
I have been subconsciously dragged into the Instagram idea of perfection. Fashionable mothers, catalogue homes, beautifully set up play ideas for babies. I have tried to maintain that and I have felt a failure when I realised I could not. Then I remembered that people CHOOSE what they post and no one is going to choose to post a picture of the pile of laundry on the stairs or their hair that’s been unwashed for three days. It doesn’t matter if I’m not looking like a yummy mummy or if my house is messy (and trust me, Instagram may say otherwise, but both my face and house can be hella messy.) What matters is a loved baby.
I have spent many hours wondering how I co created such a funny, cheery, bright little babe.
I have rowed more than ever with my husband. Our familiar life has been so monumentally disrupted that at times it feels like we have started all over again. We’ve both had to figure out our new roles and learn to respect the efforts and needs of the other. We had to take time to restore balance, figure out who is now responsible for what and see the worth in both sides.
Within that disruption I’ve come to realise that ‘mum life’ and ‘dad life’ are very different, but both are of great value. The mental workload that I carry as I try to organise clothes and food and naps and teething and tidying is not mirrored by my husband. No, Dean will never remember where the Calpol lives or what to pack for a day out. But he has taught Raven laughter and he has taught me to chill a bit – because if I’ve forgotten her raincoat or she’s nodded off before she’s eaten, it’s never THE END OF THE WORLD like I think it is. And her face when he chases her around the nursery is just priceless. His lack of mental workload makes him F U N and she adores him, she needs him just as much as she needs me.
I have been thankful for sought after guidance, and frustrated by uninvited ‘advice’. I’ve come to realise that lots of people have opinions. I’ve mentally rolled my eyes as the same parenting phrases are spoken to me time and time again. And I’ve realised that the best parenting advice comes from those without children. (I’m kidding of course… instinct is the best mothering tool we own, trusting our gut, finding strength and confidence to say what we are doing is right for you and your baby.)
I have discovered that £1 church playgroups are for the win. Simply turn up, plop your baby down amongst a sea of toys and other tiny humans, and enjoy a hot cuppa and a biscuit. I’ve made some new friends, Raven thrives with the other babies, we both learnt new songs… winner winner curry dinner.
I have felt lonely at times, despite a healthy group of friends and family. It is not consuming, rather just a little background feeling, coming to the surface in the dark evenings and the days when the house was quiet except for my own voice. As Raven becomes less potato and more person, and her voice has grown with her, those lonelier feelings seem to have subsided. But still I expect them to continue, and I think largely that is because we live in such a separated society, so vastly different from our original biological needs.
I have filled my home with primary coloured musical flashing plastic and thanked Iggle Piggle for keeping my baby busy whilst I fold the washing or finish off some writing. And I have laughed at my pre baby self for saying I would not do those things and for promising to keep the lounge carpet looking brand new. (Mushed up biscuit daily.).
I have woken up in the morning with my baby, and been excited for what the day holds with my mini partner in crime, thinking excitedly ‘what can we do today?’ And I have also woken up and sighed at the endless stretch of days laid out before me and thought, ‘what do we do today?’.
I have filled those days with play dates and loved the interaction and watching my baby play and socialise. And I have wanted empty days where I don’t have to pack a bag and lug the pushchair into the car boot and hope baby squeezes a perfectly timed nap in before the fun begins.
I have realised that at some point the novelty of new baby wears thin for some people, but those who love her are ever present.
Some days I have absolutely thrived one on one with my daughter, a sweet shared lunch, a garden bath and milky cuddles. And some days I have found myself waiting for my husband to get home, clock watching, lethargic, branding myself boring for my baby and then being mad at myself for not cherishing each and every moment. But you can’t can you, you can’t enjoy EVERY moment? But you can, and will, look back and enjoy ALL the memories.
I have learnt to never give baby the car key to hold – she will throw it over a fence with impressive distance and you will have to fish it out the other side with a stick.
I have looked for ‘my crew’ and wondered which gang I sit with when it comes to discussing motherhood. I have looked around at the crowds of mothers and confidently positioned myself at the ‘bed sharing – breastfeeding – baby led weaning – baby wearing’ table. I felt like I found some like minded mothers, which is always encouraging as a new mum. But I have also come to realise that this leaves me pigeon holed and closed minded. The discovery that even mothers that tick all those boxes still do some things differently to me. It took me a long time to realise that there are never two women who mother exactly the same. Some of the greatest advice or kind words I have received have been from mothers I would have once positioned outside of ‘my camp’. I have realised that we are all just doing our best, in different ways, and the richness is in less strict grouping and more relaxed sharing.
I have breastfed in the picture frame department of my local Ikea, after a thirsty baby relentlessly tapped and pulled at my top and I shuffled into a corner and tried to release a boob without making a scene. It turns out I’m not so shy at feeding in public, mainly because I just I don’t have the patience to forever seek cover.
I have faffed and worried far too much about my baby’s sleep. I read into the narrative we are sold ‘sleeping through the night is the goal, in their own room at 6 months, 2 naps at 10 months, don’t let baby nap too late, bed by seven’. I have seriously wasted too much time and energy worrying about routine and creating bad habits. You know what I learnt? That not sleeping through by one year is as normal as a baby that does, and a baby that will only nap on me is not needy or fussy, just a baby seeking comfort. And I learnt that babies don’t have to be in bed at seven, they just have to be in bed when they are tired and ready, and sometimes in our house that is 9.30. Bedtimes with Raven are my favourite.
I have felt exhausted, overwhelmed, confused and emotional. And I have wondered in those moments if any other mums feel the same way.
I have done ridiculous things to keep my baby happy and meet all her needs. Raven used to hate the car seat, she would scream on any car trip and my heart would break as I drove unable to console a baby with wide pleading eyes. After a Christmas shopping trip out with my mum I couldn’t take the tears as we headed home, so I parked up halfway back and left my mum to drive as I walked the rest of the journey with a tiny smiling baby bundled up in my coat. Then there was the night Raven was fast asleep but felt warm. I didn’t want to wake her so I cut the legs from her sleep suit into shorts. Then I sat there with the empty feet and legs and felt like a total plonker.
There are the miles of walking in the pushchair, the times I wondered what I needed from the shop just to take baby for a sleepy walk. And now Ray actually nods off everywhere I drive, there are the countless times I have sat in the car so as not to risk disturbing a nap. It’s how I finished writing that book.
I have judged others and felt judged. I have felt like the way I was doing something was the best way, and wanted to share this with everyone. And I have felt like everything I was doing was wrong and I’m a flapping failure.
I have made friends and lost friends. Having a baby has changed me, it has changed my priorities and life outlook. Alongside the many ways it has limited me, it has also vastly encouraged me.
I have loved so deeply, to a whole new level. Having a living baby has brightened my life. My gravitational pull has shifted away from ‘me’ and positioned itself instead around ‘her’. She is my world and I am her moon. I build everything around her, around her nap times, her meal times, her bed times, around her happiness and her development. She is an extension of me, a vibrant, energetic, priceless little extension of me. Before she was born I couldn’t imagine a world with her in it, now I can’t imagine a world without her in it. She is my everything. I have rediscovered purpose and pure love. Being a mother to my little girl has been both easier and harder than I thought it would be. Now let’s see what year 2 brings…