Our baby likes to take all the cards out of our wallets and sort through them, bowing her head, totally absorbed in the task. Things start to get lost: the Oyster card is gone, the credit card is gone. We look under sofas but they are are nowhere to be seen, in the mysterious way that things disappear in the house. She rifles through my wash bag and when I try to put my make up on on the train to work I find there is no mascara, no concealer, no blusher. All gone, I say in the mornings, as she finishes her last spoonful of cereal. GOH, she chants, GOH. Gone gone gone.
Baby sleep problems come and go, exhaustion comes and goes. It’s a blip in our lives which are a blip in human history. It is real and miserable too of course. Something Buddhists teach: life is always painful, but you don’t have to live your life in cycles of suffering (what do we do with pain, do we keep repeating it, feeling it over and over, creating stories about it, or can we feel it and let it go?)
She is more intrepid and sweet and funny than ever. She shouts CAAAA at the cat in Each Peach Pear Plum and the tiny cat on the bottom of a page in Peace At Last and at cats very far off in the distance when we go out for a walk. She picks up tiny specks of dust and inspects them closely. She tries to grab the bubbles I blow for her, that form and then disappear. She crawls like Mowgli, with her bum in the air. We walk up and down the hall, her holding onto both my hands and then in the following weeks, just one of my hands. I try and steer her in a certain direction but she has a very clear idea of where she wants to go. The time when she was tiny and would fit in the nook of my arm is totally gone.
I go on the residential for my yoga teacher training and at some point on the third day, pretty much everyone cries. I lie on the floor at the end of a class and pull my hood over my face and feel embarrassed to fit so neatly into a cliche, to be faced with this emotion in a room full of people. I don’t know if we’d still all be crying if we’d been meditating for days instead of the moving meditation that is yoga. In meditation you have to face yourself. This is a healthy way to live, close to our us-ness. And in the deep release of muscles there seems to be some additional undoing, as if stress and tension become held in our bodies: they are embroideries stitched with everything that has happened to us. We wear all of it, carry all of it, are capable of shedding it if we want to.
I stand in the dark and sing to the baby until she is asleep, until her body has gone all floppy and I can hear the steady rise and fall of her breath. My arms are tired from yoga and holding her. My arms are strong from yoga and holding her.
The week of my training, when I am lying on the floor, I feel completely insignificant and also the sense of an edge of a perception of vastness. There are so many things I cannot name. I contain multitudes: the only Walt Whitman line I know.
In our anatomy class we learn that, under our skin, our body is covered by a web of connective tissue called fascia. Our teacher tells us you can go to a laboratory to dissect it, that it’s dense and fibrous like a body stocking. Everything is joined up: if you massage a part of the back, the big toe will move.
When I live my life with a modicum of breath and body awareness I feel 100% better. I just need to remember to do it. We barely remember we have bodies, even though they are our constant companions. When we are worried they won’t sleep. When we are worried we feel physical pain, we vomit, we shake. When we experience serious stress our hair can fall out, our hearts can malfunction, we are more likely to get cancer. We feel insects crawl over us that we can’t see. Amputees feel limbs that are not there. We gasp and hold our breath and our heart rate increases and the body moves into fight or flight response – literally, neurons synapse and release a chemical which activate a receptor which in turn releases a stress hormone that jiggles and niggles and wiggles inside us. Our digestive system slows, our pupils dilate.
And we run and we feel better. We do yoga or walk or climb and we feel better.
One evening I am peeling vegetables and listening to someone on the radio talk about 49 people killed in a nightclub in Orlando, and 50 families getting mown down by a murderer in France, and Brexit and Syria. Is the sky falling in? Is it a bloody stretch of history? I am so caught up with my own thoughts and worries I slice the front of my thumb off with a mandolin. I stare at the blood gushing out of my hand: the physical shock of it reminds me that I am a body too.
In Ireland, I swim in the sea for the first time in years, blinking into the blue sea and the white light on the water in front of me and the bobbing horizon in front of me. Why have I left it this long to jump in the water? I cannot begin to imagine. My hands and feet go numb and I feel free and very alive. It makes my life look like an old Super-8 film, a reel of perfection. But really my life can look however I want it to.
Sometimes when I am sad I drink too much and sometimes I shop too much like Carrie fucking Bradshaw. But generally these days I think I am better at feeling sadness and not distracting myself from it, at standing in the way of it and letting it hit me like a truck. Sometimes I comfort myself imagining the narrative of Anyone Else in The World: some German family in a shopping mall in their raincoats. A Japanese guy coming home from a night out. An older Australian lady walking her dog along a beach. It helps me remember that I am not the only person in the world, that all my shit is just … all my shit.
In another yoga class we read the Buddhist scripture, the Heart Sutra: Gone, gone, totally gone, totally completely gone. Something about this idea that not one thing lasts, that nothing has an essence and everything disintegrates, is deeply comforting to me. Not because it makes it easy to accept that things end. Just that it seems easier to live with the truth.
A friend deals with her existential crises by watching documentaries about space. The comforting enormity of galaxies, the resulting shrinking of our internal world. There are 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way (the sun is just one of them) and outside of the Milky Way there are millions upon millions more galaxies with hundreds of thousands of millions of stars in them.
“The eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutra are a path to help you reach a state of Yoga, or focused concentration. But this focused concentration is not the end goal … the result of reaching this state of attention is that you experience clearer perception and a greater connection with your true self … Patanjali writes, “As a result, the covering that blocks our own inner light is reduced.”
I don’t know if any of us have a true self, an essence; I don’t know if that is the edge of the perception I am sensing as I lie on the mat. Or maybe what I am sensing is some kind of revelation or truth, though I don’t even know if there is such a thing as the truth. I guess I am feeling a better sense of perspective about all the things that don’t matter and all the things that I should let go. Nick Cave has been in my head these past weeks:
I don’t believe in an interventionist God
I know darling that you do
But I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you.
I think of the things I believe in and they swell up my heart, they swim in my head. They are here, here, here.
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I hold this letter in my hand
A plea, a petition, a kind of prayer
I hope it does as I have planned
Losing her is more than I can bear
I kiss the cold, white envelope
I press my lips against her name
Two hundred words. We live in hope
The sky hangs heavy with rain
– Love Letter, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The whole of my year should be hers
Who has rendered already so many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more happy
Who has left a shadow on my life, and my walls dancing over and over with her shadow
– from Autumn Journal, Louis Macniece
Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.
– Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
My daughter Rosa is one today. I can’t believe it. And also I can. The longest shortest most difficult best year of my life blah blah!
It was so hard at first. I was very anxious. I remember someone saying “this time next year she’ll be pottering around the garden and splashing in the paddling pool”; it was unimaginable. But she really is! The intensity of looking after a baby creates a myopic view. We can’t imagine how or when things will change.
I remember finding it a huge relief to meet up with people with older kids, as if I needed proof that babies would grow up, tie their own shoelaces, run around and be ok without a constant maternal presence. I found my sister’s house, where children did homework, read books, watched films and played in the garden, a real solace. Mothers did not have to constantly worry. Life would regain a normal rhythm. We would find a way back to ourselves.
I have read thousands of words about babies in the last year, far too many. One thing I read said: “we get the baby we are supposed to get – they are sent to teach us something that we need to learn.” I don’t buy such ideas about fate and I don’t know if I have learned any brand-new life lessons. Instead familiar things have come to me in fever-pitch, gargantuan crash courses in patience, despair, exhaustion, love. In the struggle and the joy I locate many versions of myself: calm and kind, anxious and sad, impatient and furious.
Yesterday, wasn’t it, that she was lying in her baby bouncer staring at the light reflecting off the wall? And today she crawls to me and says “mama!” and chooses all the blue blocks from the box and solemnly hands them to me one by one. What a total genius, I think.
I planned to have a baby but I forgot that I would also have a person. She is so person-y these days. Every day something new is revealed. She crawls furiously and waves her hands in the air and gabbles in strange pre-language that is part-Moomin, part Sarah Lund: “byah-byah-byah-jer-jer”. We squeal and blow raspberries and roll on the bed. We clean our teeth together, which she finds hysterical. She looks towards the sky, says vaguely “caaaah”. When we go in the park and she sees the trees a broad grin lights across up her face. She points at everything and says “oooooooh.”
Every time I have tried to make her do something it makes her want to do it less. Her refusals and tears, the strength of her will create a space I am forced to step backwards into and quietly wait. I become a silent witness. I cannot make anything happen. I cannot force a baby to eat. I cannot force a baby to sleep. I try and accept everything and not worry about it, but the process of accepting things is like everything else, it never ends. I keep trying and I will keep trying. When I lose perspective I lose sight of her, too, her personhood, until I spot it again and can’t imagine how she ever appeared as a cluster of problems to be solved.
She pulls herself up to standing via the back of my legs and I look down at her. Her skin is creamy and peachy at the same time and she has very very soft reddy-blond hair. She is perfectly chubby and has a round face like a little bear and big blue eyes and her dad’s round forehead. I have never seen anyone so beautiful.
The bad bits of me have appeared loudly in the last year, the part that has a few times shouted in despair at a small sleep-refusing baby, the part that has walked out of a room when they were needed, the part that has furiously kissed the baby to substitute for wanting to kick or punch something very hard. I found myself wondering why she wasn’t doing what she was supposed to be doing, wishing bitterly for her to be like the other babies, the ones who would sleep in their own cots, stay asleep in loud supermarkets, stay asleep all night.
When I put her in her cot to get her into her sleeping bag she gets very excited and kicks wildly like she is on a trampoline. She has an ecstatic look in her eye and her soft blonde hair bounces too and she looks like a small much more beautiful Boris Johnson. For two naps a day and one bedtime I say “let’s zip you into your sleepy bag, make you all cosy” as if this message can subliminally enter her consciousness and make her snoozy. It never works.
Many, many times I have rocked and fed and sung to her and patted her to sleep, bending over the cot and killing my back and seriously straining my vocal chords. I am a right mug. I am a right mum. I imagine I will be laying down with her to go to sleep when she is a toddler. She will be saying “muuuuuum I need a drink” “muuuum I am a bit hot” and refusing to let me leave until she is asleep and I will be a (mostly) willing hostage because I am soft as shit, and because of all my love. She will cause me all kinds of trouble. All this trouble will be in my head and in my life and in my heart.
Mostly, I think that she is a joy to be around. I can’t help but believe this is objectively true. I can’t help but believe that she will grow up and have everyone think this about her. I can’t help but think that boys and girls will find her very easy to love.
It is so productive to love our babies now that we know that neurologically they need it to develop into a happy adults. Loving them, doing all we can for them is playing the long game, pouring ourselves into their futures. It is many hours of playing peek-a-boo and reading the same books again and again. Of passing a piece of Lego back and forth while they shriek with joy. Of pacing the room with them in your arms.
Happy first birthday my Rosa. I love you more than anything else. I have no idea if you are the baby I was “supposed” to have. But you are the baby that I’m so glad I have. I think that every day.
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My maternity leave is officially over. I have mixed feelings, like most mothers do. I feel ready to have “work” in my life again, and I will be sad every time that I have to walk out the house and spend the day without her, and I know she will be fine, and I will miss long lovely days with her, and I will miss long difficult days with her less. I felt excited this week about the prospect of being out in the world next week, and then I realised I hadn’t really thought about going back to work and being away from her and I suddenly cried hot, guilty tears all over her. She looked at me curiously, and I felt bad that I couldn’t prepare her for the fact that I will be around less. But, see above: she will be fine.
Yesterday I stood and looked in the mirror while I was breastfeeding her. She is massive. She is one in a few weeks, officially a toddler. Annoyingly, people are right. Time flies. I can see why people keep having babies, even though they are a bloody nightmare. It is a way of trying to hold onto time.
I know that we will have many more lovely days together. But we will have less of those days that are lovely specifically because you look after your child full-time – perhaps because you’ve had a few hard days in a row and the day seems all the better by comparison, or because you are tired and have fun in spite of it, or because you’ve nearly made it to the end of the week, or because it’s the beginning of the week and you have the sense of the full week ahead and fun stuff you can do together.
And sometimes because you get into this rhythm of small things, small moments, and it’s say Thursday at 3pm, and you’ve had nearly the whole week to get into this groove of small things and small moments and you both just seem to like it. A little routine together. Popping to the shops. A late afternoon walk. Part of me is worried that she won’t get into this pattern when we are together in the future, because she will anticipate the next time I go away and feel clingy and on-edge. But even if this is true, I suppose this is life: people leave, and they come back, and they leave again. It is one of the things I can’t protect her from.
We have had lots of great, busy days out, but mostly the ones I will remember are when we didn’t really do anything special at all. When we walked to the swings and back, or up to Sainsburys to get something and then back for lunch, a.k.a. Rosa cramming avocado and bananas and raisins and tomatoes in her mouth and saying MMMM, then swigging on her sippy cup like an old drunk. When it got to about 4pm, and I thought hmmm what shall we do now, and then she amused herself for 39 minute by gathering up clean washing in a pile around her and throwing it out again and gathering it up again.
This is one of my favourite things, to watch her become absorbed in something. She knows I’m nearby – if I try and sneak off to make a cup of tea she squawks or crawls after me – but when I am in her view, she can sit and play for a long time. She looks up at me and grins a lot, and I wave at her. I am right here, I think.
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When I was pregnant I read a lot of positive birth stories and it helped me feel prepared. Our baby is nearly a year old and finally I feel ready to write about birth! This isn’t exactly a positive birth story – though I did have a planned homebirth with no complications, it was long and I found it very painful. So if you are pregnant it might be a bit too warts-and-all to read right now!
At our 20 week scan the Spanish radiographer looked hard at the screen and said “yes, yes you are having a little princess.” Adam said “how, exactly, do you know it’s a girl?”, and she pointed and said “the labia”, and we felt a bit silly.
We were so happy. I am all right-on about gender but I desperately wanted a girl. Of course I would have ended up loving a boy just as much, but I was too nauseous from morning sickness to challenge my deep desire. Perhaps it was something about me being a girl. Something about me and my mum. About how I would be able to relate to the child we were having. I went into the toilet after the scan and I sank to my knees and wept in total joy. The baby was ok. I was having a girl. I will never forget the moment. It was the purest happiness I think I have ever experienced.
The rose I had planted in our garden started to bloom a few days before she was born, like something that would happen in a rom-com. I can still feel the oddness of the time, the weight of anticipation, the last bit of “freedom” but not really because you can’t go anywhere or do anything. You wait. You wait. We walked in parks and gardens. Went out for lunches. Tried not to worry too much or think the worst.
My contractions started in the middle of the Wednesday night, 20 minutes, then 7 minutes, then 5 minutes apart. Here we go, I thought. Finally. This is fucking it. It hurt, a lot. It was so intense that I remember thinking: this baby will be here tomorrow morning. But the next morning the contractions had slowed to every 15 or 20 minutes and stayed that way all day. I remember lying in our bed about 6pm watching Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May on the iPad, feeling exhausted and at sea. It was that in-between time of day when you’re tired but it’s too early for bed, and anyway, sleep would only come in snatches, a minute or two before the next contraction woke me again. And when the baby was here I would be up all night: me and sleep were over. We were on a long-term break.
The contractions came more frequently through the night but slowed again the next morning. It was now Friday. My parents were at my sister’s house in North London and I suddenly desperately wanted to see them all (and what the fuck else would we do for another long day?) They all arrived very excited and emotional with a lot of SANDWICHES. I walked around the green with my mum and sister, holding onto them and puffing my way through contractions.
Around 4pm the contractions started coming much more frequently. Flooded with oxytocin, I smiled my way through the pain and kept telling my sister “you look sooooo beautiful”. I found myself on the floor, wedged between a sofa and a table in a dark, cool spot. I must have crawled there. I remember Adam giving me peanut butter on a spoon. The midwife arrived. The hours went by and I was really starting to feel the exhaustion and thinking that this pain wasn’t funny anymore. I was making a lot of noise. I howled NOOOOOO a lot through contractions and kept insisting I could not do this. Sometimes I thought I was on the crest of the pain, that it could not get any worse, but then it did, and it lasted for maybe 30 seconds and it was just unbearable, unbearable. But we must bear the unbearable, mustn’t we.
At around 5pm I had been 5cm dilated. When she checked again about 6 hours later I was … 5cm dilated. I wanted to scream. I asked about going to the hospital, about an epidural, but the idea of calling an ambulance and having to get in it, when moving an inch made me want to vomit, was even worse than the promise of pain relief. Also I had got this far. I kept saying to the midwife, how long, how much longer, and she would say firmly “you’re nearly there. You’re doing really well. Stay positive.” But the second midwife arrived and she was more honest, saying “I can’t tell you how long it’s going to take. I’m so sorry.” I was so crushed. I wished she’d lied to me.
I lay on the floor in the bathroom in the pitch black. I sent my family away, who had been drinking wine in the conservatory and listening to my screams of agony. I could sense them nearby and wondered if my body was holding back from letting go so as to spare them the full volume of the experience.
The midwife ended up breaking my waters while I lay on the sofa: painless, strange, the warm water rushing out and down my legs. Things finally started to happen. The contractions were coming with barely any gaps in between and the pain got even worse. Nothing I had learned or practiced had prepared me for it. It was ten million times stronger than any mindfulness technique. I couldn’t reframe it at all, I kept trying to tell myself it’s your choice whether you experience this as pain and all sorts of other nonsense which had no effect whatsoever. I know women who didn’t feel the pain as pain, more of an extremely intense sensation, but this wasn’t the case for me. With each one I gripped so tightly onto Adam’s arms that I thought I would pull them off. I remember it felt like we were one joined body in the same strange dream. He appeared so calm, even if he didn’t feel it. There wasn’t a second where he was anything other than exactly what I wanted him to be.
The birth pool in our living room, the gas and air I guzzled, nothing touched the edge of the pain. It was a feeble distraction from something huge and strong. When she finally started to move down the birth canal, I was pushing for about an hour. There is that moment where the baby crowns: we can see the head, that is the only part like the movies! The utter relief that it was nearly over. And the pop – I heard it – of the moment she came out, the sting of the tear. Is she alright is she alright is she alright. So slithery and slippery and so much dark hair! It was 1am on Saturday morning, 72 hours after it had all started. Adam wept, wept, wept on my shoulder behind me. I was too stunned and exhausted to cry. I felt intense relief and disbelief about the bizarreness of birth, that I now had a live baby on my chest. Oh my god, I kept saying. Oh my god.
I lost a lot of blood and felt very faint. I heard panic in the midwive’s voice as she tried to keep me conscious, and I began to get extremely paranoid that I was going to die in childbirth and leave Adam alone with the new baby. “It’s not going to go all Jack and Sarah”, he reassured me, and fed me Coke from a can.
I breastfed her on the sofa for hours and the midwives left us, terrified, alone together. Somehow Adam managed to get the baby in a nappy and a sleepsuit. Somehow he helped me crawl to the bed while he held her. And we put her in the crib beside our bed and didn’t sleep until my parents got there and held her for us.
I couldn’t stop looking at her and I was so frightened by the scale of my responsibility for her. Another thing I couldn’t imagine until I felt it, not the true nature of it anyway. I liked her a lot right away but wasn’t sure how much I loved her because I didn’t know her yet. I didn’t know who I was dealing with. But I felt protective of her, that I would do anything if it would make her life good. In a way that made me feel like my life as I knew it was over. It used to be a thing for me, an instrument of my desires, and now it was sort of for her. I wondered what her life would hold. I wondered what she would like and be like. I wanted her to be extremely happy. I wanted everything for her.
I had a homebirth via the Brierly midwife team at Kings College Hospital. They, and the care they provided, were nothing short of amazing. If you’re thinking of a homebirth in south London I can’t recommend them highly enough.
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My love for her seemed doomed, hopelessly unrequited. There should be songs for this, but if there were I didn’t know them.
– Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
The best way to deal with separation anxiety is to give your baby reassurance – over and over again – that your absence doesn’t mean that you have gone away forever … Even if your baby’s distress is upsetting you, it’s not necessary to give up plans to go out or return to work. It’s part of her emotional growth to learn that others can care for her as well, and she can trust you to come back soon.
– NCT leaflet
She is 10 days old. I leave her with her dad, I walk out of the house and around the park in front of our house. It feels terrible and wonderful to go. I cry on a really, really uncomfortable bench and try not to catch the eye of a dog walker who looks uncertain as to whether to offer me assistance. I keep an eye on my phone in case I am required, until 15 minutes have passed and I rush back.
I go out to meet some friends up the road for the evening, with a normal non-breastfeeding bra on and a necklace and a real handbag with no nappies in it. I feel a bit sick when I leave the house but also as light as a feather. My life feels a bit like I think it used to, with more possibility in it, and I miss her I miss her I miss her. Suddenly it seems strange that I have not been more generous to myself in adjusting to this new life. New mothers always feel terrible for not feeling 100% comfortable and confident in their new role, but really they have spent a lot more of their life in Topshop than they have caring for a tiny baby.
A post-natal therapist once told me that one of the first steps she takes to treat mothers with depression is to create regular opportunities for them to have time away from their baby. I didn’t get this at the time, but now I kind of get it.
I leave her with her dad while I do 3 days of yoga training, back home in the evenings too late for her bedtime but able to see her for a couple of hours in the morning. The first morning she gets terribly upset before her nap and cries and flails in the cot for what seems like forever; nothing we can do will calm her. Later on when I say goodbye to her, her face takes on a look of alarm and she holds her arms out towards me and starts to cry. It is like she is auditioning for a part in which the character must attempt to break their mother’s heart. I know I’ll have to do this many times. I do what they say you shouldn’t and go back and kiss her again, I string it out because in that moment I can’t bear not to.
It is hard to leave on a bad day. She is only 9 months old. There is so much we are both not used to yet.
This is the most I have ever been away from her, and at the session it’s hard to concentrate because I am I thinking of her every minute. I guess at the heart of the guilt and fear we have when we leave our children are the questions: will they be alright? Is it ok that I am going? Deeply I feel I “shouldn’t” be here and “should” be with her but I try not to listen to that voice because it’s the same one that told me I shouldn’t go for the 15 minute walk in the park when she was 10 days old. I don’t think it’s a voice I can rely on.
A friend said: it takes courage to leave our children. The act of leaving is an act of learning, like everything else.
I am looking after her a day after being at work, and I find it very difficult because work is such a cinch compared to baby care. With a baby your day might turn out to be amazing or terrible and there is nothing you can do about this. It is so intense, so impossible to get perspective on, to remember that it is a bad nap or a bad day and not a bad life. Of course I feel awful about how much more I enjoyed being at work than I am currently enjoying this day.
I think also that a real break from this “job” does not exist. We are not able to ever really turn away. The buck stops here, in this tender, painful place where all the mushy love and steady undoing of our defences takes place.
She cries when I leave but I am told she is fine a few minutes later. Her dad sends me happy pictures every few hours and so I am happy too. They are having a lovely day.
At five o’clock I run out of the office and I run to the train station and I run from the station at the other end to get all the possible minutes left in the day with her.
I reach our driveway out of breath. I put the key in the lock and walk in and see her, and she sees me, and she sort of gasps and raises her arms towards me and lets out a series of very high excited squeaks. She cannot crawl yet but she tries to move towards me across the floor, and when I pick her up she keeps twisting her head around to look at me with the broadest grin on her face. She is very slightly shaking with excitement. She laughs a lot for the next hour.
My heart swells because of how much she loves me, because of how much I love her. Being away and coming back means I can suddenly see the scale of it, this love affair she and I have embarked on. It will never not be in my life. It will never not be nearly my whole life. It is attachment, our attachment to each other. A reward for what I’ve given to her. What luck. What an amazing hand of fate.
The evening sun is shining in the window through the slats of the blinds. I change her nappy and see freshly her perfect chubby thighs and her soft round tummy. Her hair looks so blond and long. What a big girl. In the moment I want desperately for her never to grow any bigger, for every day of my life to be a groundhog of me putting the keys in the door and seeing her seeing me and picking her up and stroking her golden hair in the golden light.
I put her to bed and she doesn’t make a squeak, she is suddenly asleep. Of course the next day is a different story, but that story isn’t for tonight. Tonight everything is perfect.
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I once tried to write a short story about people who slept in a polyphasic (segmented) pattern. It wasn’t a very good story, but the effects of sleeping like this continue to fascinate me. Apparently time stretches, so 24 hours feel like 40. People who learn to sleep in small chunks say they feel like Superman, like God. They get everything done and sometimes they go slightly mad.
Sleep is such a tease: when we have it we don’t notice, when we don’t we are crying on the floor like spilt milk. Of course, having a baby tends to cut into our sleep quota to a pretty high degree, something which you cannot fully or meaningfully interpret until you calculate that you have been getting by on 4-5 broken hours a night for months and months or years and years. NOW I know, you think, as you sob into your cereal.
But it gets better! Awful true parental cliche no. 1. The months start flying by! There goes another one. For a long time I wanted to get to the point where I was happy despite being sleep-deprived. I mean, mostly I wanted to not be sleep-deprived, but I would take a heady sleepless happiness as second-best.
I was obsessed by my lack of sleep, by my baby’s physical dependence on me to sleep, convinced I could not be happy until she “slept through the night” in her cot. But she doesn’t sleep through the night – she never has, not once at nearly 9 months old – and yet I have felt wildly happy recently. I had been so worried about it for so long and forgot to notice that the worrying about it was a lot worse than the actual “it” of it. When I realised this, I felt more energetic than I had in months, perhaps over a year. I decided I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do, that it was ok to comfort-feed my baby in the night to get her back to sleep, something that was working for me at that point, even if – as the health visitor and the sleep consultant and the paediatrician and the blogs say – she doesn’t “need” to feed in the night at her age, the princely baby-age of 8.5 months old. Immediately after this, the night-time disruption seemed to barely touch the sides, and all the days that week with her were sunny and joyful. We will just go on as we are for now, I told her, and we both seemed happy about it.
Of course part of me (most of me?!) thinks fuck’s sake when I hear her crying in the night and I stumble out of bed and put on my dressing gown, slippers and go down the hall toward her. I reach her cot and she thumps her right foot against the mattress when she knows I’m there, and I pick her up and kiss her several times on her hot little cheeks as she whines, the sound of her needing me. The levels of tiredness ebb and flow: cope-able, not cope-able. There is probably no-one worse than the woman on the internet who says “just enjoy those cuddles mama! Treasure every moment! It passes so quick!”, because when you are tired you just deeply, deeply need to not be that tired, not be told to fucking enjoy it. But I understand what they are getting at. There is something tender about these peaceful night-time wake-ups, provided they don’t ask so much of us that we can’t function the next day.
Since she was born I have worried about what the right thing to do is and have been influenced by everyone and everything. The internet age is a terrible one to parent in: a hateful volume of questions, answers, opinions, utterly contradictory advice from “experts”. All the books. An entire industry that knows desperate parents will do anything to have their problem “solved”. Because every bit of baby advice has its own completely opposing solution, all you can do is go with the statements that seem truest for you. For me the things that started to resonate most strongly in this particular chapter of our lives were statements like babies wake in the night just like adults do and parenting doesn’t end at nighttime and babies don’t just feed at night for nutrition but for comfort and once you have night-weaned your baby you have potentially dropped a useful tool to get them back to sleep quickly and try not to obsess about your baby sleeping through the night; your goal is for you and your family to get the sleep you need alongside the loud voice in my head saying she is only a baby, she is only a baby. I am not so naive that I believe that different statements will come to seem truer next month, or tomorrow, and opposite statements will be more vital to other parents. That is ok.
Your baby is not a problem to be solved! I read that once, and I understood the sentiment, I really did, but all the internet posts were buzzing around my head – she will only sleep on my chest, he wakes every hour, he gets out of his big boy bed every hour in the night, do I wake her up from naps, do I leave him crying if he wakes up early from naps, she only has 30 minute naps – all from women (sorry but they are all women) in real despair. Babies are not problems but they present us with the most awful amount of shit, of course. This is parenting. It is beautiful and completely awful.
Last year I was in such a sleep-deprived fuzz that I barely noticed it was winter, but now spring is on its way. Such a cliche, so joyful! In that week where I felt so alive and awake I ran up hills with my daughter in the buggy as she made a “ssssshhhhjjjjjeeeeeee” sound of delight. When she was grumpy I threw her in the air. I made meals and did work while she slept and fell into bed in a messy exhausted heap at night. It won’t last. It will last. It’ll last as long as it lasts. We’re alive. Spring is on the way.
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I spend 90 percent of my time talking parents off the ledge that the cry hurls us onto.
– Baby sleep specialist Eileen Henry
When Rosa was smaller we were on a train back from central London and she started to cry, really cry, a few stops from home. By the time we’d pulled into the station she’d got into a terrible state, tiny and bright red and sobbing harder than I’d ever heard her. Nothing I could do would soothe her. In the waiting room a tubby businessman hid behind his newspaper and tried to tactfully pretend that there wasn’t a hysterical baby screaming the walls down, and all the while she was getting hotter and hotter and pinker and pinker and her voice hoarser and hoarser. I genuinely began to become alarmed, and I remember thinking crazy mum thoughts like no one could cry this much without eventually passing out.
Later on, back at home with her soothed and fine, I cried almost as hard as she had, as if in grief at her pain, as if in solidarity with her suffering. I felt in some way that it was right that I should match her distress, as if, as her mother, her crying was a debt I had to repay. This is what it means to have children, I remember thinking, this over-giving of ourselves, this sense that we have an obligation to suffer on our children’s behalf. I thought of a sentence I had read, that having babies was akin to “having your heart permanently annexed”, and I thought of all the times in the future that she would struggle and suffer and therefore I would too. We do it to ourselves and this is the nature of love, isn’t it, feeling this secondary pain, the pain of the people we love.
I have thought so much about what it means for her to really cry, why I dread it, why we dread it, us mothers, us parents. I read things that tell me that crying can be a healthy release of emotion and that as parents we are there to empathise and attend to this emotion, to witness it and listen to it but not necessarily fix it. I read things that say suffering and struggle are different and while we must act to relieve the first we cannot, should not act to remove the second. It is true that for adults, it is a gift to be feel comfortable enough to be truly emotional in the presence of someone who cares for us and can be in that moment with us, without trying to speed up our recovery for their own comfort. But nothing makes it easy to hear our children cry and not swoop in and soothe them in the most comforting way we can.
Parents often don’t know when the comforting ends and the bad habit begins.
– Tracy Hogg in The Baby Whisperer
I read far too many parenting books, most with contradictory advice, most with the advice not to listen to parenting advice from the “experts”. The sentence above haunted me in early motherhood, made me terrified that our parenting style was creating “bad” habits or crutches or associations or props. Proving that worrying is pointless because you’ll do what you’ll do anyway, we probably did create “bad” habits with our sweet sensitive baby who cried bitterly when she wasn’t sleeping in someone arms. Should we have let her cry bitterly for a while to get used to a crib? Dunno. Maybe. Would it have changed her behaviour? Maybe. Could we have done it? Almost certainly not. Would I do it next time round? Again, almost certainly not. I have seen 6 month old babies fall asleep by themselves in their prams in cafes with music and lights blaring (whenever this happens I always think “are you a wizard?”, but that’s because my baby once woke up when a parakeet squawked in Crystal Palace Park in a faraway tree); I have seen babies “grizzle” or “protest” when put down “drowsy but awake” in a crib but soon drift off and I have seen babies cry hysterically when they are put down. Babies are all different – how baffling that so few “experts” recognise this! And we just do what we do, as new parents trying to do our best.
But recently it became clear that would we have to change some of the things we had done for our sweet daughter to help her sleep. I wished we could do it with zero upset for anyone, but of course that wasn’t possible. It turns out that compassionate or gentle or gradual “sleep work” doesn’t mean the baby won’t cry or be unsettled, it just generally means you stay in the room to comfort your baby while she gets used to the change and that you can make changes slowly. So we find ourselves with a “solution” that is the least-worst for us, and we make various changes. The most drastic step so far approaches – removing our habits of feeding or rocking her to sleep and giving her a dummy. As the night approaches I feel sick, for me and for her. We do her normal “bedtime routine” and turn the light off and her daddy holds her in his arms. The idea is she will kind of settle herself to sleep, albeit while being held before a later stage of settling her in her cot. Immediately she starts to scream (did she know what we were doing? It felt like she did) and I sit in the kitchen bolt upright, drinking wine and trying and failing to read, listening to her cries, imagine her body arching and flailing. After 10 minutes it goes silent. I cannot believe it. Asleep already. But 40 minutes after she wakes and cries in his arms for 45 minutes – a lifetime – though it is less intense than before.
I have the most unrelaxing bath I have ever had, wondering just how her dad can bear it. And then it is over. He stumbles out of the room, hot and exhausted and emotional, like someone who has run a marathon. That night she sleeps better than she has in weeks. The day after I do the “in arms settling” myself, and she cries hard in my arms for ten minutes (a lifetime). I feel calm and infinitely saddened by her screams and the ways her head moves from side to side to search for her dummy and her mouth makes the most wretched little hmmms mmms nummms because her mouth is not used to closing around nothing. I remember the advice we got about this method: you don’t have to stop her crying and you don’t have to get her to sleep (she will do that), and strangely it doesn’t feel cruel but more like an act of difficult, difficult compassion. I watch her struggle. Relieved, I remember that I have found motherhood hard because I feel like I always need to be doing it and not being it. In that moment I just be-it. I think about my endless love for her. I think man she loved that bloody dummy and I watch her fall asleep.
It is all about the crying in the end. I don’t know what will happen next but I know the anticipation of doing something was much worse than doing something. For the first time on the second night, I sleep for long enough for me to feel like I am actually sleeping and not having a series of interrupted naps, that is staying asleep for an extended period and waking a few times to go to the loo, to plump my pillows, to feel the hours ticking by. For the first time in seven months! People kept reminding me that better sleep is life-changing. It might be premature but I think that maybe soon certain things might be back in my life, things like occasionally getting a taxi to town and having cocktails with a girlfriend or having an early dinner and going to the theatre with Adam. Or even eating our tea together and having a conversation! I think that maybe I get to have her in my life and do other things that sound superficial but that seem curiously essential to my identity not just as a mother, that is as a whole person. I think about how any renewed vigour in me will be good for her. And I think about these taxis to town and these cocktails and plays then coming back to her, always.
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My daughter was born in our living room at 1.20am on 20 June last year, and I had been awake for 3 nights by that point (aside from drifting in and out of sleep, jerked awake by my uterus contracting every 5-10 minutes each previous night). So I was very tired but I wouldn’t let my boyfriend go to sleep after the midwives had left, because how could we be sure that the baby would survive the night? We tried, hamfisted, to swaddle her, but couldn’t remember the instructions from our NCT class. She’ll pull the blanket over her head and suffocate, or her tiny heart will stop beating, or … something, I insisted. My boyfriend gently pointed out that we would, at some point during the rest of her life, have to sleep when she did. Over the next few months he would gently point out lots of rational things that I couldn’t see, then kindly concede to my slightly mad reasoning on a variety of topics.
Looking at her over the next few days, I remember thinking with great certainty that it was highly unlikely anything so small and new could make it. That first night, I couldn’t sleep until my parents had arrived in the early hours of the morning. They drove across London as the dawn broke on the day before the shortest day of the year and my daughter, on the first day of her life, slept curled on my mum’s lap for hours and hours.
When I was pregnant I forgot that I would bring myself to my mothering. And for a while after she was born, when I was finding it all so hard, I wondered why everyone found it difficult but some people found it particularly difficult. Why did I feel so devastated about the irrevocable loss of my carefree life? Why did I feel shocked by the burden of responsibility, when I’d known what was coming? Why did I feel waves of panic every time I tried to sleep? Shock, grief, fear, exhaustion, overwhelming love: this is what I remember from those early days.
Everyone said “it gets better!” and “you’re doing a great job!” and I kept wondering why they were saying this, when they didn’t even know what kind of job I was doing. But I didn’t know how much self-doubt I was living in, I didn’t have the hindsight of how much relatively easier it gets as you get used to it all, as you grow in confidence, as you watch your baby growing into a person. The notion that it gets better is impossible to really conceive of until it does. Everything that is being asked of you being so new to you and it is hard to really take it in at all, let alone the idea that it will change, and keep on changing. “You’ll look up and she’ll be leaving to go to university”, “long days, short years” people said: none of it was true, all of it was true, but it was of limited use to me in those giant, unending moments.
A friend gave a good insight about women who do not feel depressed or anxious or panicky or devastated on becoming a mother, that maybe they were just more practical types, that they were not so over-analytical or anxious as me. That made it feel better. A friend recommended Kate Figes Life After Birth and that made it feel better too, like I wasn’t the only one going mad. Very kind mum friends and their kind words of encouragement: they made me feel better. Over Christmas, reflecting on the six months that passed and trying to work out what was new about me and what was the same and how these things could meet, I realised that I felt different in ways that I hadn’t foreseen – not just that I was a bit tougher; not just that I understood real love, real, daily joy; but also that I was aware of the dark side of my life, of myself. I felt, for the first time, that I understood how people could do terrible things, make awful mistakes, how humans were driven to things because they were driven to the edge of themselves and their capacity to feel hopeful and happy. All this from my privileged middle-class existence with great family and friends around me. All this because of a person no taller than 1 foot high!
So much of my extreme feelings were mostly due to sleep (the lack of it). I looked and looked for words about sleep deprivation that weren’t either Mumsnet laments or journal articles on its psychological side effects, but I never found them. Instead I looked at a drawing I had made of a graph where my mental health was inversely proportional to how well the baby was sleeping, a drawing that summed up everything and solved nothing. As she turned 6 months, she developed the alarming of habit of waking up every time we tried to put her down. We couldn’t see a quick-or-easy way out of it apart from to take it in turns to hold her for most of the evening and all her naps, and let her sleep in our arms once we had gone to bed. We sat in a dark room with our arms full of baby while the world went by outside, while chores went undone, words to each other unsaid, game-changing television unwatched, books unread, yoga unpracticed, meals uncooked and selves unattended to. What a strange beast you are, I would think, as she lay completely asleep in my arms until I tried put her down, when her eyes would snap open and she would begin to whimper. It was like she was convinced there were wolves at the door and her body had become primed to tense up when it was not curled up next the place it originated. I hadn’t realised how necessary the breathing space while the baby sleeps is to one’s sanity. I didn’t expect parenting to end at nighttime, I knew the extent that a baby erodes one’s personal space and autonomy but, with her waking so much in the night as well, it felt all too much.
She was so wakeful and I was so tired and sad. I weighed less than I had when I was seventeen and my ribcage was such a depressing sight to me. I met a really jolly mother in a cafe who was exhausted too, but she was just so stoic about it. Instead I seemed to sink into more and more of a maudlin mess. I clamped my jaw shut all day from the stress of it and my damn ears hurt all the time.
On one of the worst nights I got some sleep between 12 and 4 with baby in my arms. Very tired but too uptight to sleep, I cried from about 6am and could not stop. I laughed a few times in between but the crying won. Around 9am I had a shower; I had failed to get the baby to nap because I was too tired to make the effort required to feed then jiggle her so I just let her lie in my arms sucking on her fingers until my partner took her and quickly got her to sleep. The disadvantage of him being there was that I could really accept I was exhausted and had nothing left in the can and sit and could sit and watch him care for her and finally admit I was a terrible, terrible mother.
In the shower I thought maybe the baby had woken up and I could hear her crying but so many things sound like her crying and are not – water in the pipes, water dripping from the tap, a faraway dog whimpering, the little boy from upstairs whooping as he comes in the door – that I thought probably, she was not crying. I felt like a schizophrenic who decides on balance that the voices are NOT real even though they can definitely hear them.
I felt angry at everyone around me for believing me when I said I was alright.
I remembered that, early that morning, I was so tired and sad I actually fantasised about being dead for the first time. I had never got why people did this before but NOW I did – it would mean a lovely rest and an instant end to all this shit. Looking back this seems crazy to me, and I knew at the time that of course I did not want to be dead. It would make everyone pretty sad and I would miss them all and there were lots of things I wanted to see and do and I had an underwater lagoon’s worth of hope postponed inside me. But I realised that for the first time in my life, I had imagined death as a respite! It didn’t make me feel sad, just stretched and balloon-like and in slight awe of everything that had happened.
I considered the nature of depression – a scale, a collection of symptoms, a rational reaction to things that are intolerable to us. And now, I remember saying to a friend that I probably did think I was slightly depressed at times in the first six months but that was mainly because what was happening at the time seemed pretty depressing to me.
Just before she was born, I remember a friend saying she had cried from despair more in the first 6 months of her baby’s life than in the rest of her own life, and I had no idea what she meant. I think I thought: well maybe you did, but I doubt I will. Someone else referred to it as a rollercoaster and I thought: oh, it will be much more balanced and fine for me! You never know exactly what is coming for you. And I found that some female friends who had previously suffered depression were much more buoyant in motherhood, perhaps because as one said to me, “you already know about the darkness”.
Like most mothers, I feel that it is very, very hard and also that having her is the best thing I have ever done. I am even glad it was so hard because as things gets easier it is all thrown into stark relief, like the technicolour of health after illness. A few days ago she started blowing all the air out of her cheeks, then looked greatly surprised, then did it again and again, for an hour. Then she started holding both her arms up in the air simultaneously. I don’t know why. Of course then I forget everything, all the tough bits that we have been through, all the “sleep hell” as a friend called it, the dark days, another friend, the grey days, another. These happy moments cover you over entirely and all you can do is tread water in their joy.
We are only having one baby, we kept saying after she was born. One really is enough. Recently I asked my partner if I should keep her baby stuff in case, you know, just in case there was a next time, and we both decided that yes, we probably will keep it, not that we’ll need it probably, but just for now. Just in case.
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I sit on the rocking chair in Rosa’s bedroom while she sleeps in my arms, her head nestled next to my cheek. Her hair is fluffy and smells of the lovely baby shampoo we were given by her aunt and also of that sweet, universal baby smell. I am thinking about how content and joyful she is, and wondering how much of that is down to genes and how much is down to what we have done for her in her first 6 months on earth. We have given her everything every time she has wanted it: every time she has cried we have picked up and cuddled her; we have fed and rocked her to sleep and re-fed and re-rocked many many times each evening and night. We have held her in our arms for hours and hours and tried and failed to put her down and picked her up again. She is so, so loved and we are such a terribly soft touch and so very tired.
Babies play tricks on their parents, like sleeping for quite long stretches and making you feel quite smug until they are 4 months old then SUDDENLY waking every hour of the night. Or they settle quite well each night until they are 6 months old then SUDDENLY they need to be held for two hours every evening before you can put them down, and then can only be put down for an hour and then must sleep on you ALL NIGHT else they scream and cry and you will do anything, anything for just a bit of sleep. There are lots of tricks, but they all centre around the very dispiriting fact that lots of babies get worse at sleeping as they get older, not better.
Our baby is beautiful and bright and funny and lovely; people tell us this and it is true. But there are times – like when she FINALLY sleeps after an hour of exhausting, back-breaking jiggling and when you try and put her down she is suddenly WIDE awake and screaming and you have to go through the whole thing again; or at 3am when she keeps waking unless you keeping getting out of the warm bed and rocking her until she finally falls into a deeper sleep at 5am; or when she actually sleeps for a long stretch but you are so stressed and sad and frustrated and wound up and full of rage that you lie silently in the dark for four hours, awake, exhausted, occasionally googling things like “can people die of sleep deprivation” – there are times when this cannot help you.
Wait it out
Attachment parenting – whose tenets I mostly agree with – argues that babies just need to be nurtured and cared for and in the end they will sleep by themselves and for longer stretches, but of course WHEN is anyone’s guess. They could be one, or maybe nearer two, and what about mothers and fathers and their sanity? This website casually breezes over hundreds and thousands of hours of parental night-time desolation by saying “This phase of nighttime parenting will pass soon”. Whenthefuckissoon? So much of motherhood requires self-abnegation, but it would be nice for a parent’s needs not to be totally erased in the equation. The fact that the baby is gorgeous is used as a reason for you just to have to put up with it, when the two things are not really linked – your baby may well be lovely but you are truly exhausted, and it seems like the second fact is seen as irrelevant just because the first is true.
Don’t wait it out
So it becomes clear that we must DO SOMETHING, but every option is so unappealing. In the “old days”, as I understand it, people would leave the baby at the bottom of the garden in the pram to cry, or they would shut the bedroom door and let them cry and in the end these babies would learn to sleep by themselves and not need mum or dad to put them back to sleep when they wake up. Nowadays “sleep training” is some people’s profession and there are thousands of words written on the internet for desperate parents to read. The blogs are full of terms like the baby “fussing” or “protesting” when you first attempt to teach them to sleep more independently and I wish they would just say it: screaming, crying, wailing, whimpering. Of course most parents find it heart wrenching to hear their baby cry; to “let” their baby cry and only respond in the kind of lukewarm way recommended by sleep trainers; to “leave” a baby to cry. It seems to go against every parental instinct when in every other scenario when they are tired or sad or ill or cranky we respond to them with a massive love-bomb.
I told a friend who had never heard of the term “sleep trainer” that you could pay someone to come to your house for the night partly to teach the baby to sleep and partly restrain you from diving in the room to pick up the baby up. “So they come to your house and break them?”, she said. The argument goes that some crying in the short-term is better for everyone in the long-term. And I will have to do lots of difficult things for my child that she may not like at the time but that will be better for her overall. But it is hard to know whether the night I say “I cannot go on like this”, and the third and fourth and fifth and sixth nights I say this is actually a turning point or just more of the same exhausting equivocating. I am the WORST person to deal with this: I am indecisive and my indecision is ratcheted up sleep deprivation; I am a massive wimp about my baby crying; and she also seems to have a particularly heartbreaking cry, but I’m sure ALL parents feel this!
With pre-verbal babies you cannot explain to them “hey, so you know we’ve been getting you to sleep via breastfeeding or rocking or jiggling – well that’s all over now and I’m going to put you in your cot and you’re going to be baffled and cry and cry and probably in the end you’ll go to sleep, then we’ll do that again every time you need to nap or sleep for a few more weeks until you’ve nailed it”. This is CRAZY but I can’t help but draw parallels with our dear old cat being put down when I was 18, when the very worst thing of it was her just lying there looking at me before the act, not knowing what was coming. I am not putting my baby down – things are not that desperate yet – but it feels like some similar act of betrayal, not being able to explain to her what is about to happen. It feels like I am breaking some code or bond of trust between us. BUT we cannot go on like this. Right?!
So that’s me, flailing around and failing to make a decision about my daughter’s sleep habits and fixating on unhelpful analogies like my childhood cat being put down. Hopefully when I write again in the new year, I will have more cheerful sleep news to report! And I hope everyone has a restful and happy break.
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Last weekend I went for a massage, leaving the baby with her dad and a bottle of expressed milk. It wasn’t hard to leave but it was strangely hard to be there, both glad to be alone and not, knowing this window of freedom was just that.
Previously I had wondered what women meant when they talked about a loss of their sense of self when they become mothers. I have been thinking a lot what this means for me, and it is simply that I am tired and the baby is very demanding and there is simply not time or energy to contemplate myself – the things I like to do, the things I think about the world, how I feel about everything. And most of all exactly who I am now that I am someone’s mother, in addition to everything else I used to be. The baby comes first, I fade into the background and when I come face to face with myself – in an hour off, when confronted by a memory from my old life – it can feel overwhelming and sad to be reacquainted with this person who I used to spend every day with.
I am still here. I know this, and I know I will reemerge in stages, even if this “I” is different from before.
Our daughter is 4 months old, by most accounts a cranky, difficult age where babies are coming to terms with their fast development and are overwhelmed by these changes and the world around them. Her sleep, which had previously been relatively ok, went totally fucked a few weeks ago and though it’s improved a little, she still wakes frequently and then at 5.30am, full of beans and ready for the day (if you’d had a decent night’s sleep yourself this would he doable, but ya know …). She wakes too early from naps and her lack of proper sleep makes her tearful and scratchy, and she sails from joy to hysterical yelping better than any teenager. Totes emosh, I think as I hug her little wriggly body.
In this “phase” she cries approximately 2 seconds after I leave the room and often wails until she is carried, so basic tasks like getting dressed or making a cup of tea or hanging the washing out take hours and must be interspersed with feeding and cuddling and singing and cheering up this little grumpy person. I can no longer always feed her to sleep like I used to so I spend some of every day jiggling her to sleep while she screams in my arms and flails about and I silently count to 20 and try not to think of people having cocktails in a bar in Dalston, and sometimes kiss her chubby tear-stained cheeks, and tell myself that she will sleep eventually. Sometimes I am so tired that my ears have a constant slightly painful swish in them, and I cry at everything and even my teeth hurt.
Through it, I love her so much I think my insides will explode. And I constantly think to myself: this is the hardest, most grinding, exhausting and frustrating thing I have ever done. Who knew babies were like this? Everyone lies about it, including me when I speak to mums with brand new babies in cafés, because you HAVE to. I feel guilty about everything, including napping when Adam gets up with her at 6am, how I STILL feel tired and sad after a long nap, any time away I have, my ingratitude at wanting MORE time away, the minutes I leave her grizzling while I do essential tasks like, you know, cleaning my teeth or taking a shit.
Occasionally I stand next to her in the early morning and consider the 12 hours ahead of us and think I cannot do this and Adam leaves for work and I really, really want to say “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME” but I never do because I am not a total cow. I can barely write about it because it is often a bit misery memoir, because all mums suffer, because I don’t want to look like I’m moaning, because I’m lucky to have a lovely baby and a lovely flat and lovely partner and lovely family and live in a great part of London and not have to put my children in a small boat to escape a marauding gang of murderers. There are always mothers with less support than you, getting less sleep than you, with more children or crankier babies than you, so everyone is silent on it except in their friendships and everyone is quietly shouting “FUUUUUUCK” as they mainline coffee and push their buggies up hills.
Every day has some moments of joy, sometimes lots of them. Today I was hugging her in my bedroom and I caught sight of the mirror and her face looking at me in it, lit up with pure happiness. When I sing her certain songs, or she spots her favourite toy, her jaw drops in ecstasy. She has started to do a real dirty cackle whenever I make miaowing sounds against her neck (what? Miaowing into your baby’s crevices is totally normal), the best sound in the whole entire world.
Things are tough at the moment so I’ve lowered my expectations accordingly, which make it a bit easier. If she sleeps beyond 5.45 or if I haven’t sobbed by 8am I feel like I’ve triumphed! Although I feel frequently brittle I also feel tougher than I ever have. I feel like a warrior, like I did after my 2-day-long home birth with no pain relief. (I remind myself of the birth, a lot!) I see my reflection in a shop mirror while I push the baby in her yellow buggy, with my Nike Airs and my mom Parka and I note that I have washed my face and my hair isn’t too dreadful and I even put on mascara. And even if I don’t feel like it I say to myself: I’m still here. And even if I don’t feel like I am, I say: I’m nailing it. One day I hope Rosa will be proud that I am trying my best.
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