As Rachel will testify, I found the first weeks of parenthood more difficult than I had anticipated. A busy person by nature, with a relentless job, I somehow imagined my life experiences up until then would equip me for the demands of a baby. Ha. Instead of the idyllic scenes I had pictured – me curled up in front of the fire with the baby, a pot of mulled wine bubbling away for visitors – once I got Oscar home, I found myself almost paralysed, and just waiting for someone to tell me what to do next. Every move I made brought fresh questions, uncertainties and anxieties.
Getting to the twelve-week mark of parenthood is a seemingly unachievable milestone when you’re in the thick of those first few weeks. Friends have told me that it all blurred into what seemed like one continuous day for them – understandable if all you’re managing is a few cat naps in each 24-hour period. Even though I did eventually get my head around the day-to-day of motherhood, a couple of months down the line I still couldn’t imagine ever again doing even the simplest of tasks easily – showering, putting on a coherent set of clothes, and popping to the shop all seemed titanic feats.
Fear not: it gets better. In six months you will look back and wonder why you found going for a wee so difficult. In the meantime, en route to the three-month mark, here are a few tips for warding off insanity.
Always check that both boobs are covered when answering the door or leaving the house. Since I was breastfeeding, it soon became second nature to have one or even two boobs al fresco. I’d be so busy wrestling to expel air from my gassy newborn, or frantically casting round for a muslin as milky sick poured forth, that my naked breasts often got overlooked. It was the same with friends who got into expressing milk – there they’d be, wandering around the house in a cut-out bra with two pumps attached, not thinking twice when the postman knocked…
Of course you won’t use a dummy! But buy one just in case. Trust me, thirty years of aversion will vanish in about 20 days. The Americans call them pacifiers for a reason. Apart from the moustache-adorned dummy my work colleagues gave me when I went on maternity leave, we had none in the house when we brought Oscar home. Cue a late-night dash to the supermarket by my husband just days later, while I paced around at home with a red-faced baby in one arm and a baby book in the other. On the subject of which…
Handle baby books with care. It’s easy to get yourself in a tizzy through advice overload. I had Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, Secrets of The Baby Whisperer and What to Expect: The First Year within reach at all times, and although in the run-up to giving birth all their advice made sense, once I had a screaming child in the room and was operating on very little sleep, nothing did. At that stage, the overriding message you absorb from these books is that you are doing everything catastrophically wrong and stockpiling future problems for yourself and your baby. Take a step back. Breathe. Just do your best. It will all be fine.
In those early weeks, plan just one goal per day. Sure, just a few weeks ago you could multi-task effortlessly – and you will again. But for today, perhaps all you will do is order some groceries online, make a doctor’s appointment, or take dinner out of the freezer. I even considered putting a washing load on as one task, and hanging it out as another – managing both in one day was cause for serious celebration. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done, think about what you have achieved: you have kept your child alive for another day.
Take it easy on yourself – and the baby. One bad day is not the end of the world. Your baby will eventually go to sleep and when they wake up it will be as if you’ve pushed the reset button. They won’t remember any of the angst or desperation that went into getting them to sleep. They won’t turn round when they can talk and say, ‘Do you remember that day when I wouldn’t go to sleep? You thought I had wind? Well, I was hungry. You disappointed me.’
Join NCT. Whoever said that money couldn’t buy friendship was wrong. NCT classes might be expensive, but they are worth it for the mini community with which they provide new mothers (and fathers). I suddenly had five new friends who lived just streets away and were going through exactly the same madness as I was. We traded pictures of poo atrocities, messaged each other in the small hours and dragged ourselves out for coffee the next day. It was bliss.
Forget about skincare, flossing and your five a day. Just survive and return to all that in three months’ time. All the things that used to affect your skin – zero sleep, a shoddy routine and tonnes of sugar – can’t match the might of your post-pregnancy hormones. Plus, your body shrinks in spite of the food you throw at it – so if you’re up at 3am and ravenous, by all means hit the biscuit tin.
Sleep when the baby sleeps. Controversial, this. I wanted to scream in the face of anyone who suggested it to me. It sounds easy, but when you’re overtired you get wired, and it becomes almost impossible to sleep. Especially when you have no idea how long your baby is going to sleep for. There’s nothing worse than collapsing into bed and sinking into a blissful sleep, only to be roused again after 10 minutes. However, if you can catch up on a few z’s at any time, ditch everything and snooze at will.
Practical tips to make life easier in the first three months:
- Keep a muslin in your pocket: I would sit down to feed Oscar and without fail forget to grab a muslin from our stockpile. He would, of course, puke all over me or the sofa.
- Find a launderette near you: if you don’t own a tumble drier, don’t have any outdoor space, or have your baby in the depths of winter, chances are you will have more laundry than you have space to hang it in. I bundled up my wet washing, wheeled it down to the launderette and had a piece of cake in the nearby cafe while it dried.
- Keep drinking: I made up a litre of squash every morning as soon as I could and made sure I had finished it by the evening to avoid terrible headaches.
- Shower before your partner leaves for work in the morning. It’s the hardest thing in the world, especially if you only got back into bed at 5.30am. But if, like me, you can’t face the day without a shower (read: your unwashed hair is too greasy to present to the world) and you can’t reliably get your baby to nap, then get ready to face the day before your man leaves the house.
- Ask for help. Take visitors up on their offers for help, enlist any family or friends you have living close by, and get your partner to do a night feed so that you can rack up a few hours of continuous sleep. Trust me, four solid hours’ sleep after four weeks of fractured nights feels like a day in a spa.
What would you add to these lists? What was your biggest challenge in the first three months?