I joined the strange and confusing world of parenthood late last year.
Many a cliché can be said about the moment your first child is born – but these two rang true for me: A) you suddenly know your life will never be the same and B) you are filled with joy and wonder because you have somehow MADE A PERSON.
For me, it was an emotional roller coaster with incredible highs and some surprisingly dark and lonely lows.
Most people will understand the highs, so it’s those lonely moments that I want to write about.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never been much of a baby person. I used to enjoy seeing babies and seeing photos of other people’s babies but felt nervous if someone placed one in my arms.
I just didn’t know what to do with it.
When I was younger I imagined myself with a family but it was always with school-age kids. I’d do art with them or take them to ballet or soccer. Then I’d make them dinner and help them with their homework and tuck them into bed.
So when my husband and I decided it was time to try for a baby, it wasn’t just joyful anticipation that I felt. I was excited to start a new chapter in my life but also very, very nervous. Would I be able to handle the sleepless nights? (Spoiler: no) Would I be able to breastfeed in public? (Spoiler: yes. Once you’ve been through the whole labour thing, where EVERYTHING is on display for EVERYONE, taking your breasts out in public seems like a walk in the park). Would I actually enjoy holding my own baby? (Spoiler: yes, but not as much as you might think).
It turns out having a baby doesn’t turn you into someone who is gaga for babies.
When I brought Bea home, my husband and my own parents were around and we all took turns holding her. Of course every time she cried, she was handed to me for a feed. Still, during this first week I didn’t tire of holding her.
By week two, my parents had left for the Island and Dave had to go back to work – and Bea and I had to fend for ourselves. I was in what can only be described as ‘survival mode’ – just hoping to get through the day without completely melting down over hormonal fluctuations and lack of sleep. I held her constantly, and despite her tiny size, it wasn’t always easy.
Strangely what seemed to help was that I had to take the dog for a walk every day. So I could revolve my day around something non-baby that I knew I could do – although it was now 10x harder.
But it was during this second week that I realized that there wasn’t a motherhood switch that had suddenly turned itself on. I was still me, still the same Rebecca that didn’t really like holding babies all that much.
I still just don’t know what to do with them.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not loving being a mom, because I am. But I don’t love everything about it.
Sometimes when I’m alone with Bea I’ll read her a book (that she would rather chew on than look at) or hold a toy out for her to grasp or rattle and after about 20 minutes we’re both done. And then what do you do with the rest of the time? Besides staring at dishes that need doing but you can’t do because the baby wants to be held? I still don’t know. I spend many an hour just promenading her around the living room because that’s what she seems to like. Is this what all mothers do? I ask myself.
It does get easier and her smiles make it all worthwhile – but there are so many moments where I think about how she’s still such a tiny thing and so dependent on me. Doesn’t she know I don’t know what I’m doing?
My current obsession, as she approaches five months old, is trying to get her to sleep. Apparently (thank you internet) babies should have about 14-16 hours of sleep a day. Bea has good days (infrequent) where she naps a lot and bad days (frequent) where she fights sleep. So I’ve got to figure out how to try to fix that.
Trouble is, I don’t know what I’m doing. Really I don’t.
I want to shout it sometimes – to Bea, to my husband, to the world.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
Now it’s 1:30am and she is nursing in my arms and trying to get comfort from contact with my body, which was her home for nine months. And the realization hits.
This is all new to Bea too. When she cries because she’s tired, or screams when she’s got gas, in her own way she’s telling me:
‘Mom, I don’t know what I’m doing.’
I think I’m starting to understand that these moments of reflection are what makes people, not necessarily better parents, but willing to try harder.
I will muddle through this. I will do my best and hopefully I will get to the stage where I can take her to ballet and the beach and tell her how much I love her – and she will nod and somewhat understand.
And maybe one day my confidence will improve – but I know it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, please understand that the helplessness I feel, the waves of doubt, are very real to me.
I really don’t know what I’m doing.