I wasn’t planning on blogging about baby stuff, as so much of it has been done better by others, (and badly by others, too, judging by the number of celebrity wives who have somehow been paid to write books about parenthood as if they are the First People to Have a Baby in the World Ever) and I wasn’t sure I had anything much of value to add to the genre.
Then it occurred to me, if I didn’t write some of this stuff down now, I would forget it, and even if it’s of no interest to anyone else (sorry, folks) it will mean I hopefully remember some of these early days a little bit more clearly.
First of all, the good stuff – Things that Have Been Easier than Expected.
1) Sleep. This is the one I was dreading, the waking at 5am, the fog of tiredness hanging over the rest of the day, the endless demands for feeding…but it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I expected.
I had secretly hoped that my night-owl tendencies would be an advantage – I’ve always been able to stay up late and get by on little sleep since my student days, when I used to write essays into the night and use the mornings to read through what I’d done the night before and make corrections. I’ve also had insomnia on and off for years – and this got worse in the last months of pregnancy.
So going to bed at the ridiculously early hour of 10 or 10.30, then waking at 2 or 3 and again at 5 or 6 to feed a baby is not really half as dreadful as lying awake from 2 till 3 till 4 with your mind going round in circles…having a baby is a great cure for insomnia, believe me. I must admit I do feel a little dismal at 5am most mornings, if the young lady decides to wake then rather than the more reasonable 6am, but after the first cup of tea of the morning I usually feel fine. There’s also a little slump at 4pm, but further application of tea at that point generally does the trick again.
I’ve also been helped by the very sound advice of a midwife who suggested I express milk to use for the night-time feeding…this means the 2am feed takes around 25 minutes to give a bottle of breast milk instead of an hour or longer for breastfeeding – this one suggestion has probably benefited me more than anything else.
2) Laundry. I assumed (I’m not sure why) that babies would produce leaky dirty nappies all the time, the washing machine would be constantly going, and our clothes would permanently be soaked in baby sick.
This has been very far from the case – we were given so many baby clothes (including lots of nearly-new and hand-me-downs) that there is always a spare something to fling on the infant in a moment of crisis, and the nappy leaks/vomit comets are actually not that frequent.
I imagined I would basically live in the kitchen, like some kind of skivvy, in a constant spin cycle of loading the washing machine, sterilising bottles and washing up, but fortunately these chores are not nearly as much of a drag as I’d feared.
My only domestic crisis so far has been entirely of my own making – I put a duster in the wash with a load of mixed washing including some white babygros, and these are now a grubby off-white with yellow patches. Learned a harsh lesson there.
Things that Have Been Harder than Expected
1) Crying. We had heard about the ‘witching hour’, the time of the evening when babies tend to grizzle and complain despite being dry, fed, and otherwise well. ‘Hour’ implies 60 minutes…what we got was a baby that screamed and howled from about 4.30 to 10pm at night, the very time when parents would quite like to sit down and relax.
After the first couple of weeks, she wouldn’t even lie down in her moses basket, but would have to be held upright and jiggled around the room. If she fell asleep, exhausted by screaming, she might rest for 10 minutes, but would jerk awake if put back in her basket. We haven’t eaten dinner together once in the last 2 months – someone always has to be holding the baby, jiggling and rocking her to keep her calm, while the other one shovels down their food and then takes their turn rocking and jiggling.
Things are now getting slightly better – using a sling means I can carry her around the kitchen while preparing dinner or clearing up (yes, tidying up does happen!), and she is now able to sit in a bouncer which she seems to find far less objectionable than the basket.
The thing that has really saved us from going spare in the evenings is that, by some miracle, she has never made a fuss about going up to bed – she may be screaming and crying at 9.30pm downstairs, but when we take her upstairs at 10pm, some magical change occurs and she goes into her basket with no trouble (often lies awake in the dark chattering to herself, but not so loud to disturb us). So if we have to suffer the ‘witching hour’ from 4pm to 10pm, to get a quiet sleepy happy baby from 10pm to 6am, I’ll take it….bearing in mind, of course, it could all change again in a week.
2) Getting Around. Oh, my, this has been a hassle, far more than I was expecting. First of all, getting on buses…they have space for 2 buggies only, so if there are people in those spaces already, you have to wait for the next bus. When you do finally get on, you have to jiggle the buggy around a slalom of other peoples’ legs, posts and baggage, and then move all over again if someone else with big bags or another buggy gets on. That’s before I even consider the trains…stairs, gaps between train and platform, ticket barriers that don’t open (although to be strictly fair, the one time I got the train by myself, I had a host of kind people offering to help me get on and off).
Even worse than the bus is getting in and out of shops. I’m now aware of every local cafe and shop – which one has a steep step up as opposed to a ramp or flat entrance, which one has a door opening inwards instead of outwards (or a particularly heavy door), which one has tables arranged in such a way that the buggy can’t fit in without irritating other people, and (most importantly) which ones have the vital changing facilities.
The local GP surgery is one of the worst offenders – such heavy doors that they simply cannot be opened single-handed while pushing a buggy, until I realised you have to go backwards and push open the door with your bottom, leaving both hands free for the buggy (and woe betide anyone standing on the other side of it…).
Either way, the more I’ve been out and about, despite the frustrations of buses, trains and heavy doors, the more my confidence has increased – so I’m sure baby and I will be trekking into central London sooner or later, and who knows, standing on top of Primrose Hill or Parliament Hill Fields before the summer is out.