I feel like Untold Stories has been pretty sad lately – the woman who regrets having children and the new mother who hates her husband – it’s perhaps a bit heavy going right now isn’t it? I do want this feature to be a place of honesty, but I’m tempering it a little today with a story that blends authenticity with positivity. Becoming a parent can be shocking and difficult and exhausting but also wonderful and surprising and beautiful. Today I’m celebrating both sides. Get in touch if you have a story you’d like to share anonymously.
When my baby is seven months old and I am starting to emerge, blinking, into the daylight, I go for lunch with a work friend who has a toddler.
“How have you found it?” she asks, innocently.
My only reply is a wide-eyed stare.
“I know,” she says, nodding sagely.
Nobody tells you what sublime bliss and utter tyranny it is to have a baby. Parents apparently take a vow of silence about the total surrender that comes with the territory. Through school, university, work, we are taught to analyse, to be rational, to put things in order. Then babies come along and don’t so much challenge your now hard-wired rationality as throw it out the window and stamp on it, chuckling gummily.
Pregnancy is a good preparation. Suffer from hayfever? Tough, you can’t take antihistamines. Stay indoors. Chest infection? Mmm, better if you can muddle through on honey and lemon. Used to rushing about town in a constant whirl of activity? Two words: slow down. Your body will give you no choice.
Towards the end, I felt like my body was turning inside out. I had expected my baby to be like me: early or on time to all appointments. Instead, she was lingering cosily, and my body was protesting in every way it knew how.
As my due date came and went, I went beyond impatience towards the edge of mania, troughing pineapples washed down with raspberry leaf tea and hobbling miles to midwife appointments in the hope of bringing on contractions, for them to tell me I was in labour, couldn’t I feel the contractions? Only to wait almost two more weeks to actually go into labour.
Then there’s the birth itself, which is another story. But to sum it up in a brief paragraph: I wish I’d spent the many hours I wasted on hypnobirthing ticking War and Peace off my reading list, hustling for more work, or mentally readying myself for the fact that shit can get seriously real in childbirth. No amount of hypnobirthing can prepare you for the sound of your baby’s heartbeat decelerating on the monitor or being rushed into theatre.
Before I got pregnant, I spent a year of expensive therapy trying to come to terms with why I need order and control in my life. I wish someone had just told me to have a baby. Babies are tiny little hurricanes. Try as I might to avoid it, my beautiful daughter would wee every single time her nappy came off, necessitating endless changes of tiny little outfits and laundry, laundry, laundry.
My whole body would tense up every time I changed her nappy, dreading her crying, hoping this would be the time it went smoothly. There was no controlling it, it was completely random, but nothing could stop me from trying, trying, trying, and feeling like I had failed every time she wailed.
As she got a little older, I realised that my attempts to get her to sleep were a) becoming a full-time job and b) completely futile. Teaching her how to sleep – and we did it really gently, and had a much easier time than many people – was still an exhausting, emotional process.
And yet, nobody tells you about the beauty of having a baby. The first smile, just for you, in the hush of a 3am feed, feels like a miracle. It is magical when she plays peekaboo with you, or you nibble her toes and she giggles, or you see her mind turning as she works out how to crawl. I have never felt so much wonder, couldn’t possibly have imagined the daily amazement that each newly mastered skill brings.
Babies are little teachers. I am still trying to learn that I can’t control everything. Sometimes, my daughter won’t want to sleep and other times, she will sleep beautifully. One day she will eat as much as me and the next, she’ll look me in the eye, smile sweetly, and throw every mouthful on the floor.
Every day, I have to remind myself that babies are random. It’s difficult, it’s chaotic, but above all, it’s incredibly beautiful.