This Diary of Motherhood is a series of weekly letters to my first baby, my little son who I call Baby Bird. I know not everyone wants to read about the highs and lows of motherhood so you can read non-baby related posts about travel, writing, freelancing or Amsterdam instead. Alternatively read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird
It had been a while since I saw my friend who gave birth six weeks ago, but instantly I could see the change in her. Her eyes were soft not only through a tiredness that has lingered longer than any she has known before, but their new gentleness and vulnerability were the result of something I knew only too well; that sudden realisation that everything you know, or knew, has been flipped upside down. It's a change that takes a long time to become less shocking. Its edge still bites you in the bum every single day, sometimes every hour of every day. As we walked together, buggy beside buggy, I resisted the urge to constantly hug her.
That was such a milestone for me. I felt such relief getting there. And yes, I expected so much to change just for simply getting those weeks under my belt, and yes a lot did change. You started smiling, you started being a little bit more content on your own, and you didn't spend every single evening crying your little heart out, scream by scream. But much stayed the same. You didn't start sleeping better. You still needed to be held more than not. And it didn't stop being a shock. It didn't stop being hard. Heck, so far it hasn't stopped being hard. It hasn't stopped softening the corners of my eyes and adding tired lines and shadows to my face.
"Does it get better?" She asked me at one point during our meet up. She'd been explaining how her little boy just wouldn't stop crying in the evenings and how even when he slept at night she lay awake waiting for him to call for her, hungry and restless. I nodded along, remembering it all only too well.
I took a moment to consider how to answer her question. In doing so I thought about the week that had passed.
On Monday night you woke more times than I could count and even after you'd settled I lay awake for three hours wired and worried, wondering for the gazillionth time what it was that I was doing wrong to stop you settling into the sleep you so badly need.
On Tuesday I took you to daycare for the first time after the two-week Christmas break. As I handed you over to the creche worker and you began looking around at the little kids playing on the ground beneath you, I suddenly felt like I'd handed over a body part I relied on quite heavily. And as I left the building, I fought back the tears; sobs that didn't come on the first day I took you but now six weeks later. I then went to an appointment with a therapist who is helping me with my anxiety and sleep problems. There were more tears. In fact, all day long I stayed on the verge of tears, missing you and it didn't make sense.
That night, after I tried to cuddle you for the hour between daycare and bedtime though you were far more interested in your playmat and toys, you fell asleep quickly and after only a brief wake up an hour later you slept through until 3.30am, helped along by a couple of dream feeds. After I nursed you back to sleep it was an even greater shock to me, that you then stayed asleep until 7.30. It was the best night of sleep for all of us... EVER.
On Wednesday, your second day at daycare, I rode a wave of energy higher and more productive than I'd experienced in five months thanks to that injection of sleep. Taking a break from work, your dad and I had lunch and we watched a couple with a little baby next to us. We smiled and pulled faces at the little boy. We nodded at the parents like we were part of the same members only club. That night you slept pretty much the same as the night before. With another eight hours of sleep achieved, I woke on Thursday morning wanting to high five the world.
On Thursday, we spent the day together going to baby yoga and just hanging out at home. Yes, you cried on occasion, and yes, you decided that I wasn't allowed to tidy the house or work on my stories, but instead I had to stay forever in your field of vision as you played or sat in your bouncy chair, but in the afternoon we took a nap together, lying side by side and we both slept peacefully for an hour. That night you woke several times and didn't sleep in as late as those previous nights, and that was hard, but not impossible.
Friday was a lot like Thursday - the house stayed messy, the piles of washing grew, I didn't get a chance to cook the homemade meal I wanted to for your dad - but we had fun together. We went for a long walk and in your buggy you slept or stared at me with your steady big brown eyes. Just before bedtime your dad made you laugh by making monkey noises and jumping around. That night more trips were made to your room than I would have liked but I got enough sleep, something like five or six hours.
And Saturday, just as we were about to go out and meet my friend and her new little baby, you filled your nappy beyond its limits sending a strip of mustard brown up your back which penetrated all three layers of your clothes. We were late and rushed and I was a little pissed off with your dad for not helping out, but as soon as I saw my friend and her tired eyes, I got a huge rush of perspective.
"Does it get better?"
I looked at you. I instantly recalled how it feels when I hold you and you press your cheek against mine. I saw how you were no longer foreign and alien like but familiar in the most intimate, comforting way. I felt everything I felt for you.
"Yes, it does. It gets much, much, much better," I said.
Maybe I should have been more honest or specific and explained how it doesn't really get easier. Maybe I should have warned her that her little boy may not sleep more for a long time (and even then it won't happen every night), and perhaps I should have said that even five months in she'll still have moments when she finds herself wanting to cry all day. But that doesn't mean it doesn't get better, because she will slowly start to feel more at ease with all this madness, and she will get stronger and stronger day by day, just as the love her baby boy feels for her will grow and grow and start to reveal itself.
Because yes, it does get so much better. I know now that much is true.
Your still a little tired, but suddenly very optimistic, crazy-in-love mother x