A Diary of Motherhood: Week Thirteen
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,
Because it's going to change soon and because I'll no doubt forget, the memories wiped over with a million other future repetitive actions we go through together, I wanted to take a moment to document what our daily routine looks like for you at three months old.
Between six or seven in the morning, you wake me up with a kick or a punch. More mornings than not you sleep next to me as I often fall asleep during your final middle of the night feed around four o'clock. While I keep telling myself that I'll do something about it because you will be moving into your own big cot soon, I also secretly love waking up next to you. After rolling you over to my other side, I nurse you and I resist the urge to fall back to sleep again. When you're finished, you give me another kick or a punch and remind me that you want to get on with your day. I pick you up and we walk to your room where I lie you down on your changing mat. Already your eyes are looking up and around you, searching the room for things to look at. Eventually they come back to me and that's when we share our first smile of the day. It's always my favourite and, selfishly, the most needed.
With a clean nappy on I keep you in your pyjamas and I take you through to the living room where your play mat is. I place you on it and then set about doing a few important jobs in the kitchen nearby; washing up last night's bottle, sterilising it and any dummies lying around and if necessary tidying up things that I was too tired to clean away the night before. Then I make tea and my breakfast and I eat the latter while pumping as much milk as I can for your daddy to feed you with later in the day. Sometimes you start to immediately gurgle to yourself and the things you reach for hanging above you, but sometimes you stay quiet, focused and simply thrust your arms and legs around, breathing in and out hurriedly like you've just run a mile. If I'm lucky you'll stay that way for up to forty-five minutes so I'm drinking my second cup of tea by the time you've decided you've had enough. That's when I pick you up, sit you on my knee and we "read" some books together; it gave me such a thrill when you first reached out and grabbed the edge of a fabric page. I know it was all accidental and by chance, but when you pulled it to you, opening the next page, I felt so very proud. Imagine how I'll feel when you start to try and say the words on the page!?
After playing in my lap for a while, I check the time and once it comes to around 75 minutes after you woke up, I lie you down in my arms and rock you a little, as you're due your first nap. I keep you in my arms for this one because I want you to sleep for as long as possible and again, I like the closeness. Depending on the night before, I also try to sleep, or I watch something on Netflix, or I use my spare hand to reply to emails, WhatsApp messages or I write a few hundred words of a story, all wonderfully interrupted by regular looks down at you.
Once you wake up, I start the clock again, always careful to make sure you nap every 90 minutes because if we miss this you quickly become fussy and upset. I change you again, put you in some different clothes and if you're keen you go back on your mat. I then get changed myself, quickly washing as much of me as I can at the bathroom sink. If you're not in the mood to be on your own, you'll lie on the bathroom mat and look up at me doing all this as well as brushing my teeth. You are fascinated with what my sonic toothbrush feels like on your cheeks and belly, so I have a good mouth-full-of-toothpaste giggle at that. Then if the weather is dry, we'll head out for a walk with you in your pram. Sometimes we walk for miles but sometimes it's just to the nearest place I can buy coffee.
Of course not every day is the same. On Thursdays we're on our way to yoga by 10.30 and for some reason Friday has turned into the day I place you in the Ergobaby sling and we go to a museum. But there are things that remain the same. Most days, you feed every three hours and both you and my full breasts are better than any alarm clock at reminding when your next meal is due. At first I struggled to feed you in public - embarrassed more for others than myself - but now I am frighteningly relaxed about nursing you in a public space. And proud. And grateful. I am so proud and grateful to nurse you.
Your dad wakes up between 10 and 11 after he stayed up to do your first late night feed which normally falls between 1 and 2. It's an unusual routine for us as a couple, and does mean we have become like ships passing in the night but it means we each get a potential run of 4-5 hours of unbroken sleep, albeit at different times. I race through a shower, getting dressed and maybe putting a load of washing on while you and he catch up in a conversation full of werewolf-like "oohs". I've got my getting ready routine down to under twenty minutes when four months ago this would have taken over an hour.... I daren't think about how much time I've wasted in my life!
At some point in the day, I put you in your sling and use this to try and get some work or writing done. The word "try" is key here. Some days you're having none of it. Some days I'm having none of it and would rather leave the house again and go for a walk. And some days I've already made plans to meet with someone, or the housework can no longer be ignored. In this way no two days are exactly the same both in terms of our activities and my varying energy levels.
You always take your longest nap in the afternoon, ranging from an hour to two hours, seemingly dependent on how close to me you are. Getting you better at napping on your own is definitely on my to-do list.
I try to always make sure you're awake by 5.30pm and between this time and the beginning of your bedtime routine at 18.45, you, your dad and I play together. Sometimes this involves you lying on your play mat as we sit either side invariably making the music play on one of your toys while talking about our days/arguing about who's going to cook dinner, or sometimes we all lie together on our bed and we stroke, stretch, pull, cuddle, shake and blow raspberries on your limbs something you adore until you don't. But that's fine because too many perfect moments like that, when we are a family, all present and connected and happy, would only scare me senseless.
Your bedtime routine at the moment involves Dad running your bath while I undress you, all the while talking to you in what my friend described as my "zen voice". When the bath water's ready, I whip your nappy off, pick you up and carry a naked you to the bathroom all the while whispering to myself "please don't pee on me, please don't pee on me" (you haven't yet!) and then I lower you into the water. The first bath you had aged five days made you wail and wail but now you almost always smile up at us as your bottom first touches the water. You kick your legs, throw around your arms and try to drink the water that splashes up near your mouth. Bath time is one of my favourite moments of the day. Once we've washed you - poking our soapy fingers into countless rolls of baby fat - your dad wraps you in a towel and takes you back into your room and starts drying you while I clear up the mess you've left behind on the bathroom floor and get the bedroom ready by spreading out a swaddling blanket, turning on a red night light and closing the curtains. By the time I return to your bedroom, your dad has used your towel to wrap you up as a "baby burkha", or an elf or a toga wearing Roman. I laugh but simultaneously berate him for being too stimulating a bedtime!
What follows is, I suspect, your favourite part of every day: baby massage. Using plenty of oil, I run my hands over your body - stomach and chest first, then arms, then legs. As I do, I hear your breath slow and quieten and you look at me with your mouth slightly open, not quite in a smile though the corners twitch upwards occasionally. After five minutes or so, I then turn you over and massage the back of your body, often discovering new muscles as I do and taking time to elongate each of your toes. You hold your head wonderfully high in a perfect cobra pose as I do this. Before I turn you back over to put a nappy and your pyjamas on, I take a moment to kiss you on the cheek and tell you just how proud I am of you.
Once dressed again, Dad gives you a quick kiss goodnight and then I carry you into our bedroom where I feed you lying down. In the last few weeks you've really gone to town during this feed; it's your longest by many minutes and the only time you drink from both breasts. When I'm feeling optimistic, I tell myself that this is you preparing to sleep through the night one day soon but this remains to be seen as of yet. In between sides, I lift you up and swaddle you which sometimes you resist with small cries and other times you just gasp a little, eager to be back on the breast.
Careful to never let you fall completely asleep on the boob - my small attempt to avoid this one sleep association; I'll deal with the others another time - I wait until your drooping eyelids tell me you're getting drowsy and that's when I get up, pick you up slowly and then sing Twinkle, Twinkle to you as I walk slowly over to your crib. Most often lying you down will make you wake up a little and it's not unusual that you will then start to moan and sputter but I've come to learn that you very rarely go down without a fight and as long as you're not crying, screaming or going red in the face, I tuck you in, tell you good night and leave you to it.
I could write a whole other post on what happens next as it does still vary a lot, but after six weeks of putting you to bed like this, I think the majority of times that you're left to calmly put yourself to sleep, it works. Furthermore, the nights when you don't settle into a nice deep sleep are rare. I'm incredibly grateful to you for this because clawing back some time to spend by myself or with your dad really was a very big and important achievement for me as I reeled from the shock of becoming a mother in those early weeks. Of course the irony is that we most often spend those few hours alone talking about you, looking at the photos of you we've taken and getting ready for your next meal/wake-up time, but hey, it still feels like time well spent. I then give you a "dream feed" before I go to bed which could be as early as 9pm or as (stupidly) late as 11pm. I love how efficient you are eating in your sleep; you take in every drop.
Just writing this post makes me realise how full our days are and how how really no matter what changes, it's very, very unlikely that the days are ever going to be less full for the foreseeable future. If anything the less sleep you need and the more you start to move, the more activities we are going to have to factor into these hours. Yes, I'll be honest and say, this all sounds and already is exhausting. But it's making my days, my weeks and my life fuller than they've ever been. Thank you for that, Baby Bird.
Your tired, slightly-routine-obsessed, just-can't-get-enough-cuddles mother.
Read more of these Motherhood Diary entries here, or start at the beginning with Week One.
Photo by my beautiful friend Beth. Thank you for this and everything you did during your stay x
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.