When you are caring for a very young baby for a second time, and over three years have passed since the first, it's amazing what you forget... and what you remember.
Before my second son was born four weeks ago, I remember reminiscing about the physical feelings of breastfeeding - that sharp tightening of the let down, the aching fullness of engorgement, the way a long feeding session can leave you feeling as exhausted as running five miles - but I'd forgotten how breastfeeding makes you sweat at night, how strong a baby's latch is, and how truly dull and sort of debilitating an act pumping is. I prepared myself for the incessant cries of a newborn, the terrible timings of up-the-back-poos, and the way a newborn baby boy will pee almost reflexively once you open up his nappy. However, I'd forgotten how that line of pee can defy gravity for 20, 30 centimetres, how noisy a newborn can be just breathing - snuffling, snorting, grunting - and how, apparently a newborn baby can squeak so loudly while feeding that they can be heard over earplugs.
I remember in the earliest days of becoming a mother for the first time how overwhelming the future seemed. Tasks that I knew I'd have to do with a baby - leaving the house, pushing a pram, maybe hopping on a tram, going shopping, running errands - felt like giant mountains to climb. How would I ever manage these things once, let alone doing them again and again, day after day? I felt this same sense of overwhelm and fear as I prepared to leave the house for the first time with my baby in a pram this week. It was his father's birthday and we had made plans to have lunch out close to his work, which meant a long walk for me and the pram, and getting the baby, the pram and myself down and later up three flights of stairs. Thanks to a well designed pushchair, a practise run with my partner the day before, and a very sensible rucksack on my back, I did it and the baby stayed asleep the whole time. While the anticipation before leaving the house was expected and familiar, I'd completely forgotten how mentally exhausting it was to confront this fear. But along with that eventually came a sense of achievement and pride.
I'd also forgotten just how cute and adorable newborn babies are. This may sound strange, especially coming from the mother who has always regularly looked at baby photos of her first son, but it's true. I spend hours looking at my new son. Hours. Sometimes doing so feels so intense I have to look away, just to catch my breath. When I take photos of him I immediately want to send them to everyone I know, and I predict their replies, their exclamations of his beauty. I talk to him endlessly, telling him how gorgeous he is. I feel smitten by him.
As I write this, I realise that I hadn't forgotten what it's like to fall in love with a newborn baby, because I never have before. For more reasons than I want to explain here but I feel more certain than ever that because the beginning of post-natal depression was already having its wicked way with me, I did not fall head over heels in love with my first son. I thought he was cute. I knew I loved him but that's what it was like - more a fact, than a feeling. My desire to protect, nurture and soothe him was like nothing I'd ever felt before. But I didn't wallow in my love. I didn't tell him how gorgeous he was - and my goodness he was, is, so very gorgeous - and I didn't just spend hours looking at him, holding him, loving on him. Maybe that's why I look at his baby photos with such regularity (although I suspect nearly all parents do this). The good news is that this is a sad story with a happy ending. Now I tell my firstborn how beautiful and sweet he is every single day and whenever he sits still long enough next to me or on my lap I hold him, hug him and love on him hard enough to make up for those early months.
These two anecdotes about the good and bad things I have forgotten are linked, I think. They are both testament to the ebb and flow we experience in motherhood. From my experience so far, motherhood inevitably brings discomfort, difficulty and hard feelings. Sometimes these last a few seconds, minutes or hours like conquering a new fear like leaving the house with a baby for the first time, or as with the period after my son was born, they can last to varying degrees for many months or even years. But there is also great joy, the purest, warmest love, and there is real meaning and purpose in the work you do (because it is work), and often these feelings are our reward for working through the first, or sometimes they're just there in an unexpected smile from your baby upon seeing you, or in a spontaneous "I love you, Mummy" from your three-year-old. But these sensations come and go too. They may always be there, somewhere, but they aren't always felt on the surface. Sadly, sometimes they can also get buried so deep they disappear from our grasp for a few seconds, minutes, hours, or again more. Maybe someone is reading this and thinking I just need to meditate more or practise more mindfulness, and that would fix this problem, but I"m not so sure. My 36-year-experience of life has taught me that this is all normal and it applies to many life relationships and experiences. What is different about motherhood, or parenthood, and experiencing the good and the bad, is that it matters more. It matters so much more than anything else, so you want it to always be good, to always feel right, to always fill you up, not drag you under. While we can always hope for this - and maybe we should or maybe we shouldn't, I don't honestly know - we can't rationally or justifiably expect it, so why do we pursue it so? Again, because it matters.
Maybe I should focus on doing more of what I managed to do this week. This week I celebrated my highs - leaving the house by myself, filling my days with baby snuffles and cuddles - and I acknowledged but ultimately quite quickly moved on from my lows just as I have been trying to do more and more as I grow as a mother. I can never go back to when my firstborn was a weeks old and just as impossibly I don't believe I could change how I felt then because there were strong forces at work making me feel things I didn't want to feel - but I can keep loving on him hard now, and I can forgive myself for what happened then. And maybe, I am also allowed to enjoy how it's different now, how I feel about my second son, and how I feel more capable to navigate the highs and the lows, that never-ending ebb and the flow...
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 putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. 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 son around Amsterdam.
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Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.