You’ve undoubtedly heard it said ten times or more: parenthood is a life-changing experience; once you pass through that portal you will never be the same again; just going to have to be a different man. But what do those ch-ch-changes look like? For me they look a little something like this.
Motherhood has made me:
Fiercely protective in a way I simply wasn’t before. Much as I love my husband and my friends and our collection of bears and tigers, they’re all fairly self-sufficient and I’m capable of showing them all love without being in permanent fight-or-flight mode. A newborn, by contrast, is a completely helpless being that is wholly dependent on you for everything – food, shelter, survival, protection from pain or discomfort. If you’ve ever had a beloved pet you’ll identify to some extent, but that level of sheer unadulterated helpless dependency only really applies if we’re talking about newborn kittens and pups – even slightly older pets are significantly more developed than human infants. (There’s a whole evolutionary theory about it and everything).
You might imagine that having a little bundle of need who is incapable of communicating what that need is at any one time beyond “I am a baby and I require something urgently” would be a particularly stressful kind of hell, but some combination of instinct and hormones means that all you want to do is protect this particular bundle, the one that needs your warmth, your shelter and your love to survive and thrive. Physically exhausting? Yes. Emotionally wearing? Sometimes, indeed. Bearable? Thanks to the fascinating workings of nature, totally.
Irrationally angry about things that didn’t previously bother me like people mowing their lawns in the middle of the day outside our window; or inadequately-paved North London streets bumping under the pram; or clinic appointments running late and messing with the afternoon feed/nap pattern; or the weather. My god, the weather is always wrong. It’s too pigging hot at night and too sodding wet in the daytime, and when it’s sunny the sun gets in her eyes and when it’s windy that’s just horrific.
You know what doesn’t make me angry? Teenagers. Teenagers are great with babies. They’re so sweet and protective around us, so fascinated by her tininess, in a way most adults just aren’t. I think all daycare centres should be staffed by teenagers.
Crazy in love, or just insane. It is, I have learned, possible to simultaneously really, really need a nap/long soak in the bath/just to remove the 8 pounds of infant from your lap where she’s been cutting off circulation to your legs for the last hour; and then miss her as soon as you embark on this nap/soak/standing up. As soon as she’s away from me, I miss her, like some crazed obsessive stalk-lady. I do leave her in the care of daddy at least once a day, for our mutual health and sanity as well as for practical purposes like cooking dinner; but going to the shops solo feels really weird. I wonder if it always will.
Zombie-brained. No two ways about it. We’re getting more sleep at night now (a pattern of four wakings per night, between 2.5 and 3.5 hours apart, is emerging and that’s tolerable for now) but it’s not enough to function fully on. I cannot retain two things in my brain at the moment, so if I turn away from sterilising the dummies in the microwave to deal with an urgent nappy incident or answer the door or ill-advisedly try to multitask with cooking lunch, those dummies are going to stay in there, forgotten, for hours. We are serial processors now.
I’ve heard of babies that sleep through the night at seven weeks. I’ve heard of babies that still don’t sleep more than a few hours at a time at 22 months. Please don’t tell me which yours is, I don’t want to attempt statistical analysis in my sleep-deprived state and it’s just going to scare me.
Invisible. It’s true, strangers on the street now bypass me and talk directly to her, usually to state the blindingly obvious (‘you’re tiny’). Might have to get used to that.
Occasionally distressed because (see first point above) newborn infants completely rely on parents to provide protection and comfort, and sometimes it’s necessary to do something painful or uncomfortable in the short term to provide long-term benefits and it’s impossible to communicate this to a being who has no communication facility, no concept of past, present or future and no idea what’s going on most of the time.
So of course I let the consultant midwife check her hips (she didn’t like that); I let the nurse take a horribly large blood sample from her heel (she did not like that at all and I felt like a rotten traitor); I let the pediatric consultant snip her little tongue-tie (needless to say, this didn’t go down at all well) and in a few weeks I’ll let the GP stick multiple needles in her and I don’t expect her to like it one bit – because I understand the long-term benefits that she can’t at the moment. In a few years I’ll be able to articulate these benefits to her when we go for more vaccinations or treatments, and that will make matters easier. But for now it’s horribly distressing to see my precious one suffer, even momentarily, even for good reason, so I just sit there sobbing while Darien calls me daft.
Snail-paced. Everything just takes longer with a baby. That’s just how it is. It’s not my usual style, but I guess I’ll have to suck it up for now. I hear she’ll be zooming off into the distance in about five minutes so I have that to look forward to and guess I ought to treasure these relatively peaceful weeks.