There is joy! There are challenges! There are adventures, and rewarding signs of progress! And then there is ….just weird shit
The actual fact of being a parent is weird
A couple of weeks ago, I briefly alluded to the way parents-to-be often focus almost exclusively on the pregnancy and sort of forget about how a small person is going to emerge at the end of the process. Once the baby actually arrives, you’d imagine this requires some weapons-grade dissociation to continue happening, but a brief survey of my new-parent peers reveals that we all kind of forget from time to time. Several of my NCT group admit to protecting a non-existent bump or worrying that the baby hasn’t kicked today weeks after the birth; then you look across the room and see that the “bump” is now kicking happily away on a changing mat or curled up in a moses basket asleep. Sometimes, especially if I’m doing something from my “old” life (like watching Masterchef or answering emails), I look down and am genuinely surprised to see a baby sitting in my lap. Just for a micro-instant, but it’s there. Having been pregnant (or, I am told, the partner of a pregnant person) for nine months it sometimes seems like it’s going to take several months to get used to no longer being pregnant. And then, on top of that, to being the owner of a small person. Perhaps that will never stop seeming totally batshit.
Breastfeeding is weird
Yes, I know, it’s natural, it’s normal, and we should all do it as publically as possible all the time. Now that our physical issues are resolved and I no longer have chunks of me missing, breastfeeding is going much better and I’m even enjoying it; but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a very odd process. A tiny human attaches herself to me every two hours (sometimes pretty noisily); and between feeds I’m still squirting milk everywhere as my system hasn’t self-regulated yet and it seems like there’s more milk on our clothing, household surfaces and furnishings than there is in the baby.
Part of the weirdness is for similar reasons to the above: my boobs have only recently been pressed into service as a feeding station, and it’s an odd transition from their old usage. Maybe things would be different if we were in the Middle Ages and I’d given birth aged 14 and never had a chance to use them for much else, but I’ve spent the best part of a quarter of a century using my bosoms for either decorative or erotic purposes and now they’re primarily being used as an all-you-can-eat buffet, which takes some adjusting to. And don’t even get me started on how I now appear to change two cup sizes between feeds. Trinny and Susannah never briefed me on how to dress a vastly mutable body shape.
The outside world is really weird
We made a conscious decision not to hide indoors (you may wish to do exactly the opposite, it’s your baby and your body and your house and plus the weather might not be so nice as it was this autumn), but even so: stepping out of the front door into the outside world feels unreal and dreamlike, especially in the early days. Walking down the street with the baby in a sling, everything seems faraway and muted, and seems to have a half-second lag on it. This is partly explained by the jetlag-like sensations induced by interrupted sleep, and partly by the sharp change in focus that means 90% of your entire world is now strapped to your chest in a Moby wrap. This also leads to:
Your former values are entirely alien
An example: I read somewhere that the most environmentally-friendly thing you can do is not have a child. I always assumed this meant that by not reproducing, you prevent one or more human beings using up planetary resources for an entire lifetime, and there would be one (or more) person fewer’s car journeys, plane trips and plastic bag usage in the world. I now realise the environmental impact happens literally at the point of delivery, with all the 60C washes we’re doing while we ride out a yeast infection, all the things we’re sterilising, and the mountains of nappies going into landfill (sorry, planet, we’ll switch to washable once she’s producing fewer than a dozen a day). I’ve been a Greenpeace member for over 25 years, and I’m feeling the least green I’ve been since I first learned the word “recycle”. But, priorities innit. See also: having a career used to matter to me.
The skills you value in yourself are weird
I used to be very proud of my ability to knock out a successful funding application swiftly and succinctly; to rustle up budgets and cashflow documents from thin air; and to hit deadlines with well-turned feature articles. Now I’m mostly proud of my ability to pump 180ml at a single sitting, my baby towelling skills (if you don’t towel her quick enough, you see, she strongly dislikes coming out of the bath), and my precision fingernail-clipping. Of such things are our days, and my self-esteem, now made. Seriously, though, you should see how awesomely I can pump.
Time is weird
I am still amazed when I start a feed timer, look away, look back and see that twenty minutes have elapsed. Or we feed her, change her, put her on her play mat and wonder why she’s making attention-requiring noises, thinking that it’s about ten minutes since her feed but no, it’s been two hours. (This is why you need an app, or a better memory than ours). Entire days go like this, and blur into weeks. On the other hand, I sometimes start the timer, look away, look back and find that just two sodding minutes have gone – usually when I’m in some very uncomfortable position. Time is unpredictable like that.
Other weird things include the weird things you hear yourself say; the weird times of day you now eat; and sex post-partum (but that may be another post for another day).