I love my daughter. From the moment that little yapper (yep, she came out going ‘bahh bahh bahh’) landed on my chest, slick with vernix, I have loved her. I have loved her so intensely it has made me cry with how overwhelming it feels to love something so small and so in need of you. I don’t want you to read this post and think I don’t love her, or that I resent her existence. It’s actually the complete opposite.
Babies need you. 24/7 for the rest of their lives, they need their parents. The needs change obviously – you’re not likely to be breastfeeding at 12 years old…well, hopefully not! But all the same, they need you. Babies also need a lot more than love. I know – there’s a saying (that even I said pre-baby!) that all a baby needs is a lot of love and the rest will come. Horse shit. Utter horse shit. And not the kind they serve at Ikea.
It turns out, babies need more than love. They need feeding, nappies, winding, bathing, dressing, playing with, rocking, bouncing, patting, shushing, clapping to, chatting to. They need a never ending mountain of attention and entertainment and food. Napping, feeding, changing, playing. When all that is done, the cycle starts all over again. The frustrating, scary and wonderful cycle that is a baby. As adults, we are not prepared to wake up six or so times a night. Especially when we settle into a deep sleep and get interrupted. Lack of sleep does awful things to the human body and mind. For example, after a 2am feeding when Sophie was 3 weeks old, I was convinced I had brought her into bed with me so I could sleep. I woke with a jolt at about 3.30am terrified and looking for Sophie. I swore blind that I couldn’t find her and I must have squashed her or rolled her off the bed. I panicked – then checked the pram at the foot of the bed where she slept at the beginning. Of course, she was tucked up in her blankets fast asleep, dummy going a mile a minute.
The utter exhaustion had played with my brain and panicked me. At the time I was a new mother, completely overwhelmed by the new little person in my life that I had to keep alive and I cried my eyes out at the thought of her being squashed because I was so tired. This was the point we introduced shift patterns in the night. At the moment, Husband does 2am – wake up, I do 6pm-2am. Sophie now sleeps through the night, but previously she was up four times a night on average and I couldn’t manage that alone, I needed to rest or I couldn’t function properly.
Standing in your pyjamas/knickers or whatever it is you sleep in at 3am and singing nursery rhyme tunes to my own lyrics (yes, really) is tiring. You can only sing so many verses of The Incy Wincy Fucking Spider before you want to cry. Don’t get me wrong, holding my daughter in my arms while she finds a cushion on my shoulder is all well and good, but when you put her down and she is immediately wide awake…yeah that’s the kicker. You end up crying yourself. I will always tell my friends who have never had children, how difficult the first few months are. Not to put them off – never to put them off, but to prepare. You can’t fully appreciate how hard it is being a parent until you are the one who has been puked on right before bedtime, and you won’t dare change your clothes until the baby is down for the night in case you wake them up. It doesn’t matter if your sofa has been puked and peed on (my poor couch cringes whenever I come near with the bleach. Damn near waves a white flag!) as long as the baby is down for the night everything else can bloody well wait.
Giving a baby love is all well and good, but there have been times I have had to put Sophie down somewhere safe and just walk away. Sophie has tested me further than anything else but a deep breath, scream into a pillow and a mental reminder that she isn’t deliberately trying to wind me up is what it takes sometimes.
I know so many of my friends who will read this blog post and nod, agreeing heartily with me. We ALL said that we would be the ones who couldn’t understand those who snap at the baby, or walk away and cry. We ALL said how tolerant and patient we are – because who can be annoyed and even angry with a tiny, defenceless child. And we ALL ate our words when 2 months into parenthood we didn’t even know what day of the week it was and why our knickers were inside out. Babies. They are tough cookies.
Love won’t stop your baby crying. Love won’t stop you feeling frustrated at lack of sleep sometimes. Love won’t make waking up 6 times a night any easier on your body. Love won’t feed, clothe or bathe a baby. Love can’t stop your hormones from working overdrive and scaring you every day.