I had the sense I was doing it all wrong – motherhood, that is.
I thought I had done my homework on babies. I’d attended an antenatal course. I had read books and articles. Observed my friends who were mothers. They seemed to know exactly what their bubs needed and how to give it to them. Yet once our baby girl showed her little face, there was a disconnect. I felt thoroughly unprepared for the practicalities of caring for a newborn. This bub, so very precious, was perplexing in every way.
For starters, how had my husband and I missed the rather obvious fact that newborns do not know the difference between day and night? It was a cruel discovery after our daughter was born – and as far as I was concerned, the birth (at which there were complications) had thrown up more than enough cruel discoveries. I will never forget the hundreds, possibly thousands, of laps I did of our kitchen island in the middle of the night, trying to get our daughter to sleep when she had entirely different ideas.
Then there was the feeding. Now I knew babies needed milk often, but every three hours around the clock for months on end – seriously? And it turned out there were these things called ‘feeding frenzies’, a term I’d only previously heard applied to wild animals, and ‘cluster feeding’. But was she even hungry all those times she cried – sometimes for hours and hours on end – and I tried to feed her? Most likely she was fed up with our novice parenting. And as for breastfeeding, how could something so very natural be so damn difficult? I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that it could be so frustrating, at times excruciating, just getting a baby to attach to a boob in the first place.
Nappies were yet another rude shock, and evidently there was something amiss in our technique, because we had constant leaks. At my very first mothers’ group meeting, I watched on as a mum deftly changed her bub’s dirty nappy, all the while hoping no one had noticed my own bub’s dirty leaking one. No way was I going to embarrass myself by changing my bub in that context. But wait – there were frills on these things? How had we missed this, eight weeks into our daughter’s life in the world? And more to the point, how could these small humans contain so much poo? Our daughter liked to save hers up – sometimes for weeks at a stretch – then unleash it. We were not prepared for this phenomenon either – not at all.
And just when we felt as though we were getting the hang of this baby caper, our daughter would mix things up: she’d get a new tooth, drop a nap, become mobile. This baby kept shifting the goalposts!
Looking after a newborn is hardly rocket science, but when you’re in the thick of it all – when you’re sleep deprived and bub is not doing what she is supposed to do, or there’s conflicting advice on every possible aspect of her care – it certainly can seem like rocket science.
Perhaps the biggest shock of all, though, was the isolation. For the first time in my adult life I was in the near-constant company of another human being, but I had never felt so lonely. Every time my husband left for work I had a sinking feeling in my stomach – the ten or so hours before he returned might as well have been ten years. Mothers’ group was supposed to help with this; however, each week I left the meetings feeling drastically behind the eight ball. How did these first-time mothers know about all this stuff?
What would have helped, I think, was if I’d sought out the support of some online parenting groups sooner. Because it’s groups such as Inner West Mums that can offer wisdom, reassurance and friendship in a less daunting setting than a mothers’ group. I love the vents, the silly anecdotes, the confessions – they always make me feel more normal. And you only have to glance at a post from a mum battling postnatal depression, or despairing because her baby won’t settle, to recognise the wealth of kindness and generosity a group such as this can provide.
Almost four years have passed since our first precious (and perplexing) bub arrived in our lives. However, my memories of us bumbling around as new parents, of feeling as though I was failing dismally at motherhood, remain sharp in my mind. Looking back, we probably weren’t quite as hopeless as it felt we were, and I wasn’t really failing at all. And I’m pretty certain now many, if not all new parents question themselves as I did.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and do those early days over again. If I could, I’d focus less on whether I was doing it ‘right’, try to enjoy it more. And if ever a new parent asks me for advice I’ll keep it simple and say: ‘Love your baby. Worry less. It’ll work out.’
More from Ginny:
Not water – Tears
No Judgements, please
Triumph or Trauma
Riding the Merry go Round
Friends, Near or Far
When is Enough, Enough?
My ( Child’s) Kitchen Rules