Well. It’s been a while.
I promised that I’d come back and write more once I’d had the baby, but there really hasn’t been time (or energy). Oops. So while she naps across the room (for how long, who knows?), here’s the news in brief:
- Baby Erin was born on Thursday 8 March, a few days earlier than the official due date. She’s three months old today.
- She was born at home, as planned, and the birth was fantastic – everything I could have hoped for. I mean, it was unbelievably painful and everything, but doing it at home was absolutely the right decision. It was uncomplicated, and natural and relaxed (at points) and joyful and calm. A few hours after the birth, we were cuddled up on the sofa as a family, having tea and toast. Brilliant.
- Our midwife, Angela, from the local NHS homebirth team, was a total star. When the baby arrived rather quicker than anyone anticipated, she handled it brilliantly. She continued to provide support, advice and cake long after the birth, and we felt immensely supported and cared for.
- 24 hours after the birth, Erin was diagnosed with “clicky hips” (dislocated hips) which means that for the last few months she’s been in a contraption called a Pavlik Harness. DDH (or CDH) is more common than you might think, though I’d never heard of it before we got the diagnosis. The harness is a bit cumbersome and changing nappies is a total faff, but you don’t notice it after a while.
- Since the diagnosis, we’ve had a regular round of physio (once a week, to refit the harness), ultrasounds (every few weeks, to check progress) and consultations with the orthopedic surgeon (monthly, to discuss treatment progress and options). Considering that we had a home birth, we’ve spent a hell of a lot of time (and parking charges) at the hospital over the last few months. We’re confident that the harness is doing its job and are hopeful that it will come off soon, with no surgery required.
- Looking after a newborn baby is really, really hard. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, and it’s relentless. People keep telling me that it gets better or easier. I hope so. I’m pooped.
- It’s also really boring much of the time. No-one tells you this. In fact, I think it’s probably frowned on to say it. But if you’re used to being surrounded by agile minds conducting fascinating thought-experiments and verbally jousting at work every day, looking after a baby gets pretty tedious rather quickly, especially when they’re too young to play or engage much with their surroundings. There’s something about the relentless monotony of routine (is it feeding time again? So soon? I could have sworn we just fed a few minutes ago…), and the fact that your brain has been sucked out of your ears by exhaustion, and the need to be constantly entertaining or on the move. It’s knackering.
- Despite this, it’s also really busy. What with hospital visits and other neonatal checks and appointments, plus Erin’s burgeoning social calendar, every day there’s something to do, somewhere to be, someone to meet. Every day takes logistical planning – where will we be, when? When do we expect her to get hungry? How do I make sure we’re somewhere calm to feed at the right(ish) times? How do we fit naps around everything? Where’s the buggy base? In the car? How do I leave the house with all the right things? For example, even something simple like clothing needs to be considered: Will I need to get her undressed (e.g. for weighing or physio)? This dictates what she wears, and how easy it is to get on/off without drama. Always thinking, always planning. It’s exhausting.
- When people say “oh, you’ll have all this time to watch DVD box sets on maternity leave” they are deluded. Neither is there any time for interesting crafty projects. The nursery remains unfinished. The crochet project I was working on when I went into labour hasn’t had a single stitch added since the birth. I barely have time to shower, let alone do laundry or anything more interesting. By illustration, last week, I stubbed my little toe when out at the hospital. By the time I got home at 2pm, it was bleeding and my sandal had filled with blood. I finally got around to washing it and putting a plaster on at half past eight. There just wasn’t a single moment for me to look after myself. None. Someone wrote to me the other day about a speaking engagement, saying they wondered if I’d like to come and talk to their company awayday “while I’m off”. I nearly exploded – or I would if I’d had the energy. Off! Hahahahaha! This thing I’m doing feels incredibly far from being off.
- Those people who say chirpily “nap when the baby naps!” have never heard of washing up. The instant she goes down, rather than slumping onto the sofa and snoring, I turn into an overwound clockwork toy – I dash around picking things up and shoving them into drawers or whichever appliance they need to be in (dishwasher, washing machine), sterilizing things madly and making myself sandwiches at odd times because I don’t know when I’m going to get a chance to eat otherwise. And that’s even without noting that Erin mostly naps when we’re in the car, driving (to/from hospital etc) or when I’m out walking with her, so napping is impossible for me. In fact, pushing her around in the buggy is a good way to make sure she naps in the afternoon, so I endlessly trudge around the area in which I live. I do somewhere between 2-4 miles a day, on average. I haven’t figured out how to fall asleep while out walking, though I try to reclaim the time by listening to podcasts I might previously have commuted by. I walk so she rests. Exhausting.
- But it’s also brilliant. When she smiles, everything seems ok. We play games. She giggles. She sticks her tongue out. She recognises my voice. We know how to calm her down, and how to read her many moods and anticipate her needs. It’s fascinating to see her start to develop skills and learn things. It takes a while, but when it starts to click into place, it’s amazing. Despite the exhaustion, you find you have infinite love, patience and energy. Whatever is required, you can do it.
- No-one tells you that your sense of identity takes a big knock. The person you were is gone. You have a new life now. You have new interests and new friends and new obsessions and new priorities. The old friends/interests/priorities are still there, but now you have to make a big effort to involve them in your new life. Getting used to that is really hard, and if you come to motherhood later in life (I’m what they call an “elderly prima gravida”, despite still being well under 40!) you have even more sense of identity to lose. It’s hard.
- The number one piece of consistent advice I’ve had from midwife, doctor, health visitor, family members and more is: “give yourself a break; stop giving yourself a hard time”. It’s remarkably easy to get overwhelmed by feeling that you need to do something in a particular way, and everything (how/what you are feeding baby, which nappies you use, development classes, routines and schedules, weight gain (baby’s) and loss (yours)) comes loaded with political, class and philosophical judgements and agendas. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone needs to believe – and promote – that their way is the best way, because questioning that or allowing others to question that would mean they were Not Being A Good Mother, and that can never be entertained. It’s exhausting.
- I miss work. In my absence, there’s a lot going on, and I miss it. I feel very far removed from it all, and out of the loop. I hope that when I do decide to go back, my brain will still function and my skills will still be relevant. It’s a worry that I know lots of new mums have. I don’t know how to fix it.
So in brief: here we are, three months on. Still alive. Just.
Erin is a curious, charming, relentless little character who likes songs about hedgehogs, is happy in the morning and grumpy in the evening, and doesn’t believe in napping during the day because the world is too interesting. She’s getting good at grabbing things, and gurgling. She looked a lot like her dad at first, but now she’s starting to look a bit more like me.
And next week, it will all have changed again.