Next week Alba will be five months’ old – a milestone that seems wonderful and surreal all at once. Over the last few weeks I feel that more than ever she’s changed from being a small baby to a mini person! She’s so tuned in to everything we’re doing that I sometimes forget that there’s so much she’s yet to understand. It’s so odd to look back at photographs of this baby that fit between my hands and who seemed swallowed by her giant car seat and changing mat, and now to see her legs dangling over the end of them – this little person that wears jeans and shoes, tries to stroke the dog and is constantly discovering new ways to communicate (screaming loudly and then laughing at the noise is a current favourite). I feel I’ve learned so much from these first five months – things that you are never really prepared for and can’t imagine until you’re in the thick of it.
The first month is like nothing you’ve ever experienced
Those first few weeks are wild. Proper ‘in the trenches’, just keeping your head above the water, crying on the kitchen floor, constantly summoning up your reserves of mental strength WILD. When I look back now, I don’t know how I got through the fact that I couldn’t sit down (thank you coccydynia via forceps delivery), had a baby that screamed all night because she couldn’t latch when breastfeeding and wasn’t feeding enough and spent all day just holding her because it was the only way she would sleep or stop crying. There is nothing like that feeling of hearing her start to cry at 4am when you’ve already been awake every hour before then. I frequently wouldn’t be able to get downstairs until midday because I couldn’t put her down to get dressed myself, and I existed mostly on cereal bars and crisps because it’s so hard to make a meal or even a cup of tea. There really is nothing that is the same for those first few weeks, your life gets completely flipped on its head.
You have to let people help you – the power of ‘Yes please’
I found it very difficult that due to lockdown we weren’t able to have people over to help. Liam went back to work after 1o days (self-employed woes!) and I used to dream about what it would be like to have someone take the baby so I could have a bath, or to be made a cup of tea. I have always been someone who ‘doesn’t want to put people out’, so when things did start to relax a little and my Mum was able to offer to come round to help tidy up, or drop in a meal for dinner, my natural reaction was always to refuse or to feel like I should be able to do things on my own. Friends would say to me ‘please let me know if there’s anything I can do’ and I didn’t always have the confidence to say ‘please can you come over’. After several polite declines I one day let my neighbour take Alba out in the pram for a few laps of the block just to get some breathing space and it made such a difference. I am now really training myself to say ‘yes please’ when it’s been a hard day and people offer to walk Bodhi, or when my Mum offers to make me a batch of soup or to look after Alba so I can nip to the supermarket. Even with Liam, sometimes I’ll go to get up in the morning and change her and he will say “Oh, do you want me to change her?” and I have to catch myself before I say “No it’s fine” and train myself to say “Yes please” instead.
Every baby is different, and so much of it is trial and error
As much as it’s incredibly helpful to be able to have friends to ask for advice, you get really good at trusting your intuition and listening to what your baby is trying to tell you. There really are no hard and fast rules for anything (except for things to keep your baby safe, like safe sleeping) and so many issues are solved by trying new approaches until you find one that works for you. Often you get a feeling for something that might help, and then you doubt yourself – but you really do learn to trust that ‘inner knowing’ that comes from being a parent’. It took me buying five different formula brands before I discovered that Hipp Organic was the one that Alba took to immediately and would drink the powdered version of (before that she would only have the Aptamil Ready To Drinks, which was expensive and impractical). It took a lot of measuring out boiling water and waiting for bottles to cool before we got the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine – one of the best purchases we’ve made. It took a lot of forgetting to turn on the electric steriliser and spending most days descaling it before I found the cold water sterilising bucket, which I find ten times easier. But everyone you ask has different ways of doing things and it’s very much about sensing things out on your own.
You can never, ever imagine how much you will love that little person
I don’t think it’s really possible to comprehend what the love you have for your baby will be like – whether it’s an instant ‘head over heels’ feeling, or whether it’s a slow burn that grows over time (also completely normal). F Scott Fitzgerald once said “There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice” – and I often think of that quote. It’s a different type of love than your love for your partner, or your dog, or for Franco Manca pizza (though they are also very legitimate types of love, and I would never suggest that without the love of a baby you are missing out – it is just different). I miss her when she’s asleep, and even after spending the whole day with her I sometimes end up spending my evenings scrolling through photos of her. I have never been an overly emotional person, but the other day she fell asleep in my arms, woke up a few minutes later, looked at me, smiled contentedly and fell back asleep, and I was reduced to puddles of tears! That bond is just indescribable – from the moment I held Alba in my arms I knew I would lay down my life for her and do everything in my power to keep her safe and happy. At times that feeling is overwhelming – I just didn’t know that I had the capacity for this depth and intensity of love.
You grow as a person
I am not the same person I was before I had Alba, and I am proud of that. I feel I have much more perspective, and that I let things go more than I did before. I know I am more patient and calmer – I’ve learned to go at a slower speed and be accepting of the natural flow of things. I tend to have quite high control needs but you quickly learn that there is almost nothing you can control when you have a baby. You really can’t plan for things or anticipate how a day will go, and whilst you do start to get into a routine within the first few months, things just aren’t linear and can suddenly go backwards or change with no warning! It has made me a better person to have someone else to put first, to learn to be utterly selfless and to just take things one day at a time.
What did you learn or find unexpected in the first few months of having a baby?