The truth about life with a newborn

"At the back of my mind are the moments we purposefully didn't catch on camera."
"At the back of my mind are the moments we purposefully didn't catch on camera." 

The never-ending night feeds, the constant nappy and clothing changes, the utter physical exhaustion - there is so much about life with a newborn that has blurred into a distant memory. However now that I am well into the third trimester of my second pregnancy, I keep finding myself trying to dig up those early memories of how things were the first time round.

I can easily recall the wonder I felt at seeing my son for the first time 16 months ago. I can quickly bring to mind the sensation of holding him to my chest in those first few hours, and I can remember without any difficulty how my heart seemed to suddenly swell with the overwhelming emotion of becoming a mother.

What is harder to summon is the other stuff. I know that at the back of my mind are the moments we purposefully didn't catch on camera. They are the experiences that no-one warned us about, the emotions I was in no way prepared for, and the moments of my life that were possibly the hardest and most fraught. No wonder I tried to forget them, and no wonder nobody warned us about them.

While I know that every child, every birth, and every parent-child relationship is different, I've been trying to remind myself of those tougher moments of the early days of parenthood. Hiding them from myself won't make them any easier to deal with this time round, and hiding them from other parents-to-be doesn't - in my view - help anyone.

Life with a newborn was, ultimately, the most magically rewarding and satisfying period of my life. It was filled with joy, love and wonder. But, here's the truth about some of the of the other bits - and they're the bits that I want to be more prepared for this time round:

1. Giving birth won't be like you imagined it would be. It might not go to plan, you will experience the most unbelievable physical pain known on earth, and your body will never be the same again. Sitting down, standing up, taking a shower - they sound like simple tasks, but once you've been sewn up with stitches that you won't be able to bring yourself to look at for months, they'll take on a whole new complexity level. Accept help to walk across the ward, accept cup after cup of kiwi fruit slush (because you do not want to add constipation to your discomfort), and accept all prescribed drugs.

2. You will cry, a lot. I'd heard of the baby blues, but they still hit me like a freight train travelling at the speed of light. Nothing can prepare you for the lows which come when everybody else expects you to be feeling ecstatic. Curl up in bed, cuddle your baby, do whatever you need to get through. And cry, a lot - it really does help. If the blues don't pass, please, please, please, talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling.

3. Feeding a baby is really hard. Mums and their babies have to learn how to breastfeed. I always expected to pull up my t-shirt, hold my baby somewhere close to my boob, and voila. Instead, that first week saw me pumping, topping up with formula, using a tube taped to my boob to feed my child, and my husband getting very familiar with how to sterilise expressing equipment. Breastfeeding is hard work. Your milk might not come in for days, and your baby will cry with hunger. If you do breastfeed, you are both amazing. If you don't, you are both still amazing. Do what works, do what feels right, don't feel the need to explain yourself to anyone, and please try and persevere.


4. Say goodbye to sleep. So newborns don't know night and day. A typical night could see you spend an hour on a feed and then half an hour on a nappy change and a clothing change because there's poo and spit-up all over baby's clothes, somehow. You'll sleep for another hour and a half and then baby will want feeding again. This will be your life for the next six weeks.

5. Don't listen. Ignore the stories which start with "I can't believe my baby already sleeps through the night." Don't listen to the parents who seem to have it easy and apparently have it all sorted already, on day three. Every parent will have a different experience with their newborn - just focus on your own.

6. Decide that you're going to like cheese on toast. Be prepared to eat this endlessly. It's quick, you can eat it with one hand, and you can make it when you're half asleep. Decide also to accept every offer of help from anyone who volunteers to cook you a meal/fold some laundry/watch the baby while you sleep. You will not have time to do anything other than care for your baby and yourself and there's nothing wrong with this. If it means living in your pyjamas for a few days don't worry - showers can be hard work when you've just given birth, and your baby's not judging you.

7. Keep the baby books closed. This is not the time to beat yourself up about not being able to follow the schedule in the book you swore you would use as your newborn bible. Similarly, don't consult Dr Google about the colour of your newborn's poo at 3am unless you want to convince yourself that something is drastically wrong and you must go to Accident and Emergency right now.

8. You will fight with your baby-daddy, you will cry, you will swear, you will despair. You will struggle with exhaustion and numbing pain, you will wonder if you are doing everything right. As long as you are trying your utmost, you are. 

9. Sometimes nothing will go to plan. It's ok not to leave the house because it was just too hard. Stay on the sofa. Call your mum. Eat some chocolate. Cuddle your baby. If you don't make it to your antenatal group catch up this week, they'll understand.

10. At some point, your child will sleep. At some point, you will too. One day, you will notice that you have had a better day than yesterday. One day, you will have another terrible day again, but you will know that the next day won't be so bad. One day, you will realise that your baby is smiling at you. One day, you will feel the indescribable sensation that is love for your child. One day, you will hold your baby in your arms and realise that you can do this.

This article was first published on Essential Mums.