“Look, leave her in the pram. She’ll be fine. You need to stop picking her up all the time. She should be feeding every three hours,” the doctor told me at my eight-week check up with my first daughter.
I felt embarrassed. Actually, I felt humiliated, like I was being told off for doing the thing I felt helpless to stop doing.
I picked newborn Talitha up and breastfed her. I told the doctor that I literally could not hear what she was saying above the baby’s crying.
I couldn’t even look the woman in the eye. I felt like every inch of me was a picture of maternal failure.
I began to blub about how she was not gaining weight, about all the people I was seeing about it and about the fact that I’d been told to breastfeed her as often as possible, not to wait for or schedule feeds.
Even more embarrassingly, I began to cry. I looked up at the doctor. She looked stunned and very uncomfortable.
Looking back now, three and a half years later, I think she meant well.
She didn’t want me to burn out. She knew that parenting is hard.
Though it was not her place to offer the opinion that she did, especially since it was not based in medical fact (the evidence supports breastfeeding on demand), I genuinely believe that she thought she was helping me.
I also believe that her words may have stung with greater force than they were said because I was vulnerable. Anything could hurt me. It’s easy to forget how fragile new mothers are once we’re no longer there ourselves.
But while this one incident is still so clear in my memory of that blurry time, how many times did I hear that message?
Don’t pick up the baby. She’ll get used to it.
It didn’t make sense to me then. And now that I’ve had a second baby, I’m even more baffled by this advice. Babies are already used to being carried constantly. We carry them in our bodies for nine months.
The gentlest birth involves much work, much squeezing out into a world of bright upsetting lights and scarily loud sounds. And yet we expect a sudden transition?
Tada! You’re here. Lie there, will you? The food’s no longer on tap. You better get used to it because one day you’re going to be out in the real world.
My first baby loudly protested being put down. Whether that was her hunger (she was tongue-tied and had trouble accessing milk), her personality or her reaction to a traumatic birth, I’ll never know.
My second baby slept so much, we could put her down quite a lot. It was pretty incredible. The moses basket actually got some use.
But as soon as she was alert enough to know what was going on, she let us know that that was not the way things were going to go. It wasn’t what she wanted, what she needed.
Every baby is different but every baby’s needs in those first months are strong, sometimes overwhelmingly so.
And whether it’s a first baby or second or more, it seems from my own experience, from what I’ve read and from conversations with other mothers that adjusting our expectations could go a long way in reframing how we feel about that time of utter dependency.
In the very early days with my firstborn, my mind kept going back to what our NCT teacher had called “the fourth trimester”. It helped me view my body as continuing to sustain this helpless being from the outside of me – an extension of pregnancy.
Then four months hit. She went through a classic time of being unsettled and I went through a time of trawling the internet for answers, feeling like I was losing my mind.
Thankfully, I came across talk of sleep regressions. Just knowing that our experience was shared, helped me accept it. I was no less sleep deprived but I was reassured.
Around that time, I also came across the term “the second nine months”. It conceived babies as only gradually growing away from their mothers, as needing much holding, nighttime care, much feeding. And it absolutely made sense to me then.
Ophelia turned nine months on Monday and it still makes sense to me now. I have worn her in slings for most of these months, nursed her at almost every peep, kept her in my bed and tried to see her life the way she sees it, that she has been a part of me and I of her.
She is mobile now. This special time of total connectedness is fraying. I can see it alarms her at times.
I can also see she is getting used to it, gradually. That she wants and needs to bumshuffle away from me. More and more.
This time I’ve mostly done what I wanted, what felt right, with mothering a new baby. It’s been hard (at times so hard) but I’ve also reaped the benefits of meeting her needs.
There has been much joy in the mundane and much simplicity despite any frustration (and there has been frustration).
I’m sitting here, typing with her asleep in my arms at 9pm. I look forward to her joining her sister upstairs for this portion of the night.
This time I know it will happen all on its own. She will outgrow her babyhood without any hurrying.