Nothing can prepare you for those early months with a newborn baby. They are nothing short of a siege, a siege where you are fighting blind. After 24 hours in hospital I was parachuted into an uncharted battle zone with only Ewan the Dream Sheep and my ravaged boobs in the armoury. The time passed in an exhausted fug, the kind of exhaustion I have never known before. It felt like I was constantly at the wrong end of a 48-hour bender (without the bender). I sleepwalked through the days (and nights) in a haze of milk encrusted sweat pants, Hob Nob biscuit crumbs and adult nappies. One morning I even brushed my teeth with Sudocrem.
They call this tumultuous period the fourth trimester (or “100 days of hell”) because the baby should really still be inside you. That’s why swaddling, skin to skin and white noise work so well; we are tricking them into thinking they are still in vitro. Human babies are the least prepared to exist in the real world when they pop out. Just think about those iguanas on Planet Earth 2. The minute they hatch they have to run through a gauntlet of hungry snakes and escape to the beach where the parent iguanas are hanging out, chilling with their piña coladas. RUN. THROUGH A GAUNTLET OF HUNGRY SNAKES. Human babies can’t even hold their heads up. We should be more like elephants – pregnant for 22 months. Actually scratch that, I could not have been pregnant for another second more, I was practically beached at 9 months never mind 22.
The good news is that this doesn’t last (let’s not forget that everything is JUST A PHASE) but to get through it you have to live just one day at a time. You also learn to look forward to the little things, the small wins that make sleeping in two-hour chunks bearable.
So here are my top five small rewards:
Nutella with a spoon: I have history with Nutella; we go way, way back. At one dark point our relationship descended into addiction. I would eat a whole jar every week with just a spoon (OK fine, sometimes just my fingers). My flatmates would find me huddled in the kitchen pretending to do the washing up whilst shoving dessertspoon upon dessertspoon into my gob. I would constantly find telltale chocolate residue lingering round the corners of my mouth and smeared in my hair. I had to go cold turkey circa 2012. Let me tell you, the Nutella DT’s are not pretty. Despite warnings from my friends Nutella is now back with a vengeance. It is my breakfast food of choice, my reward for getting through the night before.
Clean (ish) hair: Labour left me feeling like I had been run over and then backed over by an aggressive freight train. Added to that my hair was so filthy it looked like a large, flea-riddled rodent with a fringe had died on my head. So that first shower at home was a beauteous moment. It is also a daily joy, five whole minutes to myself (and by myself I obviously mean that Bella is sat outside the shower cubicle, my own tiny voyeur.)
Walking, walking, walking: I was never a fan of walking, being a destination-not-journey kind of gal. But from our second day home we started going on long walks with Bella in the pram. Even though it was mid-November and the weather highlight was ‘mizzle’ it got my battered, saggy body moving again, albeit at a glacial pace. Five months on, as the weather highlight is still mizzle and a trot round Tooting Common comes with risk of trench foot, I am still walking every day. I must confess it has somewhat lost its charm as the British winter persists into May and I feel like I intimately know every paving crack in SW17. I wish I had invested in galoshes. Here is a soundtrack for an hour long walk:
Having your food cut into tiny bite-sized pieces: Bella had an unerring ability to want feeding the moment my breakfast/lunch/dinner/any snack was ready. Not able to use both a knife and fork and breastfeed, I relied on Phil to cut and dice my food into small chunks so that it could be eaten with one hand. The alternative was writhing away at my meals like some kind of rabid woodland creature.
ALL of the box sets: in the first three months babies sleep a lot. After you are done with the just STARING at them phase, box sets are essential to maintain your sanity. Incapable of any real thought, I enjoyed proper mind-mush series on Netflix, from Pretty Little Liars (definitely aimed at teenaged girls), to Gossip Girl (aimed at teenaged girls in 2007) and all the series of Friends from start to finish. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time selecting my favourite Friends episode. All I will say is “pivot….pivot…pivot.”