Yep, Mr Chick and I have finally welcomed baby Charlie into the world – as revealed in the last Up The Duff column. Isn’t he delicious? This post is the start of a new series I’ll be writing about motherhood. (Beware: some gushing ahead.)
When I was pregnant, Charlie actually being here in the flesh felt so surreal. I often felt I couldn’t connect my expanding belly and his movements with a real live baby; it just felt so abstract and while of course I knew logically a baby was at the end of it all, it’s impossible to really get a sense of what it’ll be like until the munchkin actually arrives. As I mention in Charlie’s birth story, neither I nor Mr Chick got to see him being born. I was out cold, and Mr Chick wasn’t allowed in the theatre (the downsides of an emergency c-section), so that’s a little missing puzzle piece in his arrival that we’ll never fill. But really, it’s small potatoes when you consider we got a lovely healthy baby out of it.
Now he’s here, it’s still surreal. In a good, beautiful, life-changing way. Many times a day, we marvel and coo over his sweet sleeping cherub face, stroking his chubby cheeks and kissing his tiny toes. I say things to Mr Chick like, ‘He is the most beautiful baby that ever lived, isn’t he?’ and ‘Can you believe he was just in my stomach 19 days ago?’ We’re both kind of shell-shocked by that and the transformation to our lives, to be honest. But, the joy at picking him up and seeing his look of recognition and feeling him curl into my neck is heart-exploding. And yeah, the feeling that someone is about to knock on the door and say, ‘Right, you’ve had that baby for three weeks, time to give him back now’ is dissipating.
I feel like I’m in a bubble of Charlie, Mr Chick, the house and the TV. When I’m forced to leave the house for any length of time without him, I feel disconnected from reality. I ring friends and babble like an gaol escapee about the great bits and the worst bits and the inexplicable bits of looking after him 24/7, but every step away from him is a wrench and every minute I’m not near him I think about what he’s doing and when I can get back to him. I scroll through all the photos of him on my phone and marvel anew at his cuteness/fat hands/big blue eyes etc etc etc. I text Mr Chick to ask if Charlie is okay. And this is leaving the house for a half hour hot chocolate, people. It’s insane.
Of course, it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns. Interestingly, with the intense love and attachment I have to him, I have swung to the other side of the pendulum with more than a few what-the-hell-happened-to-my-life moments. This, from one of my favourite bloggers Renegade Mothering touches on those unspoken thoughts new mums may have. I also have some beautiful friends – long-time mums – who’ve said openly to me in the last few weeks, ‘Tell me anything you want about how you’re feeling. Honestly. Chances are, I’ve thought it myself.’ Which is very liberating. Every new mum should have a non-judgemental friend or two like that in their corner, one who’s happy to let you weep on the end of the phone line for half an hour or tell them in 100 different ways just how damn tired you are. It’s just such a massive, massive mindset shift, becoming a mum. Charlie is hands down my best thing I’ve ever done / created, and the most divine little ball of pudgy cuteness that ever lived, but he has also brought me to my knees. I feel like I’m on a newborn version of Survivor where the object of the game is to keep your kid alive while not losing your mind. Some days, this is manageable. Other days, not so much.
I so feared the sleep deprivation. I am a gal who likes her sleep and without it, I cannot function. At this point, Charlie is feeding 3 hourly at night which means I’m up around 1am and 4am then Mr Chick takes over before work so I can sleep. I find, even though it’s broken sleep, I’m functioning okay and I fully realise we’re lucky he’s doing this (I hear of babies who wake hourly for feeds and hats off to the parents who deal with that – it would totally kick my ass). That said, sleep, when I get it, feels like a powerful drug and also, I imagine, like drowning. It drags me under in a way it never did before. When Mr Chick takes Charlie from 5am-ish onwards I fall into that sleep abyss like a junkie getting her fix.
I also have no idea how I’d do this alone, or with a partner who isn’t supportive or interchangeable. Mr Chick is an incredible dad. If I thought I loved the guy before, it didn’t come close to how much I love him now I’ve watched him in action as a proud papa. It really is a beautiful thing seeing a new side to a partner you thought you knew so well. He’s so kind and gentle with Charlie and the only person I’d want to share this caper with. When Charlie screams, he’s copes and is as cool as a cucumber. (I’m the one going to pieces in the bathroom.)
Three weeks in, we’re learning a lot. I’m starting to sus out the differences between Charlie’s hungry, sleeping, bored and ‘need a cuddle’ cries. I’m learning that he likes to do a poo at 4am and if I try to change him too quickly he’ll do another one and then he’ll do a wee and before you know it you’ve powered through four nappies and three changes of clothes in five minutes flat and by then he’ll be so wound up by all the nappy changing and revolving wardrobe of wet clothes and clean clothes that he’ll be wide awake and unable to go back to sleep. Until. Fucking. 6am. (No idea what the solution is here because he hates, I mean loathes, being in a dirty nappy. Wet or pooey, this is a kid who will let you know it if he wants changing. So leaving him with a dirty nappy isn’t an option.)
I’ve also learned that if you get a kid out of a warm bath and wrap them in a warm towel for a cuddle, you really should put a nappy on him first. Because a big sloppy poo can go right through a warm towel. You’d think that was 101, right?
I’ve learned that settling a crying baby is an art form and what worked yesterday may not work today. Rocking, singing, jiggling and swaying are all in my repertoire. I’ve sung in French, talked to him in funny voices, cooed at him and hummed til my brain hurt and those big baby blues finally slid closed.
I’ve learned that if you’re carting a 4kg+ baby around 24/7, you end up with back pain that can also bring you to your knees.
I’ve learned that newborns snort, squawk, squeal, growl, yowl and cry in their sleep. They also veer between hyperventilating and looking like they’re not breathing at all, which a) makes for a really crap sleep for anyone sleeping next to them and b) leaves first-time mothers so freaked out they may actually WAKE UP THE NEWBORN to check they are still alive. I’m learning not to do this for obvious reasons. My own sleep being the main one.
I’ve also learned that newborns are very picky about where they’ll sleep. Bouncer, snugglebed, pram, cot, nest of blankets on couch etc are all options but which one he’ll choose / agree to is anyone’s guess on any given day. I let him take charge at this point just so we all get some sleep.
I’m learning that it is useless to maintain your regular shampoo schedule. I no longer ponder on whether I should wash my hair. I just wash it whenever a window presents itself because 9 times out of 10, Charlie has done a sneaky, silent puke into my hair during an over-the-shoulder burping session. He’s cheeky like that.
I’ve learned that if an experienced mother tells you, ‘X saved my life’ you listen. So far, my friends Claire and Mon have been so right about life-savers like the dummy (yes I’m a convert, so sue me) and the bouncer. Both have saved my life and my sanity too more times than I can count these past few weeks.
Best bits this week:
He smiles at me when I’ve been away from him and it’s a huge, gummy, gorgeous grin of a smile. It’s like he’s saying, ‘Mama! You’re back!’ and my world and heart just cracks open anew. We assumed it was wind but the nurse told us babies can smile from 10 days and people, there’s no mistaking my boy’s big gummy grin for wind.
He’s still not sure about the bath and I can’t wait until he gets that it’s actually supposed to be FUN. Occasionally, he’ll also scream bloody murder around ‘witching hour’, that elusive early evening stretch when kids typically go nuts (early childhood nurses call it PURPLE crying). We’ve been experimenting with him to see if we can sidestep this and what works so far is timing it so he sleeps through it completely, playing motorboat with his feet or the dummy game (which involves dipping a dummy into his little mouth, whipping it out, dipping it back in, whipping it back out… he loves it and does a big squawk when he finally ‘wins’ the dummy). He also forgets to scream when Mr Chick plays the guitar so there have been a few impromptu concerts around PURPLE time.
Most surprising bits:
He loves being nude (except for nappy) and kicking his legs and arms about. And, sometimes I can try to settle him for an hour and have no luck, only to plonk him in his bouncer and have him go to sleep in 10 seconds flat. What the hell, people. If I knew that was going to work, I would’ve tried it an hour ago.