Tuesday, 4 February 2014
'They let you leave with a baby you know ...'
I'll never forget the night we brought Forrest home. Matt brought him into the house in his car seat and put him on the kitchen table whilst he went to get our bags out of the truck. I leaned over the car seat, gazing at our little baby and felt tears running down my face
'What's the matter?' asked Matt, alarmed
'I just love him so much!' I sobbed
It wasn't this way immediately, I'm afraid I didn't feel that 'rush of love' that people tell you about. The birth was quite traumatic and I was a bit shell shocked by it all, so when they plonked this warm, damp bundle on my belly I just felt relief that the ordeal was over. I had planned to try to breastfeed immediately but I just felt too traumatised and didn't want to be touched. So Matt whipped off his t shirt in order to have skin to skin contact with our baby and give him a formula feed whilst the registrar attended to the necessary, um, repairs
A bit later, after copious amounts of tea (I couldn't get enough, it tasted like the best tea on earth!) my sister helped me to the bathroom and into a warm bath where I asked 'did you feel it with Fin? That rush of love they all bang on about?' She smiled knowingly and promised I'd feel it soon, that I was just a bit overwhelmed at the minute and who could blame me?
But the next night when Matt and I sat with our unnamed baby in our kitchen, drinking champagne and wondering aloud what the future held for our newborn, I felt a rush of love so strong that it floored me. We'd been so stressed when leaving the hospital, we tried to dress our baby in a warm pram suit but he'd screamed bloody murder. Unused to such violent outpourings, especially from one so tiny, we abandoned that idea and popped him into the seat as he was, tucking him in with blankets. His tiny head lolled around and I wondered how he would fare on the journey home but to be honest, I was more concerned with how I would get myself into the truck
No one checked our tiny baby was safely installed in his seat before we left, no one checked that we knew what we were doing, had managed to change his nappies etc. No one showed us how to bath him or dress him. It felt so weird. I mean, he was our baby after all so it was our responsibility to learn these things but we hadn't a clue!
As the days went by and I dealt with the horrors of my post natal body, the pain of breast feeding, borderline postnatal depression and the shock of dealing with the 24/7 demands of a tiny, rage-filled dictator, it dawned on me that we were finding our way. I was making my own rules up as I went along. I had my own strong ideas on how to parent this vulnerable little human and I wasn't going to let anyone tell me differently. If he cried, I picked him up. People told me I'd spoil him, that I'd 'make a rod for my own back', that he needed to 'cry it out' sometimes. I'm pleased I didn't listen. The way I looked at it, my baby had only ever known the warm, dark security of my body. He'd never experienced light or loud noises, never known hunger, never been too hot or too cold. He'd never had to wear clothes against his delicate skin. He'd been gently held for nine months, tighter as he grew bigger, and now he was surrounded by space. He'd had a traumatic birth, being stuck for three hours and being dragged out of my body with a vacuum, leaving him bruised and with a huge lump on his head. I expected he was frightened and there was no way, no way at all, that I was going to abandon my frightened baby when he was calling out for me. 'Babies don't have reasoning skills', I thought, 'he's not trying to manipulate me'. So he got lots of cuddles, was held when he wanted to be, was swaddled when I laid him down to sleep and fed whenever he wanted it
I realised that I was parenting by following my instincts - who knew I had mothering instincts? I've continued the same way ever since and I still feel strongly that this is the right way for me. It's not right for everyone, I appreciate that. I know that many people prefer a routine to their day and I understand that - I fully expected that I'd be the same way. But when Forrest came along all of that went out of the window. My first and most important role in life is being his mother and that means putting his needs before my own. Yes I get up and feed him in the night if he wakes up hungry. Why wouldn't I? How anyone can ignore a crying baby is beyond me. The way I see it, if my baby is crying it's because he needs something. Food, sleep, a cuddle - whatever it might be, it's my job to give him it
We have a night time routine which consists of a deep, warm bath, some baby massage and a warm bottle before swaddling him and popping him into his Moses basket in the nursery. If he doesn't seem close to sleep I read to him, or give him a cuddle to help him along. Nine times out of ten he is sound asleep by 7pm, giving us the rest of the evening to ourselves. During the day he naps when he's tired, feeds when he's hungry and comes along with me, whatever I'm doing. He plays on his play gym, has tummy time or sits in his bouncy chair watching me do housework (or dancing around the kitchen) We have little chats and cuddles, go for walks with the dogs, visit family, pop into town for some shopping. Nothing earth shattering but we're together all the time and if he needs something he gets it. Immediately. We have bad days of course, where he cries incessantly from 4pm until bedtime (we had one today in fact) but we also have great days where he'll nap plenty, eat plenty and go straight to sleep at bedtime. I just take the rough with the smooth and try not to get too down about the bad days
It saddens me to hear of babies in strict routines, whose mothers ignore their cries in order to 'train' them to fit in with their lives. Each to their own and all that but it just doesn't fit with my idea of being a mother
So I'll continue getting up to feed my baby in the night, continue complaining about how tired I am to anyone who'll listen, continue feeding him when he's hungry rather than when it suits me. Because I'm sure, absolutely sure, that it's the right thing to do for now. When he's a bit older he'll sleep alone in the nursery, his tummy will be able to cope with bigger gaps between feeds, he won't need so much body contact. But for now he's just a little baby so I think it's only fair to treat him as such