My friend looked across the dinner table and said in answer to being asked what it was like to have a baby – ‘it changes it your life’. It is only now looking back that I realise what the expression on his face was. Ambivalence.
There is an expectation, or perhaps it was only me, that having a baby makes life better, and immediately. Of course, in many ways, it does. You probably know all these things – the love, hugs, joy, ability to guide another person etc etc.
Being pregnant myself at the time of this conversation all I wanted to hear was that it was all going to be wonderful. I was going to make it wonderful. I didn’t want to see the subtle clues that my friend was giving out – subtle because today it seems almost taboo to point out that there are some things about having a baby that are not so great.
The sleep deprivation is torture, the feeling of being overwhelmed and the lack of control exhausting, and the knowledge that there is no way of going back utterly terrifying. A job can be left, marriage can turn into divorce, but once you’ve had a baby, that’s it. No returns, no refunds.
Add to that the fact that for the first few weeks newborns are a bit of a mystery. There are no smiles to tell you you’ve done something right, no cuddles that reassure you that baby is ok, no cooing or babbling to indicate happiness. The biggest clue is often knowing that the crying has stopped. And that is hard when you’re battered and bruised from birth, sleep-deprived and emotionally vulnerable.
Now nine months on as BabyBoy launches himself at me demanding cuddles, wrapping his chunky arms around my neck, and BabyGirl giggles happily and lifts her arms up to be held – those newborn weeks seem far off. But they did happen, and no-one warned me.
‘It changes your life’ – oh yes, it does. Exactly how, and why you might grieve for your old life, will be the subject of another post.