When I was pregnant with The Girl, my brother bought me a beautiful pair of cashmere socks for Christmas. When he gave them to me he said that because I was going to be on maternity leave they would keep my feet warm while I wandered around the house looking after baby.
At the time, I totally bought into this romantic notion of padding about my house in my cosy socks while the baby sleeps, cooking homemade teas for her, baking for the husband and I, as an after dinner treat, sewing name labels into her clothes ready for nursery, or cooing at the baby wrapped up in a soft reciveing blanket, smiling up at me. Or sitting in a sun-drenched nursery, feeding the baby and singing softly to her. I don’t know if my brother actually intended to suggest this soft-focused, pastel version of my maternity leave, but I liked it. It fitted with what I had imagined and I couldn’t wait for it all to happen.
The following winter, with a 5 month old baby in the house I was finally able to use my beautiful socks. But my life was no longer in such soft-focus. My husband broached the idea of a second baby at this point and I offered to sleep downstairs. I was not ready to think about number 2. I was still struggling to think of anything but number 1. I couldn’t imagine space for another. In our house or my brain, and the thaught of delivering again frankly, terrified me.
This peirod of time was the time I found the most difficult, 4/5/6/7 months. Everyone thinks you know what you are doing, but I certainly did not. I remember hours crying, sat by the cot as she refused to nap, thinking that I Had to get her to nap in the cot otherwise she never would sleep in there. I remember trying to enforce a routine, like the books said, that the baby just would not conform to. I remember her crying and me not being able to help her, whatever I tried, and feeling a rising panic of frustration and inadequacy, a cacophony of thoughts telling me I couldn’t do this, with my crying baby as physical proof I was not up to the task. In those moments, lost and so very far from what I had imagined, I took to biteing myself.
Don’t get me wrong, this was not a cry for help or a grave attempt at permanently damaging myself. In fact it took me months to admit to anyone that I was doing it. It was not severe damage. But in those dark, seemingly endless moments, I felt that somehow I deserved to be in physical pain because the baby was so upset, and somehow the action of doing it did relive some tension.
I never hurt the baby. Nor did it occur to me to do so. I was the problem here (in my mind), I was what needed to be punished.
When you look at that with a rational mind, it makes no sense whatsoever. I understand that. But I was panic-stricken and fearful, not of bogey men or monsters, but of my own inability to step up, and somehow it seamed like a thing that would help.
I think a lot has to do with expectations, and mostly of myself. This was not what I had imagined, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just fix her every time she was upset. I am her mother, right, I should know, why didn’t I know? I didn’t realise that no one really knows. I read all these books about how to do it right and couldn’t work out why I still wasn’t getting it ‘right.’ I didn’t understand why our life wasn’t what I saw in the baby adverts or on Facebook.
It turns out, no one is getting it right. It turns out babies just do what they do and we just play along. It turns out everyone is ‘winging it’ (to quote someone else’s phrase). It turns out that all those baby experts get it wrong from time to time. It turns out even doctors and health visitors don’t know all the answers. I didn’t realise that, I thought it was just me.
This time round I have caught myself doing it a couple of times, and I am aware that we are not out of the woods yet, but my expectations are different. I don’t expect hazy afternoon sunshine and cupcakes every day. I still wear my socks, but when it’s mayhem and the baby cries for no reason and the toddler behaves outrageously and I don’t know how to fix it, I am better (but not perfect) at reminding myself that it gets like this for everyone sometimes, and no one has all the answers, and it’s not just me. Somehow, that helps.