That Cry.

It may not surprise you to learn that it has now been scientifically proven that your own baby’s cry is genetically designed to pierce your very soul.*

Before you have children you hear people say “there’s nothing like your own baby’s cry”. You take it seriously, nod solemnly and think you understand. But when they are born you realise that there’s nothing like your own baby’s cry. 8 months down the line I still struggle with the unexpectedly physical sensation of anxiety and stress I have when my boy is in full screaming mode. It’s such a visceral experience.

I’ve heard people say that it’s worse for mothers than fathers but I doubt it’s a purely biological connection. I’m sure for many adoptive parents it’s the same; male or female. (would love to know, please do leave comments). I reckon that one reason the cry bothers mothers more is that they tend to be around it all day, every day. And also because there is a strong sense in which, right of the bat, you should be able to solve this. Suddenly it is your responsibility to soothe this new human and that can weigh pretty heavy on any primary care giver. Of course, some of the time there’s very little you can do except rock or bounce or sing or shove into a pram/car-seat/baby-carrier. And, even if logically you know that babies just cry sometimes, there can a be a nagging feeling of failure. Perhaps it’s not even conscious, it wasn’t for me at first. Rather, it manifested itself as a feeling of deflation.

There really is nothing like your own baby’s cry. When they are wailing time seems to slow down. You know it’s only been a few minutes but it feels like hours. So, when you’re baby actually cries for half-an-hour, or and hour, or more, sometimes it feels unending. This task or parenthood feels insurmountable. (to those of you whose babies have colic, massive solidarity and admiration!)

My son has a particularly visceral scream. He’s one of those babies who can go from naught to inconsolable in 2 seconds. My mum was a single parent and now I’m a mum I regularly tell her how amazing I think she is. On more than one occasion she has turned to me, wide-eyed, and said “but you never cried like he did!” Even when I was in the hospital with other mums worn thin by the system-shock of parenthood I got some sympathetic looks when he was in a state. One day one of the doctors said to me “Is it nice being here and other people saying he has a loud cry too?” Actually, it was, but I almost felt embarrassed, like he had a louder cry because I was a worse mother or something. Still, it seemed to explain my anxiety levels a little.

Anxiety isn’t really the word for what I felt about his crying at one stage. It would more accurate to say I was phobic of it. Even when he was calm I was on edge; ready to spring up and respond to the next onslaught of screams and tears. This tension blocked my positive feelings for him for a while. I didn’t see that until I felt completely awful, but I wish I’d caught it before. If you recognise this description then please do talk to someone about it. Being stressed when your baby cries is the most natural thing in the world but being constantly stressed at the thought of your baby crying is another thing altogether.

The thing is, however objectively loud or quiet your baby is, when they cry it becomes the only sound in the world to you. There are three thoughts that have helped me deal with it a lot better and so I’ll share them with you now:

1. They are not sad! Babies aren’t crying because they’re having an existential crisis. They are crying because it is the only way they can communicate. When we allow ourselves to believe this the guilt levels drop by about a million percent. If any adult cried like my boy does it would indicate that they were either in deep mourning or mortally wounded! But when he cries like that it’s just because he cries like that. So it’s okay, I’ll try to respond to his needs but I don’t need to worry about psychological damage. There has been research underpinning this assertion. In fact:

2. “No harm will come to him.” A midwife said this to my friend when she was in the hospital and her baby had been crying for a good while. At first this didn’t really sink in for me; your baby crying doesn’t do them any harm. If you know they are fed and warm and clean and they’ve had a cuddle then they really are fine. And if they’re sick you’ll work that out soon enough. You know your baby. Honest, you do.

3. “Sometimes they’re just shouting.” A nurse said this to me in the hospital and at first I thought no he’s not, he’s telling something! Well, yes, but sometimes what he’s telling me is that he’s having a protest for no good reason other than he can. I really do believe in responding to your baby’s communication as much as possible, especially in the early days. But eventually these words empowered me to begin to distinguish between complaint and need. It also empowered me not to jump to it every time a slight moan issued from my boy’s mouth. What a difference that makes!

Once again, it comes down to that guilt that seems unhelpfully intrinsic to parenthood. Once again I want to tell you that it is a natural but unfounded feeling. If your baby was lying in a corner in a dirty nappy, hungry and attention-starved then it would be founded. But are they? No, I thought not.

 

 

 

*Ok, no,  it hasn’t actually been scientifically proven.

Not enjoying it? That’s okay.

“Enjoy this time; it goes so quickly.”

These were the words uttered to me on numerous occasions when my baby boy was just a few weeks old. The thing is, I remember thinking I bloody hope it goes so quickly. Because to be honest its pretty rubbish at the start. It’s hard for me to say that as a mum. It induces the obligatory guilt that one feels whenever we are even slightly less than positive about having a baby. It’s as though saying we’re not happy all the time, in every moment, means somehow we love our child less. It doesn’t, just for the record.

So, here’s a radical statement about the early days of parenthood:

It’s okay not to enjoy them. Like, at all!

Bet that’s not in many of the baby books.

Being a mother is stressful. If anyone tells you (in word or general demeanour) it’s all an enjoyable jaunt through life with a fabulously cute and perfect companion, they are lying. Or they are in denial. Or they are trying desperately to impress the world. Or they are an android prototype set to usurp human dominance on the earth.

When else in your life would you expect yourself to enjoy getting four hours broken sleep a night and being too busy or tired to take a shower? The first few months are bloody tough so be gentle with yourself; enjoy what you enjoy and get through the rest. There are likely to be moments of unutterable affection between you and your baby, but they may be few and far between for a while. Please don’t feel guilty about that. I mean, you will feel guilty about that, but just so you know you’re not the only one, not by a long way.

And it’s the guilt that’s the killer. The tiredness, feeling overwhelmed, the frustration when your baby starts crying again at four in the morning, half an hour after you’ve just finally put them down; all this is pretty darn tough on it’s own. But when we pile guilt and worry on top of it, it becomes crushing.

So I’ll be honest will you, I had some lovely moments in the first weeks of my son’s life but, overall, I didn’t enjoy it. I wish I’d realised then that this was just fine and had no long-term implications for my feelings for my son, or our relationship (he’s basically my best friend, sad but true).

In fact, I vow never to tell anyone with a baby under two months old to ‘cherish’ this time together. Because when we can cherish it we will, and in those moments we can’t we really don’t need to be told to!

A Novice’s Guide to, you know, Not Going Insane.

Hello Mothers, hello fathers, hello friends of mothers and fathers, hello people who choose to read blogs that have no direct relevance to their lives. Welcome one and all! And a special welcome to any of you who are reading this on a dim screen while feeding their baby in the wee small hours of the night.

I am the mother of an 8-month old boy and he is the best thing ever in my life (honest). However, this parenting lark is also the hardest thing ever, in the world, ever. Brain surgeons have nothing on us guys! So I’ve decided to write a bit about it and hope that my thoughts – sometimes heartfelt, sometimes tongue in cheek – might resonate with one or two of you out there.

This is not a guide to how to look after your baby. You do not need a guide about how to look after your baby. Are you feeding your baby? Are you clothing your baby? Do you change their dirty nappies? Do you cuddle them sometimes? Do you talk to them? If the answer to all these questions is yes then, honestly, you’re doing fine.

You will naturally want tips and guidance if it is your first baby but really, honestly, I promise you know a lot more than you think you do. In fact if you are worried at all about how to look after your baby this is quite a good indicator that you’re looking after them just fine. Honest, a midwife told me so.

The thing is, if you’re anything like me, in the first few weeks and months of parenthood you will read about babies, think about your baby, care for your baby, generally eat, drink, (occasionally) sleep and breathe parenthood. This is very natural and appropriate but you may in that time forget yourself completely.So, this is a little offering from me to you to try and help you feel okay some of the time. You will not feel okay all of the time; you’ll be tired and overwhelmed. Sometimes you will feel utterly broken. That’s okay. And yes, some of the time you will probably be very very happy. But this may be less of the time than you were expecting. That’s okay too.

If you try to do everything perfectly, to get everything right, it will not go well for you. Because there is no right with this stuff. There are 1000 rights and most of them contradict each other. So doing anything more than excepting you’ll just muddle through and find your own parenting style could very well drive you mad. Trust me, I went mad. Like, hospital mad. I’ll write an ‘about’ page with a bit of biog about that soon.

So, just to recap, this is not a research-based guide to parenting. I have no qualifications and not very much experience to be honest. But I do have the benefit of hindsight. When my beautiful boy was 10 weeks old I went into a mother and baby unit for women with mental health issues. I have a history of depression and anxiety but had pretty much ignored myself in those first months and put my low mood down to tiredness. There are a lot of things I can see now that would have helped me not get to this stage, mostly just the confidence to know that I was doing well and that I didn’t have to listen to every bit of baby-care advice I was given. There is a lot of unhelpful crap out there for new parents. I hope this can be a tiny speck of helpfulness to a few of you.