Here’s how it goes. Basically you have a baby, and eventually you take it home from the hospital, and you can’t quite believe they just let you walk out of there with this tiny shrimpy infinitely precious thing, so little that she disappears into her leopard print snowsuit. As you clutch the door handle of the car all the way home, fearful of the maniacs on the road, which every driver suddenly appears to be, you also find yourself checking the mirrors for the Baby Police. They’re bound to be pursuing you, pink/blue light flashing, bellowing through a megaphone “THESE KIDS ARE NOT AUTHORISED TO HAVE A BABY! REPEAT: NOT AUTHORISED!”
You have no idea what to do with the baby. To confuse matters further, she also has no idea how to be a human being. So the three of you muddle through the first few weeks, in a haze of milk, tears (hers because she’s hungry or tired, yours because you’re tired and she’s amazing), wacky nights that are a cross between a fiesta, an SAS training camp and a Tim Burton film, and the snap of a thousand photographs.
There are grannies. Thank goodness there are grannies, because as I mentioned above, you have no idea what to do. The grannies offer advice, warily, politely saying that they don’t want to interfere as you scream back at them “Interfere! For the love of God, please interfere!” Without grannies I’d fear we’d all be putting our newborns to sleep in the bathroom sink wrapped in brown paper, and serving them roast dinners.
Eventually, things settle down. The baby, miraculously, starts to sleep for longer than 90 minutes at a time- though do not rest on your laurels (she mutters darkly) because these things are not necessarily permanent. The dinstinction between awake (smiley, delicious, staring at things) and asleep (peaceful, adorable) becomes more marked. There are naps, and you can have a shower and maybe eat breakfast. You’re coping fine with your partner back at work, and feel fantastic. Then the baby kicks over the house of cards and runs away cackling. This happens every few weeks just as you are feeling super smug about your supreme parenting skills. But it’s still fantastic.
The crazy anything-goes world of newborn-dom is behind you so you feel you ought to establish grown up things like routines and schedules and good habits. At this point you have a choice. Will you continue to go with the flow? Or will you revert to anally-retentive, list-making, geeky form and apply yourself to the task as eagerly as you did as the slightly odd schoolgirl you once were?
Guess which I have done. I’ve been jotting down Leila’s movements (physical, bowel and otherwise) since birth. The first few days went something like: “Fed all night. Black poo, hurrah! Slept all day. Very cute”. These days I still diligently note down when she feeds and sleeps, with joyful/despairing side notes . I’m note sure exactly why I do this but it’s comforting. When things are tough it helps me to look back at a sidenote reading “best night ever! [smiley face]”. And it helps me to see what is working, when she’s having a growth spurt, and how things have changed and settled down. And, yes I confess, it helps me to feel in control. Did I ever realise I was such a control freak? I did not.
I still don’t know what I’d do without the grannies and their advice (and Leila is blessed with 2 grannies, 2 step grannies, and 3 great grannies, so there is no shortage!). But it’s also in my nature to turn to books. I took the famous/infamous Gina Ford book out of the library, and may I just say that book is like kryptonite to the slightly-unsure-of-herself new mummy. Though I only flicked through, and kept my eyebrow cocked in cynical fashion throughout, its messages of terror seeped into my brain and weakened my self-belief before I had the chance to cast it into the returns bin like a searing hot coal. You must be awake by 7am. Mother may have a slice of toast at 8am. The baby must nap, FOR NO LONGER THAN 45 MINUTES, at 9am. If you do not do as I say, turn to page 75 to see how wrong things can go. I paraphrase, but I found it quite genuinely chilling.
I am now, since the onset of the recent sleep disturbances, slightly obsessed with The Baby Whisperer and her book, grandly titled “The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems”. Whether she can help with my mummy tummy and meagre bank balance, I haven’t yet discovered. But she offers almost magical, and crucially, kind and non-terrifying, tips for encouraging your baby to nap in their cot and get into a decent routine, but without dictats regarding the eating of toast and illustrations of how your world will crumble if you do not follow her advice. She also addresses the reader as “luv” and “ducky”- which I’m sure is designed to pull in the American readership, high on the fumes of the Mary Poppins English-nanny fantasy, but which I also find strangely reassuring.
They say about parenthood, “nobody gives you a manual”. But in fact, there are about a million manuals out there. The question is, are they worth the paper they’re written on, or just a crutch for slightly neurotic bookworms like me? What do you think? Do you use them? Would you? Should I?
Also, look at my baby: