Motherhood is an extraordinarily humbling experience. Before, I thought I knew about children. I babysat, I harboured ambitions of a career as a perpetually adored Miss Honey in an idyllic village primary school. Most of all, I dreamed of motherhood with an impassioned fervour, spending my childhood making dozens of beds for dolls all over the house, tucking them in, cuddling them, calling them names, and in my teens, writing a dystopian (and melodramatic, and medically inaccurate) story about a woman whose ability to have children is taken away from her. I guessed how hard it would be. To have a calling to motherhood and it not be answered. And hoped my own journey would be easy, and that when I did have a baby of my own, that it would come naturally to me.
Of course, I was wrong, about all of it, partly as an inevitable result of the misguided assumption that any of it would be easy, and partly because of the less than ideal circs of my little one’s birth. Coming around from general anaesthetic, I was introduced to my baby several times, each time passing out and fighting back to consciousness to ask, “Where’s my baby?” I remember feeling a bit embarrassed, like the moment was rehearsed, which, of course, in a way, it was, and embarrassed again when he was shown to me again the first time I went to visit him in SCBU, because I was worried I would forget which one he was, and I felt terribly guilty that I didn’t magically recognise my own baby. At home, my instincts were calling me to cuddle my baby, to sleep curled up with him, to feed him till he nodded off. His, too. He cried every time I put him down. One night, I tried to put him down for five hours. He just wanted to sleep on me, I wanted him to sleep on me (and also I just really wanted to be able to go to bed as by this time it was 1am and I was feeling as if I was trapped in some sort of hideous Groundhog nightmare). But the hospital nurses and the health visitors, not to mention the internet, uttered dark and awful warnings about doing this. My best friend, who both figuratively and literally pretty much held my hand through this phase, as she had held my hand throughout, told me, quite rightly, to trust my instincts and bedshare if I wanted to. But what do you do when the books, or figures of authority like health visitors and doctors give you advice which contradicts your own inner voice?
In the end, we figured it out, and we found our way. We ignored the books which told us to panic when he nodded off on the breast, we learned about biologically normal infant sleep and feeding patterns, and safe bedsharing practices, and we made our family bed. I will be eternally grateful to the babywearing world, which educated and supported me and my husband and gave us both a truly magical way to bond with our son, to soothe his reflux and create the connection we all longed for so much, and is still a wonderful way to ground and connect us three years later.
I realise now that no one knows what they’re doing all the time, and even when they do, they don’t always manage to do it. We’re all just muddling along, doing the best we can, however considered the choices we make. And because parenthood, and people, are so fluid and ever-evolving, every time I feel like I’ve cracked it, everything changes.
But that’s ok; it’s a journey, not a destination.
Last year when I was teaching in a lovely school (I never was Miss Honey – far too fond of caffeine, fast talking, hyperbole and playing loud music in the classroom, but I was devoted to my charges), I thought I would go for something different, to broaden the children’s experiences. So, I played them some Hollie McNish. They loved it. Afterwards, I asked them what they thought she was trying to say.
One boy mused: “That parenthood is really, really hard.” Then, after a ruminative pause, he added, “And really, really beautiful.”
I think both Hollie, and the boy, rather hit the nail on the head.
Further Reading If You Fancy It
Nobody Told Me, by Hollie McNish
Babycalm, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Why Babywearing Matters, by Rosie Knowles
Babycalm and Toddlercalm
Introduction to Slings
Find Your Local Sling Library
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