Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Vacuum when the baby vacuums and other well meaning advice

This week a very dear friend will become a parent for the first time.  Well, he actually won't do the pushing and squeezing bit, but he will do the equally important hand-holding and positive talking bit.

Childbirth is undoubtedly traumatic for all involved.  

The woman, regardless of plans and expectations (or even distant memories from earlier labour experiences), is forced into an act of brutal physical and mental hell that can't ever be undone.  Whether it's a 3 hour labour, a sneeze and woo-hoo here's a baby; an 8 hour is-this-over-yet-give-me-drugs-now-please; or a scheduled induction or Caesarean delivery - the trauma exists.  What was one becomes two.  Whether labour was fast or slow, you are now exhausted yet flooded with endorphins that stop you from sleeping regardless of how desperately you need to.  The hormones and extra blood required to grow a baby depart at a ridiculous pace leaving you feeling drained and everything feels surreal.  There is a revolting amount of blood and other unmentionable substances everywhere.  And this thing, this living thing that was once within you is now gazing at you and YOU'RE IN CHARGE OF IT!

Spare a thought for the blokes (or the same-sex non-pregnant partner)... they have to watch this trauma unfold and are very limited to what they can do to help.  No matter what books you read, what 'man talk' you have with other guys who have been through it (I'm guessing this conversation would include some grunting, references to not looking 'down there' and copious amounts of beer).... nothing can prepare you for watching the woman that you love in agonising pain.  You can hold her hand, you can tell her she's doing great, you can apply a damp cloth to her forehead, you can tell her to push, you can tell her she's beautiful... but you can't transfer the pain or process to you.  And that must be hellishly hard.  Mummy-endorphins mask the memory of childbirth for most women (otherwise the world would consist of one-child families) but not so the Dads - it's all very real and imprinted in their memory for years to come.  What has been seen can not be unseen.  And this thing, this living thing that was once within your beautiful partner is now gazing at you and YOU'RE IN CHARGE OF IT! 

It is at this point the advice begins.  The well meaning advice from family, friends and strangers.  So especially for my dear friends who will no doubt be dazed but blissfully happy celebrating the birth of their very special first child, I offer you the top three most useless pieces of advice you will likely receive.

1.  Sleep when the baby sleeps.  Does this mean that you also vacuum when the baby vacuums?  Do the laundry when the baby does the laundry?  Cook dinner when the baby does?  You get the picture.  I understand the logic of this gem of advice.  The baby will sleep, and if you're tired this is a great time to grab a nap (unless it's my baby who has not slept for more than an hour or two in total each day since he was born).  The problem is that your body and your mind will not allow you to nap.  I know literally hundreds of women who have kids, and I can count on one hand those that could have a daytime sleep when their baby did.  There is always something that needs doing.  My advice is to kick back and watch some trashy telly and fold the laundry while the baby sleeps, or pop a casserole in the slow-cooker while the baby sleeps, or wash your hair whilst having a 10 minute uninterrupted shower (oh the indulgence!) while the baby sleeps.

2.  You must swaddle/not swaddle your baby.  Swaddle rhymes with twaddle for a good reason.  You can substitute swaddle with dummy or breastfeeding.  Here's the deal.  The reason why the world is such a dynamic, beautiful, diverse and complex beast is because everyone is different.  That means every baby is different.  Some love to be swaddled, some fight it.  Some will suck on that dummy instantly, others will spit it out with such force that it can take your eye out if you're too close.  Some babies feed regularly at 3 hourly interviews, some feed at different times every single day.  Some babies love the booby, some can't or won't take it and need a bottle/formula.  All babies need the 3 C's - care, comfort and cuddles.... and as parents you will try things and establish what your baby needs to thrive.  And just when you get it sussed, they'll change and throw all your routines out the window.  They're good like that.

3.  Gosh he's big/small/short/long... is that normal?  Normal.  Just what every sleep deprived hormonally challenged physically exhausted woman needs to hear... a stranger telling her that her baby isn't 'normal'.  Normal is such a prescriptive word and one completely inappropriate to use when describing a baby.  As I mentioned above, every baby is different - they all grow at different rates and they all look different.  Some have hair, some are bald at two.  Some are always on the small side, some are always larger.  The WHO charts show a weight range from 2kg to 5kg for newborn baby boys... and by the time they head off to school the range extends from 13kg to 27kg!  So I say ignore the 'normal' and embrace the uniqueness... celebrate the idiosyncrasies of your wee bundle, make a point of not just documenting the length/weight/etc statistics but capture the special things. The scrunched up ears, the wrinkly toes, the leg creases, the bald head, the innocent eyes... none of those are 'normal' yet every one is perfect.

The wisest advice I received and that I offer to you is simple.  It does get better.  This too will pass.  There will be days when you don't particularly like yourself, your baby, your partner, your job, your kids, your house, your dog, your bank balance, your chunky ankles... That's just the way it is.  But it does get easier I promise.  In time, your baby will grow, sleep, eat, crawl, walk, talk, go to school, get a job, fall in love and make you a grandparent.  

Make sure you enjoy every single moment and don't wish it away

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