Three months since I went back to work. The weather is finally getting warm and my daughter, who this time last year was getting ready to be born, is now rapidly learning to move herself around.
These last few weeks have been joyous in a way that I had yet to really experience in this new motherhood journey. Lately, I have finally been able to say, in honesty, that I am loving being a mum. My three days a week with my little love are immensely precious. I am totally crazy about her. I have happily let the to-do list slide and want nothing more than to be in her delightful company, taking care of her, giving her some fun times, making memories together with her dad. Family time.
There have still been hard things, of course. Issues with feeding and sleep – the two arenas of struggle that are always guaranteed to bring me to my knees with frustration. My sleep cycle is wrecked from nearly a year of being on call and woken up several times a night, every single night. I cannot easily get back to sleep in the small hours, and this insomnia is now the biggest contributor to my often-crippling tiredness. We are actively trying to improve baby’s sleep habits – an adventure that surely needs its own post. But I’m pretty sure I couldn’t sleep through the night even if I had a chance. I’ll need to sleep train myself!
The heartache of having to be away from her all day at work hasn’t lessened much. It doesn’t help that work has been far less satisfying than it used to be, and the soul-destroying commutes that sometimes take more than an hour don’t help either. It’s still true that working is good for me, and there’s something oddly peaceful – luxurious, almost – about being in the office space, with the freedom to decide what to focus on next, and hot coffee on tap… although of course it’s a rather limited freedom… But it doesn’t change the fact that it breaks my heart leaving my baby. No matter how much I loved my work that would still be true.
I don’t begrudge my partner those four months of leave, though. It’s been amazing seeing him taking care of her and getting on top of everything (well, to the extent that is possible with a small child!) and it’s awesome being a team, tagging in and out as we need to, taking it in turns to get a lie-in at the weekend or a bit of time to ourselves.
I have no idea how I produced such a happy baby. She is extremely energetic and excitable, and very sociable. It’s become more fun to take her out, and more fun playing with her as she interacts more and is learning so rapidly to explore her environment in different ways.
But there is more to my new-found happiness than simply having more fun. I think it’s that I’m finally finding my feet, finally starting to feel comfortable as a mum.
This year has been an intense boot camp, a complete immersion in a new all-consuming role with very little preparation. I’d reached my late thirties with no real experience or knowledge about babies. This time last year, I had finished up at work and was passing my days resting up on the sofa like a great big potato. Waiting. Many people assumed I couldn’t wait to give birth. In reality I was no more excited about the baby’s arrival than I would have been about sitting an exam; my days were steeped in the strange, surreal calm of the wait outside the exam hall in which you know it’s too late to do anything more to prepare yourself, and can’t quite take in the enormity of what is about to be asked of you. It seemed preposterous that I was having a baby.
And then she was here, and the sun came out in a glorious heatwave, and I realised I had completely forgotten to anticipate the utter loveliness of having a sleeping newborn curled up on your chest, or nestled in the crook of your arm. But I also wondered how on earth I was supposed to manage the logistics to do a simple thing like buy a few groceries while in charge of this strange little creature whose needs I just wasn’t confident I understood.
Her dependency terrified me. Early on I had a couple of episodes of waking up with a high fever and needing to see the out of hours doctor, and it filled me with panic, being ill while needing to feed around the clock and generally “be there” for the baby. I became intensely afraid of what could go wrong with my health, especially in light of a somewhat complicated delivery. I also became extremely protective of my little one. Nearly every night I would wake at some point convinced she was in the bed with me and being suffocated under the duvet.
These recent days, I watch myself packing up the bags for a day out, confidently loading up the buggy, taking her out, entertaining her on the bus ride, finding what facilities I need on the go for feeding her lunch or changing her…. and I hardly recognise myself! Finally, it seems those mum skills are coming together, as swiftly as her gross motor skills are doing the same.
I know there will be numerous challenges ahead that I cannot prepare for – the next big change will soon come with her dad going back to work, and the necessity of putting her in nursery. I’m nervous, but ready, I think.
It feels like I have come out the other end of a dark tunnel in which I have been stuck like a lost, scared little girl. It’s a sad place to have spent the bulk of her first year, her baby days, which will soon be gone. But I’ve done my best. And I feel that I’ve done alright, actually. I’m ready to celebrate her first birthday, for my own growth as much as for hers. We are both changed beyond recognition.