Funny firsts: The baby milestones no one talks about
First smile, first word, first steps - so many baby milestones. But there are some no one talks about...
FIRST TIME YOU HOLD YOUR BABY
Immediately after giving birth a nurse asked me, ‘Would you like to hold the baby?’ and I said, ‘No,’ because I did not feel ready. For some people, holding a baby is the most natural thing on earth, and for the rest of us it is only slightly less stressful than being asked to hold a grenade.
For those of us who regularly shatter our iPhone screens, the idea of being responsible for a delicate human life can be overwhelming because we are not sure we are cut out for the job. ‘Here,’ a nurse will say. ‘You know that tiny, miraculous human with a head like a Fabergé egg who means more to you than anything in the world? We’d like to place him in your arms, despite the fact that every 15 minutes you trip over your laptop cord.’
FIRST TIME BREASTFEEDING YOUR BABY
You may know breasts as ‘things that make jumping rope difficult,’ and ‘the cause of Dolly Parton’s inevitable back problems’. Now a diminutive person you met only recently wants to drink fluid out of yours.
QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE ABOUT THIS
Q Is the whole breastfeeding thing as magical as people say?
A Ok, here’s the thing. As weird as it sounds, yes – it can be. In the quiet sort of way where a thing you considered abhorrently bizarre brings you a strange sort of inner peace and connectedness to another person – yes, for some people it can be magical. In addition to being good for the baby, many women find that it is extremely rewarding and strengthens the bond between them and their children.
Q Is it ever not magical?
A Sometimes, for some people, it is not magical.
Q Hey, uh, so just hypothetically, if it turned out I was one of the people for whom it is not magical…
A Wait, you didn’t find it magical?
Q No! I mean I did! I mean I found it sort of magical…
A (Gestures for other people to come over) Hey, everyone – look who didn’t find breastfeeding magical!
Q (Runs into dark alley to escape angry villagers, many of whom are roaming the streets with medieval-style torches, looking for people at whom to hurl rocks).
Ok, we sort of lost our focus. Let’s try this again. Breastfeeding. Feeding out of the breasts. It seems as if women fall into three categories.
WOMEN WHO MANAGED TO BREASTFEED EXCLUSIVELY
This is great. Are you doing this? You are a superhero. For real. Breastfeeding is really healthy for the baby. Yes, it is hard and tiring. Yes, sometimes you wake up with your body smelling like spoiled milk and it is gross, and sometimes there is something inside your breasts that feels like walnuts. (What are those?) Yes, sometimes you feel like a cow and pumping is terrible, especially when you are also working, and yes, it is sometimes harder for a partner to help with feeding duties. But in general it’s wonderful. Did you do it? Fabulous job.
WOMEN WHO WERE LIKE, I’M TOTALLY GOING TO BREASTFEED…
…and who after a few weeks of breastfeeding were like, ‘Uh, f**k this.’ ‘I’m definitely going to breastfeed,’I thought. And then I attempted breastfeeding. Part of it was that I never produced anywhere close to enough milk, and all the while other women were packing their freezers like breast milk–collecting squirrels. Part of it was the back pain and the sensation that I was having my nipples chewed off by raccoons. And part of it was that no matter how much advice I got and no matter how many articles I read, nothing I did seemed to help or make any difference.
Other mothers around me seemed to have visible rays of sunlight emanating from their faces, while I was constantly miserable and the baby was miserable and anyone around me was miserable.
So I stopped completely after about two months. And part of it, the main part of it, was that, much like a job in finance or a pair of madras capri pants, while it works fine for some people, it just didn’t work for me. So my son drank formula. Which may not be as perfect for the baby as breast milk, but which was (at least in my case) much more plentiful. And rather than having a mother who was unhappy and constantly doubting herself and wondering what she was doing wrong, he had a mother who was upbeat and happy and not overwhelmed by self-doubt. I don’t know if they’ve done any studies on that, but it must count for something.
WOMEN WHO DID NOT BREASTFEED OR EVEN ATTEMPT TO BREASTFEED
So look – you really don’t want to breastfeed? That’s your decision. Do you love and care about your baby and are you doing the best you can with the resources you have? Wonderful. That is more or less the criteria for being a good parent. I never had breast milk as a child and I somehow made it to my mid-thirties without getting tuberculosis or murdering anyone.
FIRST BABY CARRIER RIDE
- Fasten child safely and snugly against your chest, adjusting the straps to be certain child is secure.
- Walk out of house smiling. Congratulations! You are a real parent now, just like the parents pictured on the carrier packaging, only your hair has not been washed as recently.
- Quickly check on baby to make sure baby is still breathing, because her face is buried in the fabric of the carrier and she could suffocate.
- Assess that she is breathing and seems to be fine. Keep walking! People are looking at you and thinking, ‘How wholesome and tender! If I ever become a parent I would like to look as self-assured as that man/woman with their infectious smile and ineffable look of contentment!’
- Check again on the baby breathing thing.
- Shrug and go, ‘Oh, I am being so ridiculous! I need to lighten up. Obviously she is totally fine. People use these things every day!’ Remind yourself that other primates, like lemurs and orangutans, carry their young in a similar manner with low suffocation rates.
- Smile! Parenthood is very primal and fulfilling!
- Wonder if lemurs are in fact primates?
- Decide you should be supporting the carrier with both arms, since you are not convinced you have secured it correctly. Realise that if you trip and fall you will land on the baby.
- Worry about this while simultaneously checking (again) to make sure baby is breathing. Are you still smiling? Keep smiling!
- Ascertain that child is still breathing. (You think? How can you even really tell? Mirror test?)
- Walk with one hand supporting baby and the other awkwardly extended to break your fall if you trip on something, looking not unlike an American football player who is both cradling the ball and trying to avoid being tackled.
- Walk one block before deciding that maybe this is not worth it and you should turn around and go back.
- Arrive back home and frantically scan carrier instructions for any mention of babies suffocating in or falling out of or being crushed in carriers. Wonder if anxiety over this issue negates any joy derived from carrier use. Stare in dismay at the diagram showing you how to put it on.
- Google the Wikipedia entry for lemurs to ascertain that yes, they are, in fact, primates.
FIRST TIME YOU FEEL LIKE YOU LOVE YOUR BABY
Some of you are reading this and saying, ‘Wait, what does that even mean? You love your baby the first moment you see your baby. Sometimes you love your baby even before it is born. That’s what happens to everybody, right?’ If you are one of those people, good news: you can step out for pizza for the entire next paragraph!
Hi! Are the rest of you still reading? Everybody get in close – cluster together so I don’t have to say this next thing too loud. Ok, are you ready? Not everyone is going to feel like they love their baby right off the bat. I know we all feel like we are supposed to be hit with a parental tidal wave of love the moment the baby is placed in our arms, but when I was handed my son I felt more or less how I would have felt if someone had handed me a seven-pound bag of sweet potatoes.*
You may not feel like you love your baby right away. For some of you it will feel like you’re on a date with a perfectly nice person who you feel like you should love but for whatever reason there’s no chemistry. Sometimes the spark takes a while. I loved my son in that I did all the things for him you would do for someone you love. But I didn’t feel what I thought I was supposed to feel. When people asked if I was totally head over heels in love with him, I would either lie and say yes, or (more often) comically cross my fingers and say, ‘Not yet, but any day now!’ the way I respond when asked if the overalls-and-baggy-flannelshirt look is making a comeback.
*If we want to be really precise, I felt how I would have felt if someone had handed me a seven-pound bag of sweet potatoes that I had just pushed through my vagina during the most horrific, painful experience of my life – that is, resentful of the sweet potatoes.
FIRST OUTING WITH THE BABY WHEN YOU FORGET SOMETHING CRUCIAL
You decide to take your infant for a long walk in her stroller, and you are out with her, a mile from home, when she begins to cry. After a few dozen unsuccessful guesses you are able to deduce what she wants – her pacifier. No problem. You’ll just reach into the diaper bag and grab her OMFG, you cannot be serious, where is her *#%&ing pacifier?
For some reason (possibly because you never get more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep) you have forgotten to pack her pacifier. Here’s what will happen next.
1. A mass text message will be sent out to all parents in a two-mile radius, alerting them to the fact that you are such a terrible parent that you somehow forgot to pack the one thing that will comfort your daughter.
2. An enormous cartoon arrow will appear alongside you, pointing you out to anyone who was not on the list for the text message.
3. Nearby newspaper editors hankering for a juicy story will be contacted and will immediately begin typing the headline ‘Local Parent Unable to Handle Demands of Parenthood’. The comments section of the eventual article will be a turf war of unconscionable hostility.
4. Your child will grow up cheerless and unable to experience joy. She will eventually drop out of school, fall in with the wrong crowd, and spend her life chasing an elusive happiness that will always seem just beyond her grasp.
I am kidding! Do you know what will happen? Absolutely nothing. Your child will cry for a while and you will eventually get home and give her the pacifier and she will be totally fine. On your walk home you will pass no fewer than four other parents with enormous cartoon arrows hovering next to their strollers and oh my god, don’t stress about this.
Article extracted from Welcome to the Club – 100 Parenting Milestones You Never Saw Coming by Raquel D’Apice (£12.17, Chronicle Books)