For mothers: useful things to sort out before the baby arrives that aren’t always in the ‘what to buy’ lists
- A very dim light for night feeds/changes (just barely enough to see by)
- A bottle of water to go by the bedside (breastfeeding can make you seriously thirsty, and you want to make things as easy as possible for yourself)
- A list of how many blankets to use at each temperature to put beside the room thermometer (if you have one)
- Clothes (including night clothes) that provide easy access for breastfeeding i.e. front opening or easy to pull up.
- Nursing bras that are comfy and non cup specific (to accommodate fluctuating breast size). I liked Mothercare’s sleep bras for both daytime & nighttime.
- A thick, preferably dark-coloured, dressing gown (to save blushes in the hospital if you wake up to find you’ve leaked all over your pyjamas - top or bottom)
- Consider getting a nice bracelet you can wear all the time and switch between wrists at each feed to remind you which side to start on next time.
Notes for those visiting new parents (disclaimer: obviously I can’t speak for every new parent, but I think most of these are likely to be common)
- Do not bring flowers. Especially do not bring pot plants/planted baskets. They are just one more thing that needs looking after (and takes up space) at a time when the new parents have more than enough to deal with.
- Food is good: especially things that can be eaten easily for a quick energy boost e.g. mini muffins or ‘simple’ chocolates like Heroes or Celebrations.
- Baby clothes are fine, and buying them in a larger size e.g. 3-6 months or even 6-9 months makes a lot of sense, and means they’re more likely to be worn. When choosing what to buy, bear in mind what season it’s going to be when the baby reaches that age.
- If you have something to eat or drink during your visit (especially if you’re part of a group of several people), offer to wash up.
- When contacting parents to say when you’ll be arriving/say you’ll be late etc. a text message is better than phoning (less chance of waking anyone who might be asleep or disturbing them mid-change/mid-feed).
Motherhood: a view at 3 months
I have been writing this entry in my head on and off over the last three months and I think it is time to get it down.
I said to someone shortly after Daniel was born that there was Life Before Baby, and Life After Baby, and a kind of disconnect between them. It’s not like any other experience I’ve had before; when what was new fitted into my existing life, which carried on around it; it’s a far more seismic change – the entire landscape has shifted. The closest thing to it I’d experienced before was starting university; although in that case my entire surroundings had literally changed; this time the surroundings stayed the same but the perspective shift on them gave the same sense of everything being different.
Several of my friends without babies have wanted to know what it’s actually like having one; and it’s extremely hard to articulate (though this entry makes a few stabs). To a certain extent, I feel like I’m talking to them through a glass screen, or from the other side of a river. At the same time, I suddenly feel a lot closer to those women I know who have had children, regardless of their age – when I saw my aunt over Christmas (whose eldest is about 18 months younger than me), we were suddenly conversing on a level of equals in a way we never have before.
It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but in an odd way. There’s very little skill or talent involved, at least not in the same way as there is in doing physics problems, or writing a story, or even cooking a meal. Even more strangely there is no willpower required; a crying baby provides sufficient motivation to sort whatever is causing the crying out by itself. What there is, in spades, is effort. I don’t think I’ve ever put the sheer number of hours over such an extended period into anything I’ve ever done before.
It’s also the fact that it’s effort with very little in the way of visible progress or feedback – the baby looks much the same at the end of the day as at the beginning, and it can sometimes feel like pouring resources into a bottomless pit. I’m working on faith that what I’m doing now is building foundations, and I’ll see the results in the ensuing months and years. At least by this point I can look back and see how far Daniel’s already come, so there’s a little more to hold on to than there was at 6 or 7 weeks, but I think that’s still the key thing that makes it hard.
The other major factor is the absolute commitment – the inability to simply say “sod it, I really can’t be arsed with this today and anyway I need a break so I’m taking the rest of the day off”. With sufficient forward planning, I suppose there isn’t anything stopping me from expressing enough milk for 24 hours of feeds and leaving him with vectorious or my parents for the day, but I don’t really want to, and anyway it’s the spontaneity that is really what’s unavailable. Which isn’t to say that I don’t get my share of time to myself – like now, when Daniel’s asleep, or when someone else is looking after him – but it comes according to his rhythms, or else when planned in advance.
The classic thing everyone thinks about when it comes to the demands a baby makes on you is the broken nights; and it was certainly something I was worried about before Daniel was born, being someone who needs a good eight or eight and a half hours to be fully functional. In actuality, that hasn’t been much of a problem at all – sure there were some four a.m. screaming fits in the first few weeks; and the occasional bad night since then; but mostly I’ve done fine, simply by going to bed with Daniel at 9pm – he then wakes between 7:30 and 8:00 most mornings, so even with waking for between one and three feeds I still get the hours I need (and when I don’t, or in the early weeks when there were more frequent feeds than that, it’s usually been possible to take a nap or two while Daniel sleeps)
 Update: now Daniel is 6 months old he's capable of a much greater variety of immediate responses, so this issue is receding (though still present).
 Update: shortly after this we started a split bedtime so now Daniel goes at 8pm and I follow between 9:30 and 10:00.