Parenting gets easier, they say

From day 1 you’re told “don’t worry, it gets easier”. Again I overheard someone say this to another set of new parents recently. I’m not sure what “it” refers to, but I’m pretty sure “parenting” doesn’t really get easier! But I’ve even heard myself say those three words to a friend recently when asked how I’m still able to function on so little sleep. “It gets easier,” I said. But does it really?

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1. The Sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t fun. Your head is pounding, you feel like you’re either floating or going to pass out. It’s 4am and you can hear the milk float humming past. The last time I heard that was probably a walk home from the student union! But your newborn is insistent that they want to lay there wide awake, soaking up the walls of the nursery. On top of this your emotions are all over the place thanks to pregnancy hormones, and you’ve been awake for at least 48 hours straight, in a delirious state of am-I-awake-right-now?

Families get through this stage in different ways – some take each feed in turns, some take each night in turns, but for us I didn’t want Jon to go into work exhausted, so I quite happily took on all the night feeds.

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She also began the first 6 weeks refusing to sleep anywhere but on my chest, so I now appreciate every night I now get to lie horizontally, without being propped up with a myriad of pillows, baby on my chest, desperate for a pee, and a crook in my neck, unable to move for the next few hours. Needless to say, not much sleep happened! Those first nights you finally get stretches of sleep longer than 3 hours, you feel like a new person! Then you’ve just got to deal with the transition from bedside crib to big cot, but thankfully it was harder for me than it was for Lily!

I don’t know whether it does get easier or you just get used to it, but we put Lily into a bath routine that seems to knock her out as soon as she’s in bed, along with the discovery of the Gro Blackout Blind, so I think it did get easier for us, but then maybe it feels harder on those nights she does wake up!! Thankfully now though 98% of the time she goes straight back to sleep when she wakes at night, rather than the 3hour 3am parties she had as a newborn! We’ve now just got to thank the video monitor for letting us know she’s OK when she crawls around her crib in the middle of the night before falling asleep in a bundle at the bottom!

I’m not even going to go into the nap time with a baby that stirs at the slightest miniscule of sound. She’s nosy and gets excited by distractions. But this has got easier as we recognise her sleepy signals and standard nap times – a routine she’s fallen into herself.

‘Sleep’ is the topic every parent is asked about by everyone, from the lady on the bus to a fellow parent from sensory class. But every baby is different and every parent gets to know what works/doesn’t for their babies. You may be a specialist in a certain area and that may work for your little ones, but others may find something works better – just as every adult sleeps in different ways too!

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2. The nappies
Googling poop colour/texture/size is probably at the top of most new parents’ search engines. I admit to having had a near panic attack at Lily’s pure white solid poops at 6 weeks (the hospital checks found it wasn’t her liver, despite Dr Google’s “seek urgent advice”!) but you soon get used to your baby’s body functions, and it even becomes normal topics of conversation at the dinner table. The actual fact you’re clearing up poop (and on some occasions find yourself covered in it) becomes quite normalised and far easier, and the process itself becomes like clockwork. Then it gets harder again when the wriggling, rolling over, kicking you away and crawling come into play… particularly with a poonami to deal with and attempting to get just a couple of wetwipes when they all seem to come out at once. It’s here you wish you were either an octopus or inspector gadget.

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3. The feeding
I know every new parents have their own feeding journeys, whether that involves boobs or bottles. Here’s a link back to my own struggle, a failure to breastfeed when that’s all I wanted for her, and then I really enjoyed reading Katie Blundell’s beautiful and honest post on her own struggles which ended in fantastic results. But whether you’re boob or bottle, it’s going to take some getting used to how your baby wants to feed. I’ve spoken to multiple parents with multiple babies who admit every baby has fed differently. But for us once we got past the reflux she seemed to settle into her own kind of eating-sleeping pattern, and so along with the magic Tommee Tippee machine, things did get easier. But then…

4. The weaning
…they start to eat solids. BLW? Purees? 4 months? 6 months? Endless Google searches… can you give natural yoghurt to a 6 month old? Can you give a boiled egg to an 8 month old? Why is she not swallowing broccoli? Is gagging normal? Every specialist, book, guide has contrasting advice. And each month it progresses as you can then give them more foods, more textures. We’d only just got her happy with milk… and now our health visitor is telling us to wean her OFF the bottles within the next 6 weeks!

Baby forums made things worse, with mums boasting that their little one is having 4 courses of organic fresh homemade gourmet meals, 3 times a day, which their babies were clearly eating with silver cutlery… Lily hadn’t gone past sweet potatoes! In fact, she was happy with any orange vegetables. At least she was eating, but why does every kind of baby food turn everything fluorescent orange?! Plastic spoons, bowls, bibs, clothes, my clothes, the highchair, all now a stained shade of orange, no matter how hard I scrub them!

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We’ve struggled with Lily’s feeding and I was determined to give her healthy carrot sticks and broccoli finger foods from the start. Unfortunately even at 11 months these make her projectile vomit. We’ve been referred to a specialist but for now we are quite happily settled on various purees, Aldi sachets, pears, bananas, natural yoghurt, sweet potato, and our trusty Organix snacks! She loves her food and especially feeding herself, though this usually involves picking micro-crumbs up from the rug, or whatever paper she can get her hands on in a split second!

5. The teething
And just when you think everything is under control, the teeth come along, one by one when you least want them too. Coupled with alot of dribble, you’re also prone to a disrupted sleep routine, disrupted naps, disrupted feeding routine, and everything being chewed, not to mention the odd very painful bite. And unfortunately this isn’t just once… she’s got 20 of them to come through…

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7. The moving
So you’ve got your feeding and sleeping under control. You recognise their crying, they’re happy with walks and you have found a way to watch an episode of Game of Thrones while baby contently plays on the floor in front of you or in her bouncer chair. You may even be able to have a shower or cook some food with her watching you, or put her in the crib for a minute while you dash for a wee…

And then she learns to move. She can tip herself forwards out the bouncer chair, pull the table off the bumbo (and swing it around her head!), climb on you, pull herself up the side of the crib, launch herself out of your arms, and speed-crawl from one end of the living room to the other, leaving a trail of destruction in her path.
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Plus she’s getting heavier and more wriggly, so wants to be on her feet, not carried around, which isn’t always safe for a small baby… such as on station platforms, or in a queue at the supermarket.

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In some ways it does make things easier, because she’s past that ‘frustration’ period where she wants to get somewhere but can’t. She can entertain herself by pulling all her books out of her bookcase or empty all her toys out the box. But then in every other way it’s the hardest time ever. You can’t shift your eyes away for 2 seconds, otherwise she’ll have a well-hidden USB wire in her mouth, half your work portfolio crumpled up, or be pulling herself up on a dangerous ledge to reach the remote control. Tidying toys up is a game for her… she must pull them all out again immediately. You have to be nearby with lightning reaction speeds to catch her when she drops backwards or forwards, or smacks herself in the face with something.
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She went to her 11 month health visitor check with a bruise on her forhead due to clattering herself with a plastic caterpillar. Or perhaps it was the near miss with falling in her crib. I have nightmares of her falling on my mum’s tiled kitchen as well as our laminate flooring. But I also know she’s got to learn, and get past that wobbly, bumping stage. It still doesn’t make any of it easier!

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8. Leaving the house
As a newborn, leaving the house was an hour long process of ensuring you had everything with you. We had long journeys to/from London to Lily’s hospital visits and I’d have her pram packed the night before, with eveything laid out ready for the morning. Now I’m alot more relaxed about things, with a permanent nappy bag, and a separate food bag, plus know where the decent changing places or baby-friendly cafes are in town. There’s different things to remember now she’s a bit older, like having food and snacks just in case, as well as ensuring Po, her wooden farmyard animals book, and the plastic mobile phone are packed in case of distraction emergencies. Going on holiday was a completely different story, but for now, leaving the house to walk to town or head to London has got far easier. We were even stuck without a seat on our last London train journey and somehow I managed to improvise with a few books, toys, (and again those trusty Organix snacks!) to keep her entertained for the hour on the floor between carriages. A few months earlier, that would’ve terrified me.

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9. The tears
As a newborn I jumped at every tear. Being my first baby and completely clueless, the tears confused me – Nappy? Hungry? Hot? Cold? Hurting? Needing burping? Wanted a cuddle? Colic? After a while she did start to settle and you begin to realise what the cries are for and now it doesn’t generally take long to settle her tears. But just as things started getting easier, realising what she wanted and how to settle her, she’s started getting very clingy, and not letting me leave the room, or leave her sight. I have to sneak in after the gym to have my shower, because if she sees me then she’ll scream for me to come back, even if she’s been happily playing for the past hour! We haven’t even reached the ‘terrible twos’ yet but I can already see the tantrums building… And unfortunately I’ve fallen into the trap of using things I probably shouldn’t to settle her during a potential public breakdown, usually car keys, a Jamaican flipflop keyring, a tube of hand cream, and her current favourite, loyalty cards from my purse (her particular favourites are the Costa Card, Superdrug card thanks to the shiny mirror, and Leicester Libraries!)
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10. The normality
Well nothing is ‘normal’ anymore. Things you used to do are no longer as easy as you thought. From having a cup of tea, eating dinner, through to getting some gym time in or watching a movie together. I’ve gone nearly a week at times without washing my hair due to knowing I’d not have time to dry it! I’ve picked up clothes with banana smear, wondering if I can get away with wearing it!

There are periods you get into that routine, and you even begin to get used to distractions – like making sure she doesn’t eat a USB wire while at the same time trying to eat a chicken and spinach wrap, while getting a plastic triangle shoved up your nostrils, and attempting to read the subtitles of Game of Thrones.

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You can no longer just “nip to the shops”, or easily pop away for a weekend somewhere. I used to be a pro at packing for a holiday with minimal luggage… now we have to hire trailers just to get to the airport! We are also inexplicably exhausted at the end of the day so are in bed as soon as Lily goes down for the night. But that’s family life for you and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So in all “it” does “get easier”, but then just as things seem to settle, the next stage comes along to slap you in the face. Dr Google will aways be at our side, ready for the next stupid question to enter that search box, but with the thousands of responses, there’s thousands of people who’ve clearly asked that very same question.

Parenting is a tough learning journey, but it’s also very fun, even if you are learning fast along the way. Your baby hasn’t read the books from the ‘specialists’ and even if he’s not eating 4-course-gourmet-meals-by-5-months-with-a-silver-spoon, so what? You and your little one are on that learning journey together, and it may not be easy, but it evolves as she does… and seeing her smile, laugh, grow, learn and develop sure is one of the most rewarding things in the world.

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