As we approach the end of another year it got me thinking about how much our lives have changed since having a baby. I’m not talking about the obvious things like constantly surviving on about 3 hours sleep a night or always looking like you have just been dragged backwards through a pile of sick. I don’t mean the arguments about who used the last nappy in the change bag and DIDN’T BLOODY REPLENISH or constantly adding up how much sleep you’ve had compared to your partner (don’t do this – it will only end in tears). All of these things are inevitable parts of parenthood.
Your relationship will undoubtedly change, it will get worse before it gets better. Your conversations will be dominated by poo colour, poo frequency and whose turn it is to do those buggering bottles. You will get irritated with each other. A lot. You will snap at each other. A lot. You will want to file for divorce on the grounds of once again being interrupted as you are half way through counting out the formula scoops and having to start over. You will look back and laugh at this episode but at the time it is a completely valid reason to walk out on your marriage.
You will look back (often through rose tinted glasses) at your carefree, childfree life. You will remember when your evening out would start at 8pm and continue well into the small hours. Your evenings now still continue well into the small hours but you are bleary eyed and mixing bottles at 3am rather than cocktails. Staying out past 8pm post baby is just plain rebellious and you know you will pay for it in the morning.
You will look back at hangovers and wonder what the fuck you were ever moaning about. When you could stumble from your pit in the afternoon and collapse straight on the couch watching crap TV until your take away arrived. You will hate people that can still do this when you are woken up at 5.30am by a screaming toddler and you, your banging headache and your tongue that is firmly stuck to the roof of your mouth wobble downstairs to embark on yet another crazy day. As you retch your way through a nappy change and wrestle with your child to eat their sodding breakfast whilst they trash the kitchen, all you really want to do is go round to your childless friends houses and poke them in the eyes with the bendy plastic spoon you are about to stab yourself with.
Aside from the above trials and tribulations of motherhood, it is the small details that will be the most significant memories of the year just gone.
The previous 12 months are not measured in pay rises and promotions or material gains. The cherished moments we will remember are no longer of drunken nights out or long afternoons at the pub and the photographs we will look back at fondly are mostly of a small bald person doing not very much at all.
So yes you do change. In many many ways that you tell yourself you wont before you have kids. You swear you will not saturate your Facebook page with pictures of your gummy offspring as you know no one really cares, but you cant help yourself.
You promise you will not have a house full of plastic, colourful crap – twelve months on and our lounge looks like a multicoloured tsunami has rolled through it.
You promise you wont let a baby change your life, but it does, and you are suddenly OK with that.
The months just gone are now measured in teeny tiny details that you want to capture as they are so fleeting and so precious that you are desperate to hold onto them for as long as possible. The weeks and months suddenly fly by like never before and in a flash all you have of each phase is memories (and those hundreds of photos on Facebook).
Of course you will remember those first few really tough months of parenthood – trying to breastfeed and your baby having none of it. Starving your own child as she just wouldn’t latch on. Sitting cross legged trying not to bust your stitches at breast feeding clinics whilst complete strangers grabbed your boobingtons and forced your baby’s screaming head on to them. The fleeting feeling of failure when you realised breast isn’t always best and for both of your sakes hitting the bottle was the best option.
You will recall sitting in a heap texting a friend at the crack of dawn asking them how to sterilise and make up bottles as in your sleep deprived, hormone induced state this seemed like the most complicated thing in the world to do. Within two days it became second nature.
You will never forget the hours upon hours, days upon days of your baby crying to the point of insanity. You will remember the guilt you felt at screaming back at her in the irrational hope that she would see it from your side and just give you a fucking break. The time you had to pull over as you couldn’t see through your own tears as the relentless screaming had actually got you teetering on the edge.
You will also remember not being able to sit up after the C section and not being able to lift your own baby or walk up and down stairs – but this now seems like a lifetime ago as you lie in the bath tracing your scar with affection.
You will remember standing naked in front of a mirror for the first time after giving birth and not recognising your own body. You were in equal parts horrified and in awe of what stood before you.
As time goes on the memories start changing and those darker months begin to fade as they are replaced with fresh, much happier recollections of new motherhood.
You will remember when you got your first proper smile (not a wind induced grimace), when you heard their first giggle (is there a better sound in the world?). You will recall the sheer joy of witnessing your baby roll over, sit up and crawl – it seemed like eternity that you were waiting for these crucial milestones to take place, and then BOOM you are on to the next thing.
You will remember when that gorgeous gummy smile was suddenly taken over by a first tooth, you will also remember your heart breaking during the sleepless nights when there was nothing you could do to soothe the pain.
You will remember being worried when other babies the same age were standing up at their cots and you thought your baby may never find the use of her legs – now your favourite thing is walking into her room each morning and seeing her scruffy, tufty hair and beautiful sleepy face staring back at you over the rail.
You will forget the sheer exhaustion you felt when you were up every few hours through the night feeding, but you’ll never forget gently nuzzling the back of her neck while she fell asleep in your arms thinking there was nowhere else on earth you’d rather be.
You’ll remember how good a freshly bathed head smelt and how you would deeply breathe it in as you carried your baby up to bed. You’ll look back at the hours upon hours you spent staring at your naked baby thinking she was just the most incredible thing that ever existed.
You will lose count of the times you and your partner find yourselves bent over the cot marvelling at the beauty of your baby while she sleeps, or stopping in the middle of the street just to lean into the pram to check she is still as perfect as she was when you left home 10 minutes ago.
You’ll remember how amazing it felt when your baby started to properly communicate with you. The pride of teaching them to point and clap and hi five. The feeling of pure love when you are driving, rocking out to Heart FM and your baby holds her hand up to hold yours.
You’ll eventually forget how bloody awkward it felt turning up to baby groups on your own and scanning the room looking for someone that didn’t look like they were A) into eco parenting (as quite frankly I didn’t have the energy to justify the Aldi nappies hanging out of my bag or the non biodegradable Ella’s pouches peeking from my pocket, and the last thing I needed was a lecture on washable under crackers and organic home made puree) B) neurotic ( I was mad as box of frogs myself at that stage so I did not want to sit for an hour next to someone who started sweating the minute their baby left their lap or got the anti bac spray out as soon as someone coughed, and C) thin (if there was anyone that looked like they had moved on from wearing maternity jeans and were sporting pre pregnancy attire I gave them a very wide berth and an evil eye from the other side of the room).
You’ll look back with pride on the first time you took your baby abroad. For us it was a three week trip to Australia and New Zealand so not for the faint hearted, but all the pre flight anxiety slips away when you and your mountains of luggage leave the ground and you embark on your first adventure as a little family. Yes it is harder with a baby but the heart full of Kodak moments you will return with are worth the month long packing ordeal.
You will start to feel bittersweetness as your baby turns into a toddler. You will recall the sadness you felt when you automatically wandered into H&M newborn section and realised this is no longer where you belonged. It will be with a heavy heart that you pack away outgrown clothes and you and your partner will reminisce about who bought what and exclaim over and over again how tiny she was.
You will remember the excitement you felt the day she stood on her own for a nano second before promptly collapsing on the floor. The time she took the bottle from you and fed herself, you were simultaneously overjoyed that she was becoming more independant and bereft that she already didn’t rely on you for something.
You’ll recall the delight you felt the first time your baby held their hands up to be picked up and cuddled, you’ll also remember how upset you were the first time they pushed you away. Parenthood is a constant tug of war with your emotions.
You’ll look back on each phase and realise how quickly they came and went. One minute you have a totally dependent, immobile little person who you can put anywhere and they stay just there, next you have a wayward toddler emptying kitchen cupboards, climbing into the washing machine and making it up a flight of stairs quicker than you can say ‘for fuck sake’.
Sometimes the speed at which they are changing is overwhelming, every body says it but you really cannot understand until you have a little person altering daily right in front of your eyes.
Sometimes you want to freeze time and just enjoy each phase for a little while longer. The daily practicalities of parenthood often mean phases come and go whilst you are busy picking up toys or sorting out endless laundry. You look at your baby one day and realise they are no longer doing that cute thing they were doing last week and that you missed the last time they ever did it. Soon they will no longer be crawling or babbling but walking and talking, and whilst this is ever so exciting there is no rewind button so make sure you remember each phase (even the ones you think you’d rather forget).
On Christmas Day this year our daughter took her first proper steps, an epic milestone that every parent looks forward to but one that I’m sure is often met with mixed emotions. On the one hand you are elated that your child is developing normally and you want nothing more than them to succeed and achieve but at the same you are sad that your baby will no longer be scrambling around on all fours or doing her weird sideways crab crawl that you have become so fond of. She will no longer need to hold your hands as she shuffles like a drunkard from one couch to the next. We are already learning the heart wrenching art of letting go. You desperately want them to develop and progress and there is nothing more magical than helping and watching this small human become their own person, but literally every step forward is a harsh reminder that they are absolutely their own person and before you know it those kisses goodnight will be kisses goodbye as they spread their wings. At this realisation a little bit of dust flies into your eye and you hug your small person a little bit tighter than you normally do.
So the moral of the story is to remember the ordinary moments of parenthood as you’ll look back and realise they were all pretty extraordinary. Make a note of the first time they clapped their hands or blew you a raspberry. Write down their favourite toys, their favourite foods and funny foibles. Record their random noises and Scandinavian sounding babbling. Cherish the snuggly days watching In The Night Garden as soon Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy will hold dearer memories for you than for them. Never deny a cuddle as it wont be long until you are the one holding your arms out not the other way round. Try not to get frustrated when your baby cries out in the night wanting to know you are there, soon you will be awake at night hoping your not so little one is safe wherever they are.
We are still relative newbies to this parenthood malarkey with only fourteen months on the clock but it has without doubt been the best (albeit hardest) thing we have ever done. Our situation is a little bit unique so maybe we cherish each moment with slightly more gusto than we would if our future as a family was more certain, but I’m glad we live this way.
Today is NYE and we had planned a big night out with our friends (well to 11pm anyway which is practically an all night bender to us) but today we have all been floored by the dreaded lurgy yet again (another pleasure of living this parental dream). So it looks like we will be seeing the new year in singing Auld Lang Syne round the bed with chinking our mugs of Lemsip – and that is absolutely fine by me. This time last year we were thankful for just getting through 2016 and didn’t think we would be ending 2017 together, so the fact we have had the last twelve months creating all the above memories and sharing each milestone means far more to us than any party.
So at midnight tonight I will be counting my lucky stars and thanking the big man upstairs that I have a beautiful wife and a freshly bathed head to kiss.
The added bonus to this unforeseen change of plan is that we will not be arguing over who is more hungover at 5.30 in the morning when it comes to changing the first dirty nappy of twenty eighteen.