Having passed the four month baby stage I have to accept that I am no longer a new mum (even though I think it’s possible I’ll feel like that right up until the day he moves out!). It’s got me thinking about the completely upside down nature of time. I’ve been mulling it over in between the endless feeds, naps and baths and realizing just how much it’s all changed since baby K arrived. It’s only now that I am through those insane first few months that I can see what bizarre expansions and contractions of time have occurred.
For starters, people ask me how it’s been – an odd sort of question that comes up surprisingly often, I think they’re looking for a speedy summary of the past 4.5 months and I find I give a different answer every time I’m asked. But what it boils down to is this… it’s been the longest fours months of my life, and the shortest; so much has happened and nothing at all has happened.
It’s been so long that I can barely remember who I was before baby K arrived, and strangely I don’t really need to.
It’s been so fast that he’s already weaning and those days of painful breastfeeding and endless nights awake seem years ago.
It’s been full to the brim with mutual learning and growing and changing and shifting and smiles and tears and walks and occasional sleeps and newness and familiarity.
Yet nothing really significant has occurred. Only what every other mother and baby experience, I suppose. Except that words like ‘only’ or ‘just’ have no place here anymore. (I now realise ‘I’m just a mum’ is officially the most ridiculous phrase in the English language.)
When I tried to explain this mind bending duality of time to a friend and fellow mum she nodded sagely: ‘the days a long but the years are short,’ uttered the guru. It is so true. Not that I’m anywhere near even one year yet – wow that seems a long way off!
I watched some old family DVDs with my mother-in-law recently. They were of her and my husband when he was around 1 year old, growing up in Tanzania. I could see, as I listened to her telling me about the places and people depicted, that these scenes were fresh and vibrant in her memory – it was all so recent despite it being almost 40 years ago. It struck me that at that moment in her life there was no second child, no wife for her firstborn, and certainly no grandchild; in fact no expectation of all the life that was yet to come. And here I stand, in her shoes and the thought of watching iPhone videos with baby K’s wife 20 or 30 years in the future is just too hard to imagine.
Of course we strain to see the future throughout our lives, and motherhood only magnifies that as things change week to week. We constantly obsess over the next stage – weaning, walking, talking, school – worrying about who they’ll be and what they’ll do, and yet we desperately work to hold onto moments, like butterflies. The dichotomy of time again.
The other side effect is that, at this very focused time in my life, I have become aware of the status that time gives you. The mother of a 6 month old said recently ‘just wait ‘til he starts…’. And I found myself bowing to her superior experience. Six weeks ahead of me on this hectic journey is six weeks of seniority in every sense! It made me smile to myself – in no other job would a few weeks make such a difference!
For me, the time warp effect really began to kick in during the birth. It wasn’t until afterwards, when my husband and I were cozy in our little room with this new tiny person and day blending into night and back to day again that we began to talk about what had happened and how we both remembered the dramatic 30-odd hours of baby K’s arrival. My memory was all in snapshots – me leaning over a window sill and swearing loudly, me being moved in a wheelchair to a birthing room, me on all fours throwing up from the pain while several people watched me pant (no idea who most of them were and not a moment I’d care to repeat), more swearing, the running of the water for the water birth then a dramatic exit for an epidural and the realization and water birth wouldn’t be happening, more swearing, dozing as the anaesthetic relief finally hit, druids singing next door (was that real or an effect of the gas and air? Nope, it was real – that could only happen to me!), then more drama as the emergency c-section was suddenly mandatory, probably some more swearing, shaking as they administered more anaesthesia and then pressure on my belly and suddenly a cone-headed slightly squashed little guy appearing from the other side of the hanging blue sheet hiding all the gore. All those hours were reduced to a few moments.
For my husband, on the other hand, the hours had stretched out, yawning into the night – he was able to fill me in on all kinds of new and interesting details (apparently I had been swearing a lot more and a lot louder than I had originally thought!).
And then baby K came home and a minute of crying felt like a lifetime, whilst a two hour nap could pass in a flash. Sleep was a thing of the past. Now night hours yawned like chasms in between snatches of sleep, stretching out before me. But instead of this being the dreadful torture I had anticipated, these hours were actually filled with a new sort of magic – low light and the soft smell of baby, feathery hair tickling your cheek and the two of you feeling like the only people in the world. Perhaps I’m looking back on them with nostalgia even at this early stage – no doubt there were many where I was falling asleep as he fed, or begging him to stop crying, exhausted from rocking or singing the same song a hundred times. How funny that my rose tinted glasses are firmly in place already, particularly when anyone who knows me will recall my total lack of those magic specs as I prepared for the horrors of motherhood!
Another odd adjustment is that mums become experts at time projections: if he doesn’t sleep now I’ll need to move that feed and shift that appointment and get him to take a nap earlier this afternoon so that I can fit in the feed this evening and get him bathed by 6 etc etc. Every action has a knock on effect and impacts the little dude’s subsequent mood/capability to eat/night sleep etc – seriously, I can project the impact of one missed sleep somewhere into the middle of next week! It’s particularly true in the initial months when baby is feeding at least every 3 hours, suddenly your day is broken into 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 10pm, 1am and 4am. There is no longer night and day, only three hour slots, and within each slot you will feed, play, change a nappy, possibly get him down for a nap and maybe have 5 minutes for yourself or get some sleep!
This journey is a long one. It’s the ride of your life. It destroys your life (or at least the one you had before the baby). But it is your life, and it’s incredible and humbling and empowering and exhausting!
And now here I am, baby asleep and a whole hour to myself. What am I doing? OK yes I’m being productive and writing my blog, but secretly I’m kinda hoping he’ll wake up and give me that big gummy smile. I’ve missed him!