parents

Bec: The five words every new mother says and what they really mean.

Bec with her son Quincy.

By REBECCA SPARROW

How quickly we forget.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Hurrah! Hurrah for the safe arrival of her bald-as-an-egg, chubby-cheeked, smoochalicious son. Hurrah that my friend too is doing well. And hurrah that I have an excuse to go shopping for ALL THE BABY THINGS.

Online shopping for babies is a rabbit-hole down which I happily scamper at 10 o’clock at night.

Squishy fabric rattles shaped like pirates. Exquisite impossibly tiny jumpsuits with ponies and ducklings and rabbits. Maybe I’d buy some beautiful muslin wraps? That first snugly teddy? A copy of Where The Wild Things Are?

Or.

Or I could get something for ‘mum’.

Thick luscious hand cream. A French Pear candle. A pretty tin of Camomile tea. A teacup.

I had one hundred ideas all jumbled in my head. All of them waiting to be wrapped in a big blue satin bow and delivered to my friend.

And then the universe decided to point out that I was an idiot; that I needed a refresher course in new motherhood.

Just days later I was taking my son for his 12-month vaccinations at our local baby clinic. I got there early so that I could beat the queues and still make it to school pick-up on time for my 5 year old.

What this meant is that I was alone in the waiting area – well, alone and balancing a squirming pudding of a baby on my lap – when she walked in.

And I recognised her instantly.

She was a new mum; a first time mum holding a tiny six-week old, fractious bundle in her arms.

How did I know she was a first-time mum?

You just know.

She had that shattered, frayed look in her eyes. A look that said she didn’t know if she could do this; if she could get through another night. Another night of walking laps of the lounge room trying to soothe an inconsolable baby. Another night of waking every hour to a baby who just wouldn’t stop crying.

And so I bounced my own baby on my lap and watched out of the corner of my eye as this new mum tried to placate her cantankerous newborn and collect her thoughts and rub her eyes and rifle through her handbag for that baby health book and her Medicare cards and a pen that actually works.

When she looked up, I gave her the smile of a colleague. A sister in arms. One of those, “I hear you sister. How hard is it to hold a baby and fill in a form while sitting at a small plastic table?” looks.

“I’m just tied because I can’t settle the baby.”

She offered tears in return.

You know what? It took me aback for a moment. In public, we all spend so much time wearing masks. Pretending everything is okay. We so rarely drop the facade with strangers.

But there she was, a new mother, crumbling in the waiting room of a clinic. Boy, did it take me back.

‘Are you okay?” I said.

She looked embarrassed. (“Oh God – do not be embarrassed!” I wanted to cry) and then she said a line that I said myself a thousand times in those early weeks and months:

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‘It’s okay, I’m just tired.”

It’s okay. I’m just tired.

And I wanted to take her hand and weep with her because I remembered.

I’m just tired because I haven’t slept in weeks and I can’t settle the baby.

I’m just tired because I’m having trouble with breastfeeding.

I’m just tired because I’m having trouble with bottle-feeding.

I’m just tired because I haven’t worked out yet how to juggle this new baby thing: how to have a shower, how to hang out the washing, how to do anything ever when I’m now responsible for this tiny new bundle.

I’m just tired because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Am I meant to change her clothes into pyjamas at night? How warm should her room be? Do I wake her up at night to bath her?

I remembered when Ava was born, how brutal I found those first few months. My beautiful daughter never slept day or night. And I slowly lost my mind. That’s the thing with sleep deprivation – it unravels you emotionally and physically.

I remember wandering through my local Woolworths one morning – crying – as I bought four different tins of formula since I’d convinced myself that perhaps my daughter’s painful cries were because she was allergic to my breast milk. (She wasn’t. I would later find out it was colic.) But I was in a fog. I couldn’t think straight. I was on edge and frightened. For the first three months of Ava’s life I wore her in a sling day and much of the night. And then at 11 weeks, things started to change. My screaming fractious daughter started to sleep. The fog started to clear.

So I told all of that to the mum in front of me.

And then I told her she wasn’t alone.

Bec with Ava – the baby who didn’t sleep, day or night.

I told her this period would end. That her baby would eventually sleep. And she would too. That it would get better. And if it didn’t or if she felt like she couldn’t last the distance, that she was to ask for help. That every mother had been where she is now. And that it’s hard – new babies are so often so hard. And that she was doing a great job.

And then my son’s name was called and I had to go.

“You can do this,” I said to her as I got up to leave.

I don’t know how that mother is now. I don’t know if she got any sleep that night or the next or the night after that. But I have often thought about her and hoped she was surrounded by a nurturing tribe of family and friends.

For every new mother who today is feeling like she can’t cope, I want you to know that you’re not alone. And that the fact your baby is constantly crying and never sleeping for longer than 20 minutes isn’t because of you. Or anything you’re doing. Newborns are HARD to figure out. And the majority of them cry a hell of a lot.

As for my friend who had the new baby? I still sent her a copy of Where The Wild Things Are. But I also made a note in my diary to drop a lasagne on her doorstep. And to offer to stay and babysit so that she could take a walk or go to the hairdresser or sleep. Just sleep.

Oh how quickly we forget.

If you could offer any advice to the mother of a newborn baby – what would you say?

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