I have the most scrumptious, plumptious new baby niece imaginable. She’s not even 24 hours old yet, and I haven’t made her acquaintance in person, but I’ve seen the photos from my brother and his wife; felt that twanging of the ovaries which I don’t think ever really goes away at the sight of a newborn, no matter how much real life is telling you that another bout of toddlerhood would kill you. I’ve spent the morning in one of those loved-up mushy moods, remembering the magical first hours with my own babies; those long snuggles, gazing into filmy brand-new eyes which seem engaged in forgetting age-old secrets so that their owners can start all over again. Feeling the tug of a small mouth against my nipple and the joy of a downy head nestled into the crook of my arm as she sucks hungrily and drowses with contentment. And then I’ve had a text from my fellow auntie about how hungry the new baby is, and I’ve realised I’m not remembering at all. I’m imagining. I’m taking all the very best bits, mixing them in with the scenes from countless books and films and daydreams, and creating just the idyllic scenario which upset me so much when I found real life didn’t match up. Of course having a new baby is an experience unlike any other. Of course those first early moments together are unrepeatable. Of course there are times when your heart feels like it will burst with love, even as your head fails utterly to take in the reality of what’s happened: that you, now, are the parent of this tiny scrap of humanity in your arms. But amidst the rapture and the joy, there’s exhaustion and quite probably pain. There’s the indignity of not being able to empty your bowels and bladder (or worse, not being able to stop emptying them). There’s sleeplessness and backache and hormones which are playing football with your emotions right at the time you can handle it least. And there’s someone else whose needs trump your own; who’s trying to figure out how to fill its empty tummy for the first time ever, who’s trying to cope with light and noise and space, who’s – more likely than not – protesting these new discoveries and looking to you and you alone for your presence (and your boobs). This piece by Simcha Fisher contains possibly the truest thing I’ve ever read about what not to say to a new mum.
What’s the one thing frazzled young moms always hear? “These years go by so quickly — enjoy it while you can!” Which is sort of like getting a severe sunburn and hearing, “Summer will be gone before you know it — enjoy it while you can!”
It’s too easy to idealise the experience of having a new baby. You can still appreciate your incredible good fortune, still be grateful and entirely deserving of your prize, still be a dedicated and loving mother, while finding the tough bits tough. And the best way to support a new mum is not to demand that she lives up to some impossible version of reality, but to lend a hand; to acknowledge the hard bits as well as rhapsodising over the good ones. One that note, I’m off to do a bit more cooing over photographs. And to fill my sister in law’s freezer.