When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. They give you some documents, they scribble on paper with medical words and lots of boxes. And then they send you on your way, in a daze of fatigue from a long and excruciating labour, to strap a fragile new life into a big metal machine and head for shelter within the confines of your ever changed home.
When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. Many people tell you their story; they share fragments of experience that you won’t really be able to make sense of until years later, once you have been there yourself. By then you will have replicated this practice to other new parents, time after time after time.
When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. Is this not like any other learning experience? Where are the official guides and mentors? The midwife who shared your pregnancy and labour has disappeared and here you are, babe in arms, a curve in your lower back and not a clue in your head.
When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. How are you to know which cry means what, how to quiet, calm and soothe an infant? They tell you how to put him in his cot, how to swaddle and wrap him, but not how to read his tired signs and that if you see them, it’s too late. That he’ll stop using his maternal melatonin at 12 weeks and that’s where the baby bubble ends but by then you haven’t slept more than three hours at once for three months straight so what’s another sleepless night anyway.
When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. The baby screaming in pain leaves you constantly questioning yourself; what you’ve eaten that could cause him such agony. The whole experience is a perpetual search for answers that seem uncatchable to the grasping hand of a mother in distress. But to give up on breastfeeding is not an option so you soldier on, nipples wrecked, bra wet, daggers at anyone daring to come close.
When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. You see shapes in the shower tiles and hear crying in the silence, and you pick up your phone only to forget why you needed it. Some nights you’re up every darn hour; the baby’s cry pierces lucid sleep that evades, evades, evades. There isn’t a single time you don’t do it though, in the depths of your soul you know that baby needs you and not responding isn’t physically possible.
When you have a baby, no one gives you a manual. But complaining might be seen as ungrateful; you’re lucky to have been able to bear a child, when some women have not the body nor the time left to fill such maternal desires. The struggle is commonplace as nights turn to day and weeks to months and things get little by little, easier to manage. In time it’s all a distant memory; he turns one, two then three and by now you’re ready to take it on again. Mother Nature has succeeded, the lens of time foggy as you try to recall what being in the thick of it was really like.
When you have your second baby, everything has changed. You have that marvellous and sought after thing – experience – and it’s here that you realise that when you have a baby, no, no one gives you a manual. It is you, who writes that manual for yourself. You, the mother, did the work. Now you know… until you realise that in fact this is not the same child. It’s a new life, a new story, a new experience. And you smile, for not many things in life could be both more magical and more difficult, than having a baby.