I knew it was going to be hard.
I mean, you couldn’t really NOT know, could you? Almost as soon as you announce a pregnancy these days, people start lining up to tell you how absolutely awful your life is going to be afterwards: the sleepless nights, the relentless cycle of nappy changes and feeding, the way day blends into night, and everything starts to feel so totally surreal that you barely even remember your own name any more, because you’re just SO. DAMN. TIRED.
I knew all of this, of course. I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for it, exactly – you can’t actually bank sleep in advance, no matter how many times people tell you to – but I was as ready for it as I could be: I had anticipated the tiredness, the emotional overload, even the Day 3 attack of ‘baby blues’ I’d heard so much about. (And which didn’t actually arrive, by the way: on day 3, I still felt absolutely euphoric – it wasn’t until later that things started to go pear-shaped: and for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the baby, ironically enough…)
What I hadn’t anticipated was that Terry’s mum would be admitted to a hospice before Max was even one week old: that we’d be told she probably had just days to live, and that we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable.
I hadn’t anticipated being left alone with the baby so soon after he arrived: when Terry’s mum was first admitted, the hospice suspected she had flu, so we were warned not to bring the baby in to see her, until they’d ruled it out. (Which they did, but not until 3 days later….) Terry, of course, had to be there for his mum, so I stayed home with Max… and lasted approximately 2 hours before panicking and calling my parents in to help, when Max started crying inconsolably, and I didn’t have even the slightest clue why.
(Predictably, he stopped crying and fell asleep as soon as I put the phone down: thanks, little dude!)
I definitely hadn’t anticipated Terry being completely incapacitated by excruciating pain, or the totally sleepless night that followed (Not just the broken sleep you get with a newborn: I mean we literally sat up all night, with Terry groaning in pain the whole time, unable to even place his foot on the ground without being in absolute agony. I’ve always hated the way some parents like to tell you that you “don’t know what it’s like to be tired until you have a baby!” Honestly, the tiredness that comes from sitting up all night in agony is WAY worse than the broken sleep you get as a new parent: you can trust Terry on that one…). It didn’t occur to me that, for a short while at least, I’d be the only person in the house capable of looking after the baby, or that the constant running around after him (I’ve never regretted buying a three-storey house until this week!) would slow down my own recovery time, and make the pain from my c-section scar worse – so poor Max ended up with TWO parents who couldn’t walk properly, and I felt like I was failing hard at even the most basic of tasks.
Most of all, I didn’t anticipate the guilt.
Right now, I feel so incredibly guilty.
I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to support Terry the way I’d like to: that I literally had to stand by and watch as he crawled along the floor to the bathroom, because there was absolutely nothing I could do to help him.
I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to go with him to the hospice every time (We did manage to take Max in a couple of days ago, once we were told it was safe, but until then, poor Terry had been going it alone…), and help him through this heartbreaking time.
I feel guilty that I’ve had to rely on my parents so much: from calling them at midnight, and asking them to come round at 4am to take Terry to hospital, to having to have them come and sit with me while he’s out of the house, because I’m still too scared to be left alone with a newborn for any length of time.
I feel guilty that I can’t always calm Max down when he cries: that sometimes I try everything I can think of, and absolutely nothing works, so I end up having to wake Terry, who’s still in a lot of pain from his foot – not to mention the emotions he’s feeling over the situation with his mum – and could really be doing with the extra sleep.
Most of all, I feel guilty that Max’s second week in the world has been so overshadowed by stress and sadness – that we will look back on this time as being, not just the first few days with our beautiful boy, but a time when Terry’s mum was dying, and everything felt wrong with the world. Everyone keeps telling us to enjoy every moment: to just drink it all in, because it goes so fast, and Max will never be this age again… I really want to be able to do that – and I DO, as much as I can – but it’s all been so much harder than I anticipated: and for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with Max, or new parenthood.
So, I feel guilty, but honestly? I also feel angry that we never seem to catch a break: and yeah, I know – Max is, without a doubt, the biggest break we’ve EVER caught. I still can’t even look at him without being totally overwhelmed with the emotion of it all, and the gratitude of having him here safely, and I can’t imagine ever being this lucky again. At the same time, though, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit aggrieved at the situation we’ve found ourselves in, and the universe’s apparent need to illustrate the whole ‘circle of life’ thing in such a clumsy, broad-strokes kind of way. It’s hard not to feel like we never get “allowed” to enjoy anything properly: that every single good thing we experience must be immediately followed by something unspeakably awful, almost as if the universe is trying to teach us some kind of cruel lesson, that never, ever ends.
But, of course, I don’t believe in any of that. I don’t believe the universe has any kind of plan for us, or that it’s decided to single us out for a rough few days. I know this is all just an unfortunate combination of events, and I know that we’ll get through it somehow, just like we always do. I also know that my medical file is filled with warnings about post-natal depression, which I’m apparently a prime candidate for – but I know I’m not depressed. Actually, deep down, I’m pretty damn happy: I think that what I’m feeling right now is just a natural reaction to everything that’s happening right now, and that anyone in our position would probably feel much the same. I know too that any one of the three things we’re dealing with at the moment – new baby, dying parent, chronic pain – would have been enough to completely floor us for a while, so dealing with all three at once? Yeah, it’s not exactly surprising that we’ve both been struggling a little these past few days, is it?
But through all of this, there’s Max:
At one point this week, I got into bed, and lay there watching him wave his little hands around, through the side of the cot, happily gurgling away in his sleep. I lay there and I remembered all of those other nights during my pregnancy: the ones where I’d get into that same bed, and lie there on my side, hands on my stomach, desperately trying to feel some movement from the baby, and feeling absolutely terrified that something was going to go wrong, and that I’d never get to meet him.
But I did.
And it changed everything.
Somehow we got lucky enough to have this beautiful little boy in our lives: I don’t know what we did to deserve him, and I probably never will, but I suspect we just got handed all of our “luck” in one fell swoop, and honestly? That’s just fine by me.
So, this morning I’ve had AT LEAST four hours worth of sleep. I have a mug of strong coffee on the desk in front of me, and the world’s cutest baby (Yeah, I know I’m biased, but I stand by my assessment…) sleeping peacefully next to me, and so today I’m going to try to hit the reset button and just enjoy it – for as long as it may last.
We are very, very lucky – we just need to do our best to remember that.