Ebony will be six months old in a few days. Six months, I really don’t know how it can possibly have been so long. Everything still feels so new and special.
When I first looked down at Ebony in my arms, she was so small and new. Her eyes were fixed on mine as she took everything in, it felt amazing. One day you’re pregnant and you can’t imagine the kicking bump looking like anything even resembling a baby, and the next day you’re holding your baby in your arms and she’s crying because she needs you. It’s a intense change, and everything happens so quickly you just adapt. Your life completely changes straight away.You live for the baby, everything you do and everything you think is for this new life you have created. You know immediately that this is what you were born for. That this moment, right now, is it.
There isn’t time to get used to your new job. You’re thrown in at the deep end and it’s terrifying. This screaming, crying, bright red baby needs something from you, and you have no idea what. It’s trial and error for the first few weeks, and it’s a really scary time.
The first few weeks are especially hard because you have no confidence. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing, I didn’t know if I was making the right choices, or if my baby was happy. And there is advice coming from every direction. Friends, baby groups, grandparents, health visitors, midwives, family... everyone has advice and opinions. It’s hard to process all the conflicting advice when you’re so tired.
Those first few weeks are so exhausting. I only ever managed a few hours of sleep at a time. It was like living in a blur, nothing really made sense anymore. My hormones were all over the place, I was exhausted and stressed, and as a result I felt very emotional. I was very defensive about everything, mostly because I had no confidence. I hoped I was doing the right thing for my baby, but I had no way of knowing. And listening to everyone’s advice is very intimidating even though it’s not usually meant that way. I would lie awake at night, rethinking things people had said, worrying that I was making the wrong decisions, or that people thought I was weird for the choices I had made.
I was defensive when people asked me whether Ebony would be raised vegan. I was defensive when people kept asking if I had taken the baby out much. I was defensive when people asked about breastfeeding. I was defensive about everything. Because I was terrified I was doing it all wrong and everyone knew it apart from me.
It took a long time for me to get my confidence. It’s strange being a parent, because it’s an intense responsibility and you’re not eased into it. It goes from 0 to 60 in a few pushes. The midwives make sure you’re sitting comfortably, breastfeeding your baby, and then they’re off and your new career begins. You look down at this stranger at your breast and wonder why nobody has told you what to do with her.
Laurie and I worried about every single thing you could possibly worry about. Were we changing her nappy wrong? Did she wear pyjamas too much? Was she too hot? Too cold? Was she even getting any milk? Did she have a temperature? Were we not bathing her enough? Why did she have those spots? Was she unhappy? Did she hate us?
The good thing is, with time the worrying decreases. At the start, the baby can’t communicate very well and it’s hard to tell whether they are happy or not. Nowadays it is much easier. Ebony giggles and smiles and flaps her arms with manic excitement. She can communicate if she is hungry or uncomfortable. She has more strength so can move herself around by rolling or shuffling (backwards, mostly). I don’t worry that she isn’t getting the stimulation she needs, because I can tell she is by the way she is developing. I don’t worry that she isn’t getting enough nutrients, because I can tell she is by how big she is.
Now I worry about leaving her. I worry about having to leave her with others while I return to work. I worry about other people making the day to day decisions about her care, when I feel I should make those decisions. I worry that people might not respect, or understand, my choices. I worry that other people won’t pick up on her cues as easily as I do, or that her cues may not be responded to as quickly.
I hate the thought of leaving her, and that’s why I haven’t yet. I have been away from her three times in her life. The first time she was about six weeks old, and I went to get my hair cut. I was away from her for about an hour while my parents looked after her in a cafe opposite. Ebony slept the whole time and had no idea I wasn’t there, I talked about nothing but Ebony to my bored hairdresser. The second time was when I went for my eight week check. My parents looked after Ebony at a cafe down the road, and again I was gone for about an hour.
The last time I was away from Ebony she was ten weeks old. My friend was getting married the following week, and we went for a few drinks. I only stayed for about an hour and a half, and Ebony was with her Dad about a mile away. When they picked me up, Ebony was screaming because she was hungry, it was horrid to see her so upset and I felt really terrible for leaving her (and a bit cross at Laurie for not letting me know she was hungry). Since then I haven’t spent time away from her.
People keep asking me if I have “spent time away from Ebony yet”. I hate that question, because I think the ‘yet’ implies that I should have by now. I think people think that because Ebony is six months old, I should now be used to being apart from her. If it was the early days, people asking me that question would send me into turmoil wondering if I was a bad Mum for smothering her with affection. I would get defensive and probably cry about it later when I was alone. But it’s not the early days, so I’m not a walking tangle of neurosis anymore. Instead I just say; “No, I haven’t jackass.” The jackass part is in my head obviously, not out loud. Although, I do always excuse my behaviour by explaining that it’s the breastfeeding.
I don’t express, I chose not to based on some advice from my Mum. She said that I probably wouldn’t want to leave the baby when it was that young anyway. She was right, I don’t. I’m glad that I don’t express, and that this gives me a socially acceptable excuse for not leaving my baby with someone else. But I really wish people would stop asking as if I am weird.
I know that I’m missing out on things. I’ve missed three hen weekends, countless birthdays and some nights out. But I think it’s worth it. Not many of my friends have children, so I do feel a bit left out at times. I can’t do the things I used to do, not yet anyway. Maybe next year, when Ebony is older, I’ll be venturing towards parties and nights out. But until then, I come hand in hand with Ebony. She’ll only be a baby for a limited amount of time, and I don’t want to miss a second of it, no matter how weird that makes me seem to the rest of the world.
I want Ebony to know I will always be here for her. And, while she is still vulnerable and dependent, I think that means physically being here for her too. I guess I’m just not ready to cut the cord quite yet.