We visited Bournemouth beach when Aryan was just 29 days old, nominating ourselves as Braveheart Parents 2018. As it turns out, the pulling power of a baby in a beach is infinitely greater than six packs or bikinis. Every few metres we bumped into someone who had spotted Aryan and wanted to coo over him. One of them was a middle-aged woman who circled us for a good few minutes, her eyes fixated on Aryan, a moth resisting destruction in the flames. Her voice quivered with all the wistfulness in the world: ‘Oh he makes me want to take another baby! But you know what, I cannot go through those sleepless nights again.’ Surrendering one’s soul and sleep to further the family tree – yup, that sounded like motherhood to me.
The lady in the beach was not the only one proclaiming her love for the newness of Aryan. Dozens of mum friends and strangers on the streets told me how he made them yearn for another baby. Their irresistible cuteness and overpowering sweet smell makes newborns highly addictive – enough to get some women hooked to procreating, (and tearing their perineum), on repeat. No one seems to forget the nights though. With every wistful sigh came a quick add-on: oh but the sleepless nights…
Motherhood is a revolutionary, life altering experience that is a privilege. But like all moms before me will testify, it’s also hard as hell. Especially the messy first few weeks when you are grappling with the challenges of handling a wobbly, wordless human whose survival depends solely on you. It’s like taking a solved Rubik’s Cube, aka your life, scrambling it up in a million ways, and then slowly learning a new way to put it back. Surviving the first month is equal to earning all the gold, medal and silver in the Olympics, the intensity of which will challenge the rose-tinted world of motherhood you had probably envisioned.
No theory in the world can prepare you for the practical exam that is parenthood. I KNEW newborns feed every 2-3 hours. The reality of it still came as a shock. Feeding a baby with a marble sized stomach is like replenishing a ten days old birthday balloon with holes. It needs constant top ups. I spent what felt like entire days breastfeeding at one spot (I jokingly termed it as ‘house arrest’). Our couple life all but disappeared through the cracks of our earnest quest to understand baby and solve his problems, delivered in a flurry of multi-pitched complaints. Putting baby to sleep took up most of our evenings. Managing to shower became the ultimate freedom – until I started hearing imaginary baby voices crying in my soapy ears. And not so imaginary ones too. The lingering smell of his poo ambushed us where we least expected it, the frozen food section at Tesco for example.
The littlest of things shook our parenthood to its fragile core. Was his poo too runny? Too yellow? Too seedy? How long should each feed be? Was he getting enough milk? Did he need a nappy change? Was he breathing? Wait, was he just messing with us? That first month, often termed as the fourth trimester (I now see why), is a steep learning curve for all involved, baby, mum, dad and the universe.
Baby Aryan is, indisputably, the love and light of our lives. From his first cry, and bloody appearance from behind the blue veil, we were hopelessly in love with him. He was magical, wrapping us up in a delicious newborn high stronger than the post-delivery painkillers. Mums get the best of this magic (and rightly so, given 9 months of toiling that ends in a horror story of a vajayjay and loss of bladder control). What babies lack in the way of communicating in a discernible language, they more than make up in other, unique means of bonding. The way they cuddle in your arms, tune into your heartbeat and seek out your warmth (and nipple) is remarkably clever for someone so new to the laws of gravity.
Everything about babies feels surreal in those first few days. Their innocence. Their joyful smiles. Their ability to cry NON STOP. Their humanly characteristics. I mean yes, he is a human, but have you seen THIS human? So tiny! There was nothing tiny about his farts though. Or his sneezes and hiccups. He was every inch a human in his few inches of skin and bones. Every afternoon I would discover a fresh load of boogie in his nostrils. I grew obsessed with nosefrida-ing them out. I have no idea why it gave me such sick pleasure seeing him in clear discomfort but still not being able to stop. Who knew baby boogie could be so addictive? By the end of the first week his umbilical stump had fallen off, and by the second week his paper like hands and feet had started gaining colour.
Are babies too young to have a personality? I feel like Aryan had one from get go. From his early days he would look at me with a remarkably fixed stare and respond animatedly to my made up stories. He would listen, spellbound, to his father’s atrocious singing. He would rest his little head on my shoulders with all the love and trust in the world. It might have been down to the fact that I was his main food supplier but the bond we shared was unshakably strong for a relationship that was built around one person having to forsake her sleep to nourish the other.
Aryan’s induced delivery was a testament to how comfortable he was being holed up in my tummy. He was no different outside it. He would curl himself up in foetal positions in our arms, wriggling into any space he could bury himself in. I realised that he too, was adjusting to this new life just as much as we were.
Those initial days as a new mum were equal parts euphoric and exhausting. There was a lot of healing to be had. 1) My episiotomy stitches pulled like dry thorns, 2) my nipples chafed from the sudden onslaught of breastfeeding, 3) a failed cannulation on the back of my right hand grew into an aching golf ball, 4) I hated wearing the compression stockings in the summer heat and 5) the post-delivery bleeding was heavy and uncomfortable. Add to that the shocking pain of uterine contractions during breastfeeding and you have a hot mess of a new mum who is in desperate need of some rest and sleep. Biology, however, doesn’t quite work that way.
Sleep for me was interrupted, limited and full of anxiety. I was averaging 2-3 hours at a stretch and often waking up in the middle of that to check up on baby. I had nightmares about hurting him in my sleep and would wake up and check again. I struggled with the advice ‘sleep when baby sleeps’. I was dangerously tired, and I needed any shut-eye I could manage, but it was still hard flinging myself onto bed in broad daylight.
I spent days being unpolished, feeling remote and detached from the world outside our flat. The upside of being a home-tied hobo was saving money on makeup products – I was hardly using any. My curly roots started creeping back as I stopped blow drying my hair. By the end of the month I had shed some of the water weight but my tummy was firmly wobblier than Aryan’s neck.
I struggled with mustering the courage to go out. Getting out of the house was now a long drawn out affair – gathering baby paraphernalia, settling baby into the car seat (the struggle!), getting the stroller in and out of the flat. What felt like the biggest obstacle was not being able to feed him on demand – either because I could not find a sheltered breastfeeding spot or because he would refuse the bottle. The idea of not being able to soothe my screaming baby in front of the world made me freak out. So did breastfeeding in public. I resisted leaving the house unless it was completely necessary. On the rare occasions I stepped out alone, Aryan’s face repeatedly flashed in front of my eyes while my breasts burned from the milk build up. Thank God for breast pads!
My first solo outing was to pick up Aryan’s birth certificate. Then I took him along to register him with the GP, then to the mall. It took me more than a month to start babywearing him with confidence and breastfeeding in public. These two actions would have made the first month much easier had I taken them up early on but you know what? Those initial weeks were cray cray and I do not blame myself for taking time to figure things out.
My mum was a huge help in all of this. I quiver in fear thinking how it would have been had she not flown in from another continent to lend a hand. In the light of my new role as a Mum, I repeatedly regretted all the trouble and bad behaviour I have hurled at my mother over the years (even though I was mostly Miss Goody Two Shoes as a child). I loved and appreciated her more than ever.
Occasionally my mind would drift back to wondering about life before Aryan. This ‘slipping into that other life’ syndrome usually struck around 3 am while trying to find a breastfeeding position that didn’t threaten to open my stitches. I eventually learned to breastfeed while lying on my side which made the job significantly easier. But I worried constantly about hurting him, about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), about all the wagging fingers jabbing my brain for co-sleeping with my child. I don’t think I ever fully passed out, I was always alert even when asleep. By the third week, thanks to the magic of experience and layers of nipple butter, I was cherishing the breastfeeding bond. Hearing him cry to be fed in his sleep would melt my heart no matter how tired I was.
To be solely in charge of someone so little and so helpless is unimaginably scary and empowering. There were days when my endurance felt stronger than my exhaustion, making me feel powerful and unbreakable. I was a magician – fully capable of calming a hysterical baby with one hand while juggling the entire world with the other. These were the good days. On bad days I was crying out of fatigue, desperate for a break from cluster feeds. Aryan had decided that the bottle was not for him.
With a new family member, the dynamics in our marriage shifted. While we were both joyous over the birth of our baby, it weighed heavily on our newly minted parental shoulders. It did not help that Nizar only got about a week off after Aryan’s birth, all of which was spent trying to adjust to this sudden routine of 24/7 baby service. As soon as he returned home from work, I would hastily hand baby over to him and dash to shower. I don’t know where our evenings went – they just sped by. Initially we let things flow and did not bother with a sleep routine. But after a few weeks, we tried putting him to bed early. We could never tell how things would go: there were nights when we would start this ritual at 9, and Aryan would not give in till 1.
I found myself snapping a lot at Nizar, the constant sleep deprivation getting the better of me. They had warned us of this exact scenario in our antenatal classes but like all the other expectant mothers and fathers in that room, we thought we could do better. How wrong we were. After one particularly difficult night of trying to put baby to sleep which took us into the wee hours of the morning, a snoozed alarm made me lose my shit. Let’s just say Nizar stopped snoozing after that, which then ended up making him horribly late for work one morning. That in turn made me feel guilty as hell – a vicious chain of events propelled by guilt and more guilt. I thought I was losing my mind till I came across some reassuring words in a baby book (‘First Time Parent’ by Lucy Atkins – you can thank me later).
These are the top ten new-parent worries:
1 | Will my baby die? (Yes, we all worry about it.)
2 | Is my baby healthy and normal?
3 |Am I doing it right?
4 |Is my baby eating enough/too much/at the right times?
5 |Is my baby crying too much?
6 |Is my baby sleeping enough/too much/at the wrong times?
7 | Will I ever feel like ‘myself’ again?
8 | Will my relationship ever recover?
9 | How are we going to afford this?
10|Will I be a good parent?
Number 8 pulled at my sore heart-strings. We were snapping at each other, fighting uncharacteristically and hardly talking as a couple – but all that passive aggresivesness was pretty normal, a byproduct of the learning curve of new parenthood.
Caring for a new baby tends to suck out every ounce of your energy so we were advised to spend some exclusive couple time. Given that we didn’t have anyone other than my mother in the way of childcare support, it was difficult to carve out time for ourselves. We tried going for a movie one night – that’s the only baby free thing we did in those 30 days.
Newborns are used to being tightly wound up in the womb where it’s cosy, warm and noisy. They seek that womb-like feeling once they come out into the world and get distressed when they can’t find it. I don’t think I grasped this too well in the beginning. I worried that my daylong cuddles were spoiling him. It didn’t help that EVERYBODY kept telling us to put him down. Nizar, who got to spend limited hours with Aryan, vehemently opposed this. I was left feeling torn between trying to set routines and also giving my baby the warmth and love he seeked. He wont always be this tiny and needful, I would think to myself, picking him up and holding him close to my heart. We did not want to administer overly rigid parenting. Every baby is unique and parenthood is hardly a one size fits all solution. No one wants to be bad parents but you can’t always tell right from wrong. When unsure, following one’s instincts is probably the best way to do it.
Luckily, as everyone keeps reminding you, it gets better once you survive that first month. As my body healed, and we made peace with having waved our old lives goodbye, we found a new pace and rhythm with our little. Once upon a time we had lived for ourselves. We were now living for someone else. And in all honesty, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Aryan is our newfound purpose in life.