Melody Tan reflects on her journey to becoming a mother of a one-year-old.
I know you’re lying in the hospital bed right now, feeling a whole variety of conflicting emotions and sensations: utterly exhausted, physically fragile and tender, fully bewildered and completely in love. Stop sneaking looks at that gorgeous bundle sleeping in the clear plastic bassinet beside you—believe it or not, I actually think he’s more beautiful than you do—and pay attention, what I’m about to tell you is important.
Through some unexplained time travel mojo, I am you, one year later. So take heart. You actually survived the impending rollercoaster ride with your sanity mostly intact and not as many dark circles around your eyes as you might have imagined. I have to warn you though, while the journey to get here is full of joy, wonder and laughter, it is also filled with plenty of tears, worry and uncertainty. But it’s also why I’m writing you this letter. I’m hoping it will lessen the impact of all the bad times and give you plenty more good ones. Here’s how:
The most important thing you need to do is forget “breast is best” because “fed is best”. I’m not saying don’t breastfeed Elliott at all, but the reason he continues to cry even after hours of breastfeeding is not because, as the midwives tell you, your milk hasn’t come in and it’s normal for babies to cry. The midwives may be right in other cases, but not in yours—your milk will never come in, despite the weeks spent expressing, drinking copious amounts of fenugreek tea and eating an abundance of lactation biscuits (both non-chemical ways of boosting your milk supply). You will never be able to solely breastfeed him as you imagined. You can try, but he will cry often and loudly, sleep terribly and lose a startling amount of weight. So feed Elliott as much breast milk as you are able, but if you accept he needs formula too, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of grief.
You’ll probably never shake off the guilty feeling that Elliott will transition fully onto formula by the time he is three months old and will always wonder if it’s somehow your fault or if you just didn’t try hard enough to increase your milk supply. But one year on, he has grown from being in the second percentile in weight back to where he was when he was born: the fiftieth percentile. He’s meeting all the developmental milestones and most importantly, he is an extremely happy baby who loves to laugh and showers everybody with not-so-toothless grins. And remember, you were a formula-fed baby yourself and your IQ isn’t that deficient.
The sooner you realise your job at home is to raise Elliott, the faster you’ll begin to enjoy this motherhood business. It’s tempting to see maternity leave and your time at home as an opportunity to tackle all the errands you’ve always wanted to get done, but looking after a baby doesn’t work that way. It will be time consuming and all absorbing. If you view checking your emails as a bonus thing you get to do and not what you have to do, you’ll be less frustrated when Elliott’s needs interrupt your day. The times you hold a little baby, big eyes gazing at you, tiny hand reaching up to touch your face, will very quickly become a thing of the past. The rest of your life can wait. The cutest boss you’ll ever work for needs attention now.
Throw out all the parenting books you've collected. Yes, the ones that promise you’ll have a baby who sleeps through the night in six weeks if you follow their advice. Realising Elliott isn’t sleeping according to schedule despite your efforts will drive you to despair. Create the opportunity for sleep but just roll with the punches (and waking up every hour or two in the middle of a cold winter's night will feel like a literal punch) if he doesn’t. Don’t feel guilty about letting him fall asleep snuggled into the crook of your neck while you’re on the computer. By the time he turns one, the little body that you so easily supported with one arm and fitted so nicely in between your chest and your neck, will be too heavy, too long and too wriggly.
And while we’re on that, you will get extremely sick of the phrase, “Every baby is different”, but clichés emerge for a reason. If every baby were the same, there wouldn’t be a need for so many parenting books (or research or studies), all advocating different things.
. . . keep going to him when he whimpers, cuddle him when he cries . . .
Still on the topic of sleep, don’t beat yourself up for rocking him to sleep and not putting him into his cot “awake but sleepy”. Holding him to sleep doesn’t mean he’ll fail to learn how to self-settle. It now takes, on average, only a few minutes before he is off to dreamland and the number of times he wakes at night has diminished. There will be mornings when you’ll wake up with a start because you didn’t need to go to him in the middle of the night. So keep going to him when he whimpers, cuddle him when he cries, rock him to sleep if you have to (without breaking your own back) and whatever you do, don’t try the cry-it-out method because it will shatter your heart. There will come a time when you wish you could still cosy up to him, sniffing his hair and neck without him being all weird about it.
It’s fine to give the poor boy a dummy. I know you’re worried he may develop an unhealthy addiction to the thing but it’s not called a soother for nothing. The transformation when he first had a taste of the dummy at six weeks of age will give your ears a rest from the wailing and your frazzled nerves a break. Elliott still uses the dummy now, but he doesn’t need it all the time. And if you’re still worried, remind yourself you don’t see too many 18-year-olds wandering around with a dummy in their mouth.
Daniel is your husband and he wants to help. Finally conceding you can’t do everything alone and reaching out to him is probably the best thing you’ll do for your marriage. He will flourish knowing exactly how he can lighten your load and stop feeling like he’s sitting helplessly on the sidelines watching you slowly crumble under the weight of caring for a newborn.
It will get better. You’re not going to believe it when your friends tell you that, especially when you’re in the throes of despair, severely lacking sleep, holding a baby who will not stop crying. It will feel like an eternity when you’re in the middle of it, but it’s probably only for five or six months, max. Of course, Elliott isn’t perfect now. He still grizzles and cries, but less often and not so prolonged. Instead, your days will be littered with his uncontrollable giggles, constant babbles and excited squeals.
You don’t have to be perfect. I know you’ve never worried about what others might think of you, but you more than make up for it with the high standards you set yourself. Stop worrying about what the experts say you must do with your child. What Elliott really needs is for you to be warm, sensitive and consistent. Be present for him and he will reward you with things you never thought he could do, a growing intelligence that emanates from his eyes and the confidence to explore the world.
Don’t worry too much about the lack of connection you have with Elliott. Even after you bring him home, it will still take a while before it sinks in that the little bundle is actually your child. But by the time you are witnessing his face lighting up when he spies you walking through the front door, and hurriedly crawling towards you to drown you in open-mouthed sloppy kisses, you’ll realise it is impossible to even measure the depth of love you have for this boy.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t forget to remember God. Ask Him for wisdom and strength daily and He will readily give them to you. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Even if you sometimes feel too far away from family or friends, God, Daniel and you can form a village too.
Enjoy the rollercoaster ride, Melody. There will be times when you wonder if you’ve done the right thing by having a baby, but one year on, you’ll wonder how you’d ever survive if Elliott was no longer in your life.
You, one year later.
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