I meet a lot of new parents, and have come to recognise the glazed stare of someone at the height of sleep deprivation, and anxiety, coming to terms with the reality of life with a newborn baby.
Of course my sample is skewed by the fact that my job entails being there to help when there are difficulties. Many new parents have strong support networks, realistic expectations, and enough confidence in their own instincts, to enjoy these first weeks and sail off into the parenthood sunset.
Feedback from antenatal sessions tells me that parents-to-be sometimes feel they would like more preparation for parenthood. They request practical things: nappy changing always evaluates well but clients would like antenatal teachers to tell them how to get their babies to sleep. Everyone tells you about the sleepless nights to come, usually with a wry smile; but nobody tells you what it feels like. It isn’t like working shifts or travelling across timezones, because of the emotional and hormonal whirlwind going on around you, the physical recovery from birth, and the realisation of immense, relentless responsibility. You can’t sleep this off, and anyway, opportunities to do so are rare.
New parenthood is such an unpredictable and chaotic time, but gradually instincts emerge and you start building knowledge and confidence in yourself. You get to know your baby, and perhaps start to see why we can’t tell you, in advance, how to manage this little person. Your family and your baby are unique, and things are going to shape up in their own way. Only a tiny percentage of babies are “in a routine” by six months of age, but more than half are sleeping through the night. At a recent Introducing Solids session, mothers of four and five month old babies talked about how their babies had slipped into natural rhythms, whether they as parents had tried to manage this, or not.
Life with a new baby might be a big unknown, but you can prepare for it by gathering around you the people you trust to give you care and support, by not expecting too much in terms of “normal” life, and preparing mentally for meeting and getting to know your unique little one when he or she arrives.