I cannot begin to describe what it felt like to meet my daughter for the first time. As I bluffed my way through the final stages of labour (was this pushing or was I just crying and gritting my teeth super tight to keep from swearing and making it look like I was doing something?) a tiny voice in my head that had to that point remained relatively quiet, suddenly decided to scream.
“This is a very very VERY bad idea!”
Seemingly from nowhere, my obstetrician calmly said (as if it were the most simple thing in the world), “alright, come and meet your parents”.
Seconds later, she was in my arms.
I began saying all the things I knew I should say. She’s so beautiful! Isn’t she amazing! I can’t believe she’s here!
I held her and looked at her tiny body. Her cranky expression. Her long limbs. Her soft skin. Her shock of blonde hair. She had her father’s nose. She had her father’s eyes. She had her father’s chin.
She had her father’s appetite.
The midwife helped me to begin feeding her. She latched perfectly.
My husband gushed, stroking her forehead and kissing mine. He echoed my words, “she’s perfect… she’s so beautiful”…
I looked to him for my cue. It suddenly struck me, as the midwife went about her work and the obstetrician left the room, that we were responsible for this tiny human. We were on our own.
I didn’t know what to do.
This was supposed to be easy. Every day from the age of 17 I had dedicated study and professional endeavour towards understanding children, educating them and advocating for them. I told people that I was particularly passionate about family centred practice. I thought I specialised in this. I thought this was supposed to come naturally. I thought this was supposed to make sense! Even the tiniest bit of sense!
Within the hour, family had arrived to cuddle and coo and offer words of support. My friends began texting me. Congratulations! What a beautiful baby! How lucky is she to have parents like us! Bet we’ve got it all figured out! Bet we’ll be home from hospital by tomorrow!
The day was hectic and a whirlwind of voices and support and encouragement. I couldn’t have asked for a more loving environment for this little one to enter into.
That night, when everyone left, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried.
From a place I felt no control of, apologies were flooding out. I muttered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” in a dark room on cold tiles while my husband slept peacefully beside my daughter next door.
This wasn’t right. I wasn’t feeling the things I should be feeling. I wasn’t giddy and snuggly and certain. I didn’t feel my “mothing instinct” kick in and tell me what to do. My stitches hurt and breastfeeding hurt and I was so tired and this baby didn’t look like me and I was still super fat and for heaven’s sake… I had left my baby so that I could go and cry on the floor! I sucked at mothering!
My phone vibrated, letting me know it was time to feed Chloe again. I tried for an hour then hopped back into bed to put myself to sleep. This time I was so exhausted that it worked.
During pregnancy, I was under the impression that women either “got it”, or they had Post Natal Depression.
I also believed that some invisible Tinkerbelle style wonder fairy would fly around the room shortly after birth sprinkling magical love dust everywhere and making all the pain go away.
I was pretty sure that my baby would look like me. Especially when I had gone to all the effort of, you know, gestating. Haematomas. Vomiting. Cellulite. Nine months without coffee.
I don’t know why we don’t talk about the middle ground. We talk about the nerves and anxiety, we talk about the pain of labour and we know about pushing and c-sections and possible complications…
Why don’t we talk about the fact that when everything goes right, we may still feel completely lost, and certain that we have failed?
On the third day in hospital, I buzzed my midwife for assistance.
She seemed bemused by me. “You’re a nurse, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
I told her what I do for a living.
She nodded. “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. The baby is ok. No one expects you to know everything”.
It was the first time that someone, knowing my credentials, acknowledged that I was basically flying blind.
It wasn’t as if everything suddenly fell into place after that. I don’t think it’s supposed to. As parents we become responsible for another human being with their own needs, rights, thoughts, feelings, attitudes and personality. If we had nothing to learn, we’d be suggesting that they have nothing to teach us.
And I had so much to learn.
After a couple of weeks, it all stopped hurting. The exhaustion began to subside as I became more aware of Chloe’s natural routine.
She was a beautiful baby, and is a beautiful one year old. She has her father’s smile. She has my eyes – but they’re blue like his. She has my stubborn streak, my love of music, but thankfully her father’s coordination.
Some days, I am so in love with her that I feel breathless. Her laugh is so pure, her cuddles are so genuine, her eyes are so bright. My natural response when people tell me she is beautiful is “Yep”, because there was never a truer word spoken.
She has a knack for communication. She lights up when she sees other children. She is a very advanced peek a booer if I do say so myself. We’re… ‘working on’ sharing.
I love being a mother, and I love my daughter.
And I still have no idea what I’m doing.
Beth is a passionate Early Learning professional committed to frontline advocacy for children’s rights. After joining an online mothers group in early pregnancy, Beth became disenchanted by the disconnect between what is considered best practice by professionals, and what is promoted as “right” by popular social media. She empathised with how overwhelming the pressure is on new families to just know what to do. Realising that most families were eager to understand contemporary knowledge about Early Childhood, but didn’t share her love for reading journal articles in their spare time, Beth started Bayberry Blue. This new and developing parenting resource provides practical advice for families as they navigate the early years with their child. The site features recommendations for Early Learning Services,a gorgeous boutique for expectant mums and bubs and in 2016, they’re launching a networking service for mums to meet with maternity and child health, education, community service professionals and other mums for a coffee and a chat!