At 40 years of age, I had left it quite late to have my first child. I don't want to say that he wasn't planned, because I happen to think that he was always going to be born, I just didn't know when. I've been surrounded by friends and family with babies all my life and what I realise now is that I was really quite scared of them. Babies that is, not my friends and family.
It was easier to leave the cooing and holding and nappy changing to my sister, who seemed to have a natural talent with both babies and small fury animals. I must have come across as aloof and disinterested, but actually I was terrified of not holding them properly, not changing a nappy properly, not feeding them properly, etc etc ad perfectionist infinitum.
I focused on my career. I got irritated with work colleagues on maternity leave or working less hours to accommodate family life. I partied. I bought a nice house. I had long lunches and danced into the early hours. I worked even harder, often because I was covering for colleagues on maternity leave in a small business, and yes, I'm still a bit annoyed about that.
As more of my friends started to have babies, I found new friends with no interest in having children. I still spoke to old friends, but I wasn't the friend I could have been if I hadn't been so scared and, as a consequence, disinterested and unsympathetic.
So far, W has been a very easy baby. He has had no health problems apart from a little cradle cap, he eats well, he has slept through the night from about 11 weeks and he smiles and laughs a lot. We know how lucky we are. And still, our easy baby is really really really hard work.
I wish now that I had been there as a support for friends whether their babies were easy or tricky. To ask the right questions, invite their ranting and listen properly as they just talked about how hard it really is to have children. I'm not giving myself a really hard time about this by the way, although I do wonder whether I might have really let some new mums down. The fact is, that as human beings, we naturally tend to identify more with those that we have a lot in common with. When friends move into different lifestages at different times, it can be tricky to find the common ground that keeps you close. I notice the same thing happening with mum, whose social time is increasingly spent with her single friends from the gym, rather than the friends she had as a couple with dad. I think it's one of those harsh realities that people can often not identify with a situation and truly empathise until it has happened to them.
So, I am sorry for not being there sometimes when I might have been able to help. Here are 20 things (in no particular order) that I have learned in the last 4 months that I would have already known if I had been there to listen:
1) The never-ending feeling of responsibility
2) It really does take forever to get out of the house and yes you really do need all that stuff
3) Babies are expensive, even when you have lots of second hand stuff
4) It is tempting to stick them in front of the TV for 5 minutes just to get some peace
5) Looking after a baby is the hardest job with the longest hours that I've ever done
6) You need some time off for you every week - that doesn't mean you don't love your child or you're a bad mother
7) It is amazing watching them learn new things, feeling them touch your face or hold your hand
8) Ditch the black wardrobe in favour of milk sick coloured items and just deal with the poo
9) You will not always agree with your other half on how to raise your child
10) Sex can be hard to get back into, may not feel the same, is disrupted by a baby monitor with the sound up, and is really important for maintaining intimacy in your relationship
11) Don't stress too much about your baby's routine when he's having a lovely day out with the grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins/sisters .... just let them get on with it
12) Give them plenty of cuddles now because the time is gone so quickly and it's really hard (apparently) to spoil a baby up to the age of 6 months
13) On the whole, babies up to 3 months cry for a reason
14) Don't stress it if you don't get on with breast feeding
15) You are the centre of their world; they think you're amazing; enjoy it while you can!
16) Always smile at your baby, no matter how you're feeling
17) Get out and about so they can hang out with other babies
18) Accept all offers of assistance
19) Ask for help when you need it
20) Keep talking to your other half, get some time alone, be kind to each other even when you don't feel like it, agree expectations, make love