Well, it’s been eight weeks, and we’re still alive.
Chris and I are crashed out on the floor of our living room, surrounded by all the chaos that comes with both an ongoing home renovation and an eight week old baby. Wooden flooring samples sit underneath a pile of used muslins en route to the laundry. Said baby is chuckling and bouncing in his chair between us. I have a small glass of wine, a ham cooking in the oven, and a Bond film on the telly. Also a milky deposit soaking into my left shoulder, and a tiny fist clamped around one finger as he slowly drifts off to sleep. My typing speed isn’t what it used to be.
The eyes are a little baggy, the midriff is slightly less saggy, and the heart is full.
Benjamin has been ruling our home with a chubby fist of steel for eight weeks. So far, eight weeks is rather a charming age, coloured by smiles and giggles, and an alert little face that studies our faces in minute detail. We’ve even had a slow but sustained improvement in nighttime wakefulness, which is why I even have the energy to contemplate writing this little update. I’m slowly finding my sea legs, so to speak, and with each passing day I find myself itching to get back online and back to telling stories.
Obviously those stories are a little different now. Less stitching, for the moment at least, and more parenting and home building. I have home renovation stories to tell, tales of summer in the garden, and plans for the coming autumn. A few weeks back writing all these down felt pretty daunting. But now I’m excited to get started.
Writing about life as a new parent is tricky. There are a host of well-worn cliches that spring readily to the lips, mostly because you’re too tired to form sensible thoughts of your own. But there are a number of very valuable lessons that I have learned over the past eight weeks. The sort of things that you can only really learn on the job, and that no antenatal class can adequately prepare you for.
Value your village
Ok, tired cliche number one: raising a baby really does take a village. Over the decades we as a species have gotten ourselves knotted up into a daft system where a new mother is expected to be able to manage a tiny human being entirely on her own. Well I’m here to tell you that’s bullsh*t. Without my village, my invaluable support network, Ben and I would not be doing as well as we are.
The dear friends who send me lewd Outlander memes (oh my) to raise my spirits; the friends met through NCT who are also awake at 3am and happy to share experiences and infant hacks over a coffee; my amazing in-laws who always bring wonderful food to sustain the exhausted parents; my hero parents who rally round at the drop of a hat to snuggle their grandson, allowing me to sneak off for a nap; and of course my husband Chris who deserves his own post dedicated to just how brilliant he is. I should also tip the hat to his employers, who have set a stunning example of the kind of flexible working arrangements that all parents should be entitled to.
As a parent your village is the most vital part of your ability to show up for your child and do the job well. Muster them, cherish them, and let them make the tea.
Swaddling is magic
Ben sleeps better when swaddled. Constraining those flailing arms is often the difference between two and four hours of sleep. We started with muslin squares, before graduating to a swaddle/sleeping bag contraption, which was amazing until Ben grew out of it in three weeks flat. Now we use a fairly cheap swaddle blanket designed for use up to six months.
My top swaddling tip is don’t be put off if your baby seems to fight the swaddle. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they hate it, just that it’s new and weird, or that they are too awake to appreciate it. Ben fights like a demon of he’s really awake, but will allow himself to be swaddled ten times over once he’s happily milk drunk and drowsy. I’ll often leave him swaddled for his nighttime feeds and he barely wakes up.
Co-sleeping is pretty awesome too
There’s whole post in me about co-sleeping, but suffice to say that it’s up there with swaddling on the list of things that get me a better night’s rest. Quite simply, being able to reach out and soothe Ben without getting out of bed is brilliant. As is falling asleep with his little hand in mine (unless he’s swaddled – see previous point!).
“It’s normal for your baby and toddler to wake through the night, lovely tired mama. I know it sucks sometimes, but it’s normal.”
I thoroughly recommend reading Hannah Bullivant’s great post on baby sleeping to demystify and encourage on co-sleeping. This was just what I needed to read at 3am when trying to settle a very fussy five week old. Between her and my mum they convinced me it was worth trying, and they were right. Actually, speaking of 3am…
3am is snack time, and that’s ok
Or rather, it definitely is if you are donating huge volumes of your calories to growing an infant, especially one who insists on putting on two kilograms in the space of a month. After a night of breastfeeding I would be ravenous by the small hours, and could only make it to breakfast fuelled by oat biscuits and a glass milk. Now Ben is getting through the night with fewer feeds the snacks are less vital, but I will admit to still getting the occasional pang for something oaty in the middle of the night.
Be kind to yourself, stay in bed
This is my golden rule. The world could be on fire, but if I’ve had a rough night then Ben and I are staying in bed, for the whole day if need be. Napping, cuddling, healing. No domestic chore is so critical that it overrides my job to take care of myself and my baby. Pyjamas all day? Done. Snoozing until midday with a short break to rustle up a plate of toast and a mug of coffee one-handed? Done and done.
I should add that this approach would be largely impossible without Chris, who as I have mentioned is a hero.
Don’t have a baby and builders at the same time!
Did I mention that alongside all this newborn loveliness, we also have a team of builders knocking holes in the side of our house?
When Chris and I moved into our new home in Surrey two years ago, we knew we’d bought ourselves a project. Under some extremely garish wallpaper and questionable paint colour choices is a house that I adore with all my heart. We are unbelievably fortunate to have found a home like this one, and to have been able to buy it. After two years of thinking and planning we finally signed a building contract in May and work on our new kitchen extension begin at the start of June. We knew that baby Ben was imminent, but I was fairly philosophical about the work; a perfect window with our preferred contractor had come up, all our finances were in place, and we knew that if there was overlap Ben and I could shut ourselves off from the works in another part of the house.
Eight weeks later and Ben and I are hiding from the brick dust in our living room, which is also serving as overflow storage for other furniture from the rooms that the builders are extending. The coffee table is piled high with nappies (new and used), kitchen plans, baby laundry, and a half drunk bottle of wine. Ben’s pushchair is tucked into one corner, in front of a pile of gardening and cookery books that are teetering ominously on the piano stool. The piano itself is tucked into the window bay and half hidden under books and artwork from the kitchen. But with the new kitchen ordered and the flooring going in today, the end is finally in sight. I can’t wait to move in.
In the middle of all of this, Ben slumbers on in his bouncy chair, blissfully unaware. Although if that anguished squeak is anything to go by, it is time for me to shake off my blogger glasses and whip out my mummy cape.