It’s babies galore in Indian Link’s extended family. ANTOINETTE MULLINS shares life lessons from her first year as ‘Mum’
My first year as a mum has been quite a rollercoaster ride. Just when I think “I’ve got this”, bubba throws me a curveball.
My daughter, Zoe Margarete, was born on the 14th of April 2014 – I was lucky and had a relatively easy labour (whoever invented the epidural should be knighted!) and at 3.21pm a scrunched up little girl with a weird cone-shaped head appeared, screaming her way into the world. She snuggled up to me, with her mewling sounds and stole my heart. It wasn’t until three days later (luckily, without a cone-shaped head), when she really “woke up”, that my husband and I thought “What did we get ourselves into?”
No one can really warn you about the first three months with a baby. People tell you how hard it is, that you don’t sleep much or often, that you need to learn so many new skills and that you are generally just zombies. But, nothing can really prepare you for that totally surreal feeling of being completely responsible for another human being. Something so tiny and incredibly vulnerable. And no one can prepare you for the incredible amount of bodily fluids that such a tiny little human being can secrete. Out of every orifice. All. The. Time. Babies are damp. Very damp. They leak, dribble and poop all over you. Sometimes, all at once. Often just after you’ve showered and put on that new top you just bought. This is why you just stay in your tracksuit for the first six months.
I used to love that Baby Love advertisement where they market their nappies to be best at the “dreaded number threes”. I didn’t know what that meant, until my tiny little baby girl exploded in the car on a road trip. I heard a noise, which I thought could only have come from a wild animal – a growl, but with the force of a thunder storm. Then we smelt it… it was a dead wild animal! Surely our baby with a tiny, tiny little bum could not possibly have created that. Oh, but she did. Unfortunately this was the one day I forgot to pack extra clothes for her, so for the rest of our road trip, she was dressed in mum’s new top, while mum wore dad’s jumper. We learn from our mistakes and we make do.
I recently saw a video of the babies getting bathed by their mothers at communal washing areas in India – how the babies are lying on their mum’s outstretched legs, being massaged and washed with a bar of soap, then a bucket of (probably cold) water is thrown over them. They seem sleepy and happy, even though their mum’s haven’t bought the latest ergonomical bath seats, or despite the fact that they aren’t using the no-more-tears, Baby Bath and Bedtime soap, or washing them with a fluffy face cloth made from pure lamb’s wool. I’m sure there’s a lesson there, but we had a different experience: my husband and I checked that the bath temperature was perfect, using a floating ducky, which quacked when the water was too hot for baby’s delicate skin. I was also consumed with the nursery in the weeks before Zoe was born, ensuring everything was just perfect. When she finally arrived, what colour pillows were on the couch was the last thing on my mind!
Babies have a way of putting things into perspective for us
Stressing about the small things is a total waste of time! And boy, did I stress about everything early on. Is she too cold? Is she too hot? Is she hungry? Why isn’t she hungry? I remember on one of our first trips in the car, just suddenly bawling my eyes out, because I was constantly anxious and worried about everything – trying to think three steps ahead: packing her nappy bag, to ensure I had everything for the next two hours. Did I pack her fluffy bunny, because a seven-day-old baby might suddenly decide she wants that bunny while we’re out; packing the car in case I need anything in the 10 minute car trip to the shops; Did I grab the shopping list? What if she’s hungry in Coles – I don’t want to flash my boob to everyone in the Deli! What if I have to feed, but leak everywhere… “Clean up in aisle number three!” Ah, the things you worry about at first.
There are many things I learnt in those three months, but learning to pick things up with my feet and/or toes, must be one of the most rewarding. Dropped the keys? No problemo, I’ll just scoop them up with my toes. Can’t reach my phone while feeding in the middle of the night? Don’t disturb the baby! Just wriggle your toes and grab that phone!
After we survived three months, and we slowly settled more into a routine (LOL! The routine was: Eat, Sleep, Poop, Repeat in different cycles), these ‘petty’ worries, quickly changed to more serious issues. Is she sick? What’s wrong with her? Is she teething? In my home country, South Africa, we give teething babies biltong to chew on when they cut their teeth. It’s basically beef jerky, spiced or salted meat, air dried to preserve it. Quite salty tasting, but very delicious. It’s like Vegemite for Aussies – an acquired taste. We found a local butcher who made biltong sticks for bubs, which weren’t too salty. She chewed that piece of meat to within an inch of its life and then wanted more. A few days later, the first little tooth peaked through. What did we learn? 1. Trust your instincts and 2. Go with what you know. There was so much knowledge out there, but we just followed what was familiar and decided not to “sweat the small stuff”.
My most recent lessons happened a few weeks ago: 1. Making Zoe laugh hysterically in the bath is quite easy and very rewarding. 2. Zoe poops when she giggles. 3. My husband is quite useless when number 1 and 2 happen together. As you can imagine, trying to get a giggling, wet, slippery baby out of the bath, while also trying to scoop up the poop and shouting at your husband to help and stop cowering in the corner, is not easy. But, mums make do.
The work/life balance
At the moment, I’m learning to juggle work, life and baby – sometimes not so successfully. I’m being introduced to a term I’ve often heard, but never quite understood: mummy guilt. This was emphasised by a random stranger the other day who asked who looks after my little girl while I work. I told him she goes to day care. He said, “What? So young?” I was shocked that a stranger had an opinion on my decision to return to work, and put her into day care, but I still managed to reply “Well, she’s been going since nine months, so I guess I’m a really bad mother.” In my days off with her, I compensate by cooking her special meals and freezing them, playing horsey and singing The Wheels on the Bus until my ears bleed. Of course, when I need to give her packaged food, when her special meals take too long to defrost, I feel guilty all over again. I just have to tell myself – we make do.
We’ve just celebrated Zoe’s first birthday. When I look back over the past year, it’s not the number 3s or the sleepless nights I remember most (OK, I do, but with a foggy haze that clouds my better judgement against having another baby). It’s the giggles and smiles, the cuddles and the open-mouth kisses that make me all warm and fuzzy. She took her first steps a few days ago – all on her own, unstable, chubby little legs. I quite literally squealed with delight – she got such a fright, she sat right down and hasn’t done it since. A friend recently told me his philosophy on having kids: Get them to 18 and teach them that they’re loved. I’ll buy that. Raise them to know that they are loved – hug them. A lot. And let them be themselves. For the rest… we’ll make do.