Stephanie Rodgers is a campaigner, communicator, and commentator on New Zealand politics.
She provides advice on messaging and communications strategy, media and social media, organisational culture and crisis management for progressive and community organisations.
The way most people react even to the idea of a baby crying, you’d think it’s the worst sound in the world, nails on a chalkboard multiplied by chewing tinfoil to the power of someone slurping their soup. “There was a crying baby” is shorthand for “the experience was completely ruined and I derived nothing of value from it”. And I used to think like that.
I have to emphasise that it wasn’t having a baby which changed my mind, it wasn’t the magical (mythical) “you’ll understand when you have one of your own”. It was years before baby came along, when I simply came to appreciate that babies have no other way of communicating. And when you need something, as a baby, it’s pretty bloody urgent. And god, who wouldn’t love to just sit down and have a big wail about things sometimes?
That cry, on the bus or at the park or on a plane, wasn’t and isn’t about me (or you). It was about a baby who has a need (and they’re a baby! They need it now!) and a parent or carer who’s doing their best to diagnose and correct the issue as quickly as they can – and how could you feel anything but sympathy (especially when you’re on a plane)??
Now that I do have a baby on my own, I’m glad I went through that bit of personal growth. It’s easy to see why parents get to the end of their tether, once you add that full-bore open-mouth bellow of infant anger on top of the sleep deprivation and constant underlying terror of childrearing. It can feel like the baby is just making more noise specifically to make you explode or join them in crying. And it really helps to remember: this is the only way she can tell you things are wrong. She wishes she could make it stop herself. She simply can’t. She’s a baby.
And sometimes I’m not the person who can help, because I am at the end of my tether, but that’s only going to be made worse if I’m also telling myself that the baby crying is a personal moral failure on my part, and that being unable to pick her up because I’m so damn tired, or nurse her because my boobs were too damn sore, means I’ve failed. It’s definitely going to be made worse if I’m fielding unsubtle, contemptuous glares from supposed grown adults in my vicinity who want to pretend that children don’t exist in public areas.
Now sometimes, if a baby’s having a tangi in public, the answer is to take them out of the situation they’re in. But that’s still about what the baby needs, not placating antisocial melon-ballers.* We all have to recognise that some caregivers don’t have the choice to not be on that train, or not do the shopping a that time, or have no space or facilities to feed or change or nap the baby right now.
(I was just out at a nice Wellington bar the other night which had no changing table in any of its bathrooms. I changed the baby on the floor, and she was well grumpy about it, and I did not try to stop her crying because you’d complain too, lying on a cold floor with your bare butt in the air).
Sometimes the baby cries and there’s no fixing it. She’s fed and clean and warm and just really, really tired which only makes her less likely to go to sleep. Or she’s a tiny creature full of big feelings and can’t say “I’m experiencing some existential angst, mama” yet. And what matters, in that moment, is that she needs me, and she needs to let her feelings out, and I want her to know that’s okay, and she will always have someone to snuggle her while she gets it out of her system.
She’s a baby. Sometimes, the baby cries.
*Melon-ballers: the most useless kitchen utensil and yet one we’re all supposed to put up with
Whoops! You blink and two months have gone past, and the only real evidence of it is that the baby now seems impossibly long. Where did these legs come from?
I feel like a broken record on the topic which has prompted me to post today, but a golden rule of communications (my day job) is that by the time you’re sick of saying something, someone else is only hearing it for the first time.
So: please, please vaccinate your babies.
In our wonderful antenatal classes the message was very simple: we vaccinate our children against the things we don’t want them to get. I don’t want my baby to get measles, or whooping cough, or polio or HPV. I don’t want anyone else’s baby to get them either. And vaccination is how we make our babies, and everyone else’s babies, safer.
A month ago we did baby’s 15-month jabs, and due to her heart condition, she had to get a full four – one in each delicious little arm and leg. And she was very not happy about this situation, and there were tears and crying and declaring one parent (her father) to be the cruellest villain in all human recollection and the other (moi) to be the second-cruellest for not stopping him.
But it was 100% worth it to know she has protection against diseases that could kill her.
There is so much disinformation out there about vaccinations – and I say “disinformation” not “misinformation” because it’s absolutely, deliberately misleading. A lot of it is focused around the COVID vaccines, but it’s clearly bled into other areas, as this story on Newsroom illustrates. The impact of the anti-vaccine movement is literally counted in lives, and this was particularly underscored for me by learning this week that goddamn polio is back in New York.
Never one to miss a chance to quote Hannah Gadsby (and lament that there isn’t a handily embeddable video of this quote, come on, internet!):
“As difficult as this life is, it’s nice to have a life. And it’s particularly nice to have this life in a world without…
Polio is bad, and that is a fact, not a feeling.”
I know a lot of people who are declining or delaying vaccinations aren’t vicious, or gullible, or too deep in the rabbithole of far-right conspiracy theories. They’re worried, because of course you’re worried when your child is so young and fragile and seemingly beset by danger on all sides. But it’s also true that when it’s too late, it’s too late – not just for you and your baby. When immunisation gets so low that we get outbreaks of measles, and they spread like wildfire because we’ve lost herd immunity (which is a thing you get through high vaccination rates, NOT letting a contagious disease kill thousands of people and crossing your fingers), a lot more children get sick. It’s like putting on your seatbelt before the car starts moving, only the seatbelt goes around your whole community. You just won’t be able to get it on in time when a crash happens.
But we can get immunisation rates up now. Please. Not just for our babies – pregnant people can get vaccinated against flu, COVID and whooping cough, and the antibodies pass to your baby in the womb, giving them protection too.
For those with nearly two hours to spare, I really do recommend this video about Andrew Wakefield and his deceptive linking of MMR vaccines with autism, which drives the anti-vaccine movement to this day. Even he didn’t intend to demonize all immunisations, just the combined MMR jab, for reasons that will make you absolutely furious. Slight spoilers, but there is good news: once the disinformation gets taken away, vaccination rates go up again.
Content note: discussion of hospital, medical issues, baby illness
Today is the first anniversary of baby’s heart surgery.
It’s a very weird sentence to type. It’s probably a revelation to a lot of people reading this – even the ones who know me offline. I ran into someone just over the weekend, where I was MCing a pole competition, who had no idea that the reason I’d missed the same show a year ago was that we were all flown, with about 48 hours’ notice, to Auckland for our eight-week-old baby to have open heart surgery.
The technical term is ventricular septal defect. A hole in the heart. Big, but not so big they had to fix it immediately; we were sent home, under close observation by the absolutely goddamn phenomenal people at the Wellington Hospital NICU, with instructions to get some weight on that baby. If we could get her to five kilos, before any of the side effects of a heart pumping blood in the wrong direction became too serious, it would make things much, much easier for everyone involved. But outside those two metrics – one simple vital statistic and one terrifyingly vague, “her breathing will get steadily worse, get in the car and call us if she turns blue” fail condition – there was no timeline. No certainty.
It was the longest eight weeks of our life. And then one day we finally got the tick to take her down to the operating theatre, and hand her over to the anaethetists, and I sobbed my heart out for a good half hour. You can have all the reassurance in the world that it’s a very common defect, a regular procedure, an incredibly safe operation, but your child is in a room far away being put on bypass. For a few hours, her little heart isn’t going to beat, while someone tries to fix it.
And now, it’s a year later.
If that felt like a swerve … it’s a swerve.
I’ll have a lot more to write later – especially once I find where I kept my darn notes, because unsurprisingly, those two or three weeks are a bit of a blur – but for today I’m holding on to the happy ever after we got. She’s so happy and bouncy and independent and strong that no one who doesn’t know can even believe what she went through, when she was so small. And so many other things happened that year – her birth! My gall bladder surgery! Multiple job changes! Buying a new house! – that I frequently forget to even include it on the list. You get some funny looks when you’re talking about this beautiful healthy almost irritatingly energetic child and the phrase “after the surgery” just casually drops out of your mouth.
It’s not that I feel nothing – I’ve had a good long cry this evening (the day before), snuggling her to sleep, vividly remembering so many terrifying, anxious moments, how difficult it was to hold everything together, how much we can never repay the many friends and whānau who were so completely generous with their time and resources and homes.
But it’s nice to start with the happy ever after sometimes.
There’s been a lot of discussion online around the US formula shortage, and the petty, kneejerk, unthinking, callous response from many to “just” breastfeed. “What did we do before you pampered ingrates had (expensive, complicated, emotionally fraught) formula???” some sneered.
“Well, a lot of babies just died” was the understandably angry response.
Breastfeeding just isn’t that simple. Many parents don’t produce enough milk, or any milk, or their babies can’t take milk, or – especially in the US which has no mandated parental leave – breastfeeding simply isn’t feasible when you have to go straight back to work. And pumps are expensive and noisy and frankly become a hazard once baby is walking and grabbing and fascinated by anything that makes a noise.
But I’m not here to talk about formula today, as baffling and angry-making as it is that a country like the USA can even experience such a thing as a formula shortage (many have already made the “joke” that it’s weird how, once again, capitalism delivers all the bad things it warns us socialism would do).
I think I’m done with breastfeeding. And that word “think” is the first hard part of it. Some babies just wean themselves – one mama in our antenatal class had her baby flat-out stop at around eight months. Not mine; she would still be on the boob if she could, it’s just that when she does, there’s too much biting. I talked to a lactation consultant we know, who’s been really helpful in the past; she had advice for fixing baby’s latch. It might have worked, if going back to the office didn’t mean going down to barely two feeds a day – little opportunity and no patience for detaching her, letting her scream, getting her to open her mouth wide, tensing to see if I get bitten, lather rinse repeat.
I had some equanimity about it at first, because obviously, the key thing is that baby is fed – and she’s taken marvellously to solids – and of course, I could just keep pumping, and make sure that she got at least one bottle of my milk at the end of the day to send her off to sleep. Unfortunately, pumping has lost its effectiveness. One bottle a day became one every two days, stretching the “keep milk in the fridge for 48 hours” to its absolute limit (and if I’m honest, beyond) as I tried to scrap together enough 15 and 20 and 30mL sessions to make up a proper feed.
But as of today (when I’m writing this), it feels like the battle is lost. There’s no satisfaction in sitting and grinding out a meagre splash (other people who’ve pumped will know that “grinding” is exactly the right word), trying and forgetting and then regretting all the tactics that might work if you really kept them up for a few days, but just seem like too much work on top of everything else you’re doing. Add to that the aforementioned baby walking and grabbing and fascination with the loud machine that mama spends so much time with – it’s too much. It’s too difficult to go on.
There’s a bottle of milk in the fridge. And it will probably be baby’s last. And from then on it’s solids and formula – so we come full circle. She’s had formula on top of breast milk practically since day one, and I hated it, even though it was necessary, even though it’s perfectly good food for a baby. The message that breast is best is important – but on some level it also tells you that formula is failure. Not just “less good”, but “actively bad”. Even when you don’t have another choice. And it’s not. The problems with formula aren’t formula. They’re capitalism. But that’s a discussion for another day.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until age 2. And I won’t make it. And it’s so difficult not to feel like I’ve failed, even though we’ve gone well past her first year, even though she’s completely happy and healthy and bouncy and bright. Once again, I’ve done parenting Wrong, and as much as I can tell myself that these feelings are inaccurate and disingenuous and irrational, it doesn’t stop me feeling them. Not for a little while anyway. As with all the anxieties and pressures we’ve already been through, I know it will pass. It “just” sucks right now.
It is a very “newspaper columnist who’s running out of proper ideas” understatement, but: you learn a hell of a lot in the first year of a baby’s life. At least, I did. Some of it was stuff I already thought I knew!
Obviously, I can only speak to my own experience, but it’s difficult not to use the standard parenting-blog “YOU will think this”, “YOU find that” language – which is something I’ve tried to avoid in my posts so far. But today I’m giving in, especially because this one goes out to all the new parents, or expectant parents, who haven’t been through and come out the other side yet.
Hearing these things would have been comforting to me at the time. I hope they’re comforting for you. I know I’m not the only person saying them; but quantity also helps, because if we’re all saying this is how things are, we must be on to something. The fears and worries that come with being a new parent are completely normal. It still sucks to experience them. It helps to know that other people feel the exact same way.
1. A lot of the anxiety is unfamiliarity, and it will pass.
When it’s your first baby and you’re living in a typical “nuclear family” household – i.e. you’re not already sharing child-raising duties with other parents in a big communal multi-generational home, which is a huge failure of modern capitalist society – so much is completely new. You might have changed a nappy or two – in my case, probably twenty years ago because I’m an only child and all of my cousins are grown up – but there’s a difference when it’s changing every nappy. And doing the associated laundry.
You might have seen a baby napping in their capsule, or been at a friend’s house while their bub was asleep in another room, but it’s completely terrifying when it’s your baby, it’s the middle of the night, and you genuinely don’t know how quietly they breathe because you’ve never shared a bedroom with a newborn. I was checking baby’s breathing so often in those first weeks. When she and I were sleeping in the lounge (it was part of the system J and I figured out so we both got at least one decent chunk of sleep) and settling after her 3am or 4am feed, I would lie on the sofa, holding my own breath, eyes straining open, counting the seconds until I heard a little snuffle from the bassinet.
I still get up to check she’s breathing, some times – but the terror is gone and the anxiety has faded significantly, because we’ve been through so many nights together now.
I don’t demonise anxiety – it’s our brains’ way of trying to manage difficult and unfamiliar situations. On the other hand, it’s also good to be aware of when that anxiety is getting too strong, and having ways of reining it in. One thing I did a few times was allow myself ONE check – not five or ten or fifteen. Counting those seconds when we were going to sleep in the lounge was another – it meant I wasn’t getting up every five seconds to check her, and I knew how long it had been since I’d last heard her little puffs of breath.
2. Men can parent. Duh.
This one is obviously coming from my perspective as the woman in a hetero relationship. Even before baby arrived we had a lot of conversations, some funny, some very aggravated, about the way people talking about fatherhood. The classic is asking a dad, looking after his own children, “are you babysitting today?” because obviously it’s not really his job.
Since we’ve swapped roles – I went back to office work in November and J is now the anchor parent at home – it’s even clearer that the only fundamental difference between us is that I make my own milk. And if I weren’t still breastfeeding, or hadn’t been able to continue breastfeeding, even that difference wouldn’t exist. J changes more of the nappies. He takes care of the laundry. He has a much clearer grasp of baby’s daily routine, even when I’m working from home under different levels of COVID restrictions.
He’s not heroic for doing any of this. He’s a dad.
One thing I remember from our antenatal classes was a bit of advice: “Just because the other parent is doing things differently, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.” And I’ll admit that took a lot of work – especially because I’m an anxious person, and because as feminist as I am it’s really, really difficult to push past the constant messages we receive that men are useless, especially with small babies. Obviously they get to be cool and fun and engaged when the kids are older and don’t need food spooned into their mouths or their butts wiped, but young babies? The province of mothers. (Even my favourite author, Terry Pratchett, has a bit of that going on in the later Vimes books.)
But you can work through it. And you both need to be on board for those early weeks, because they are bloody tough – but it’s much, much easier to say that from the other side of it.
3. The baby will eat stuff off the floor.
Yes, babies need things to be pretty clean, especially in the early days. Sterilising bottles and other equipment is really important.
But they will eventually eat something off the floor and you won’t be sure what it is and they have definitely swallowed it by the time you get a finger into their mouth to check. And hang on, did you wash that finger?
If it’s poisonous or genuinely hazardous, don’t read this blog – get medical advice asap! But if it’s a scrap of paper, or a dried-up bit of grated cheese dropped during last night’s dinner, or a plastic straw they want to chew on for a minute … it’s fine. It’s probably good for the immune system. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a very tired mama who thinks raising an entire small human is a very big job and doesn’t need to be made even more difficult by trying to meet Home & Garden magazine levels of tidiness and vaccuuming.
The baby will also bump her head, a lot, and I promise you, you will figure out when it’s actually serious enough to warrant a rush to the hospital and when it’s only a whoopsie. See point 1. And also point 4.
4. Babies are pretty resilient.
You won’t do everything perfectly and there will be screw-ups and you will feel like the worst person in the world every time you wait too long to change a nappy, or the baby bumps her head because you stopped paying attention for a second, or she’s gotten overtired and won’t settle and literally nothing you can do will stop her crying, and oh my god, colic. Baby might scream and scream for hours, every evening, for no diagnosable or fixable reason, and you’ll already be completely exhausted, and it is impossible not to think that she’s going to be traumatized for life and it’s your fault.
Babies get through.
When we were in hospital, preparing for her heart surgery, the surgeon and anaesthetist came and talked us through the risks – risks we had no choice about taking because, let’s be real, her heart wasn’t working properly and needed to be fixed. But they reassured us that babies are pretty elastic and can recover from a lot.
And that was heart surgery. Colic has nothing on heart surgery: it’s mostly an endurance test. Again, I know: it’s so very easy to say that with hindsight. That’s where point 5 comes in.
5. You are pretty resilient.
There were plenty of times J and I both thought we wouldn’t survive parenting. Or that our relationship wouldn’t survive parenting. We’ve both said some pretty dark, hopeless things to each other and we desperately needed – and thankfully, were able to access – outside support to get through.
We got through.
And yes, that is much simpler to say with a good night’s sleep and a happy, squawking baby scrambling around your feet. When the colic is a fading nightmare and even the surgery feels like a blip quickly disappearing off the radar instead of the longest eight weeks of our lives. But it’s important to know it, and hear it, precisely because it can really, really feel like you’re alone. You’re not. Millions of people have done this, just like you.
Give yourself time and patience and a bit of leeway. You’re doing the best you can and it is more than good enough.
A year ago today, I woke up a mother. If I’d been a bit more organised about writing this post, I would’ve published it yesterday and phrased it, “A year ago today, baby was born.”
But things are obviously a bit unpredictable and complicated with a one-year-old.
A hell of a lot has changed in that first year, and that’s not counting all the extra stuff we had on top of having a baby – her heart surgery, moving house, changing jobs, surviving a pandemic. Our little red potato with the black eyes has grown into a loud, happy girl on the cusp of walking and desperate to talk, a proper small person in her own right, definitely the boss of the household.
I’m sure there’s a lot of profound things I could say about feeling more and more comfortable identifying as a mother (a label I often thought I’d never be able to take, and one which has Many Connotations in general conversation), about constant change being the new normal (she’ll always be getting older and bigger and doing new things), about how COVID has made it a necessity to be flexible (we saw her grandmother the day before, and are seeing her great-grandmother in two weeks, and it all counts as her birthday as far as we’re concerned).
But I am very very tired. Of course I am. I have a one-year-old. And there’s always more to do – like get her 12-month immunisations because vaccination is really, really important, people.
So I’ll get to those things in time. For now, mama (and a rather over-stimulated baby) needs a rest.
I had a COVID test this week – after being notified via the tracing app that I was a close contact last week. I’ve been self-isolating, monitoring for symptoms, and trying very hard not to freak the heck out about the worst-case scenario. I’m double-vaccinated, I wear KN95 masks whenever I go out (baby pink with ear loops which my mother bought me because I am that millennial), I scan in everywhere and obviously the Bluetooth is working. I even got my booster shot the very day I was notified about the close contact.
So the odds were pretty strongly in my favour. Not that that did anything to reduce the anxiety, especially when it comes to having a small baby with a history of pulmonary issues due to her heart condition!
The queue at the testing centre in Porirua was long. It opened at 9am; I arrived at 8:20 and the line of cars was already around the block; I was out with a sore sinus and very watery eyes at noon. That’s a heck of a long time to be sitting in the car with nowhere to go, and I definitely felt the glute cramp when I got home. But I had water, snacks, a full phone battery, podcasts and knitting.
(And between starting this draft and posting the finished product, I got a negative test result! Yay!)
More importantly, I had someone at home who was watching the baby.
There were a lot of people with kids in their cars, waiting in that queue. Some probably had to get their kids tested, which is a whole other nightmare I never want to have to face. But I’m sure many more just didn’t have a choice. There wasn’t any other option – no one to watch the kids, no one who could take sick leave, stay home from their paid job, spare a completely uncertain amount of time while the driver went and sat in that queue. Nobody available at short notice, or nobody who could take the risk of looking after kids who might themselves be household contacts of a soon-to-be-diagnosed COVID case.
It seems like the smallest amount of support imaginable – just having another adult around, parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt or older sibling or neighbour, to watch the kids for a couple of hours – and yet a lot of parents don’t even have that. Don’t have the financial means or flexibility to manage sudden upheavals in the usual routine. And the consequence of that is spending three-plus hours with that kid in the car, getting increasingly and very understandably hungry, tired and cranky.
The pandemic has really laid bare a lot of problems in our communities. Things that weren’t quite at breaking point but snapped once they encountered all the pressure of anxiety, illness, insufficient infrastructure and inadequate support systems at once. For the rest of us it can highlight the small privileges we don’t even think about on a daily basis.
I was very grumpy and tired and sore when I got home from my COVID test. But there was a whole huge chunk of care and anxiety that I didn’t have to deal with. The question is, how do we make sure no one has to?
It’s been a month since my last post, which was definitely not planned, but also probably inevitable. There’s only so many hours in the day, and there seem to be even fewer when you’ve got a little one getting increasingly mobile and able to insist on imposing her will on her poor, hapless parents.
It feels like every year since 2016 (you remember. Him.) we’ve all been telling ourselves things can’t possibly get weirder, or scarier. And that was before the pandemic. And now in New Zealand we’re starting to see Omicron variant cases on the rise (and rise and rise), and there are some very scary people camped out on the front lawn of our Parliament threatening to try and execute (because the trials they have in mind aren’t exactly fair) politicians, journalists, and healthcare workers over the vaccine mandates which have been keeping a lot of us safe.
I can’t remember the last time climate change was the major story of the day. That’s just another ever-present cloud hovering slightly out of sight, swinging back into view every now and then to check you haven’t started to feel hopeful about anything.
In the midst of all that it feels bizarre to be a parent. To have a beautiful, strong little person growing up before my eyes. Someone with literally her entire life ahead of her. A life which I hope – which I just assume – is going to involve a lot of pretty normal things: going to school, learning to swim and ride a bike and knit a wobbly scarf. Even though we live in disastrous times. What else can you hope for? If the future were truly completely hopeless, why would you have a child at all?
I could say that having a baby has opened my eyes and expanded my thinking and really made me care about the kind of world she gets to live in. It didn’t, really. I already cared about these things a hell of a lot, and the inaction of decision-makers on issues like climate, poverty and violence already made me really angry. Besides, I also hated it when people pulled that “well, as a parent of course I understand …” line before I had a child, and I don’t want to become one of them now.
It is different. Now, instead of wanting to somehow save the world for all kids, I have a very specific one in mind. What might have been an abstract idea has become much more concrete. When I see things like our Parliament passing a ban on conversion practices, I’m not just thinking of random queer kids being tortured for who they are, often by their own parents, I’m thinking about my baby, and how unimaginable it is that I could ever reject her for being different, for being herself, for loving who she wants to love.
But it’s not like having a baby made me realise that children are precious and important (or, and this bit is specifically for the men, I didn’t need to have a daughter to realise women are human beings, you get it?). I knew. Now, though, there’s a face on all those issues.
And I feel guilty for it. Guilty and responsible, in that classic progressive activist way of wanting the world to be better but being unable to fix it with a snap of your fingers but also feeling like you should be able to. Why didn’t I end patriarchy, erase every relic of our colonial past and save the planet before I had children? What was I thinking, bringing her into this chaotic nightmare which only seems to be getting worse every second?
Well, for a start because that’s a bit of an unrealistic bar to meet. On a more pragmatic basis, people will tell you that there’s no perfect time to have kids: not financially, career-wise, emotionally, psychologically. There’s different advantages and challenges no matter when you do it. That applies to the big picture political stuff too. You can’t wait for the world to be perfect to have kids. If you want them – and god knows I wanted it so badly it was ruining my brain – you make it work, and you fight every day in whatever way you can to make the world the place they deserve. And when she grows up, she’ll fight too.
Baby is nine months old, and I have no idea how much she weighs. It’s not a big deal – she’s very clearly happy, healthy, eating us out of house and home, and we have a Plunket appointment next month for her 9-12 month checkup. But it’s been nagging at me a little, and making me reflect on how it feels like the supports that have surrounded us since before she was born are on a real decline.
And that’s not really a big deal either because we’re still surrounded by friends and family and community. We’re in a really privileged position, being able to have one parent at home full-time (and to have me work from home a few days a week). My mum lives only a half-hour away, J’s family visit regularly.
But before she was born, there was our amazing midwife. Always there, literally at any time of the day or night if we needed her. One person who knew us intimately and had a huge amount of experience and knowledge to calm any anxieties we had (and there are so, so many anxieties). Our antenatal classes connected us to a bunch of people expecting babies at literally the same time as ours, and more experts on things like feeding and sleeping.
Once she was born, there were the hospital midwives and surgeons and Plunket, and once they found her heart condition, the entire NICU team swept in, with nurses and more doctors and social workers. We got enrolled in Heart Kids and put in touch with Parent to Parent. We were back at the hospital for a weight check every week for the first two months of her life.
At the same time, the antenatal group kept going, with group chats and coffee catch ups. It meant so much, sitting in the dark at 2am feeding a jaundiced little bub, to be able to type “god I’m so tired, anyone else up?” and have three other mums respond.
It’s a bit redundant to say things change over time. Of course, once baby had her surgery and recovered like a complete champ, we weren’t going to need all those checkups. Of course, Plunket doesn’t have to be dropping in quite so often once you’ve nailed those early milestones. And naturally, as paid parental leave starts to finish up, people go back to work and schedules become more complicated and those weekly coffee catch ups become harder to coordinate.
I’d never go back to those early weeks when everything was new and completely terrifying and we desperately needed to have all those people on the end of the phone to reassure us and get us additional support. But I do miss the security net, and the sense of a whole community focused on one thing: a happy healthy baby. It feels like you lose that support in little bits and pieces, and sometimes – like when you look at baby’s WellChild book and realise you don’t know how much she weighs – it hits you all at once.
The past couple of years have been incredibly difficult on everyone, everywhere. Let’s hope 2022 is better!
It’s always easy to feel like you’re not doing enough, and weirdly, it feels even easier to criticise yourself when things are going badly around you. We’re all meant to be writing the next King Lear or renovating our houses and teaching our babies Latin while we’re in lockdown, because obviously a pandemic just means we all have more time on our hands, right? Then there’s the immense pressure at this time of year to be setting resolutions – usually pretty toxic ones about “fixing” the things that are wrong with our bodies and lifestyles, which are doomed to failure and thus make us feel even worse because we’re taught to compare ourselves to wealthy celebrities who have all the time and resources in the world to “eat right” and go to the gym every day and get constant cosmetic procedures to keep looking 35 until they hit 70.
Sometimes, surviving is enough. In a time of global pandemic, surviving is definitely enough. And finding just one or two achievable things to make us feel like we’re making a bit of progress is more than enough. But I don’t make them resolutions – that’s setting up metrics for whether I’m a success or a failure as a human being or as a mama. And one thing I really want to do this year is not think of myself as a failure. At least, not too often, and not without having some strategies to get my brain out of that black hole.
That feels optimistic (and ambitious) enough to me!