Friends without babies often ask me what having a baby is really like. Before the cub came along, I asked people that too. The response is almost always “hard work… but worth it.” Hard work? I thought. I’ve worked hard before, I’m not afraid of hard work. Everyone has babies, how hard can it be?
Over the past 9 months, I’ve learned what a huge understatement “hard work” is. I write this post while we are in the middle of dealing with a particularly nasty bug. The cub is puking randomly, and because of this I am at home looking after him (despite having only returned to work last week.) He is hot, cold, snotty and grumpy. He does not eat. He will not be distracted, played with or placated in any way. He cries, a lot.
He is visibly exhausted, but he will not sleep at night. For the first two nights of the bug, he was awake at least every half hour, all night, 7pm-7am. And not just awake, but crying. I do not deal with listening to the cub cry very well, I find it deeply distressing. I hate not being able to help him , I hate feeling like a useless mum, I hate that he is tired and in pain. I want to fix it, and I want some quiet, and I want to go to sleep. If he is crying, I cry too. I can’t bear him being so upset.
And on a different level, the constant noise drills into my head, and I start to feel frustrated and angry, and I want to run away, far far away. All night, I listen to him cry, and I try to help him, and he goes to sleep momentarily, and wakes again, and cries again, and my brain tells me to hide, and I cry. I feel guilty that I feel anything but compassion towards this sick, helpless little one. My self-esteem plummets, and I decide I am an awful human being. I offer him my breast. He rejects me angrily.
All day, he cries and moans, and whimpers. My nerves are shredded to pieces and I feel like I can’t take another minute. I need to go somewhere quiet, and rest, and sleep, and dream, for more than half an hour. But there is nowhere to go, he only has me. I plan meals, which he does not eat, I try to read stories but he cries. I try to play, and he cries. I try to sit with him for a cuddle, and he cries, and struggles, and tries to get away.
I fantasise about sleep again. I fantasise about having a night away, child free, about that holiday to Vegas that we never went on, and that we probably never will now for years and years. Then I feel bad. He is just a poorly baby, and he depends on me completely. How selfish of me to choose to have a baby, then wish for all the things I took for granted before. He needs me, so I carry on.
This is hard. This is really, really hard.