1. Prime parking location
With a baby car seat in the back, you can suddenly park in all the ‘family’ parking spots – extra roomy for those of us who left their spatial skills back on the labour ward. Result! I have been so grateful for these every time I drove into town with a toddler who wouldn’t nap in his cot. He’d fall asleep in the car, I’d manoevre the fully reclining pushchair out of the vehicle, courtesy of the extra hatched space around my parking spot, transfer him into it still asleep, and wheel him straight into Starbucks. Ah, those were the days. Sadly this doesn’t work with two sleeping children and one puschair. But that is not the fault of the family parking spaces, they’re great!
When you’re a new mum, nobody blames you for spending all day in your pyjamas. Nobody blames you for not washing up, letting the house get covered in a thin layer of dust and grime, eating take out every night and having unwashed hair. In fact, having a baby gives you a carte blanche to let yourself and your house go completely. I remember having a little meltdown when my son was about four months old. My husband asked me what the matter was, and I said: “I’m worried the new-baby-sympathy is going to run out soon!” I still wasn’t doing any cooking at that point and my son was scared of the sound of the hoover, because he had never encountered it before in his brief life. It turned out I needn’t have worried. New Baby Sympathy is available on tap for as long as your friends can see that you need it. I suddenly realised one day that I had settled into being a mum, and that I no longer needed the sympathy – and that is when it stopped.
3. New friends
Once I had worked out how to unfold the pram – please don’t ask me how long that took – I started investigating local baby and toddler groups. I felt a bit nervous, like everyone would look at me and see right through my clever disguise: she’s not really a Mum, she’s only pretending. I still felt quite self-conscious about having a baby, but I discovered that the great thing about going new places with your baby is that it is a fresh start. These people have never known you in any other capacity than as a mother, and that can help you find your new, enhanced identity. I have made some lovely friends this way and my son has made his very first friends at these groups too.
4. New skills
A lot of parenting is very physical, especially in the early days: logging miles up and down the stairs trying to settle a crying baby, breastfeeding, bathing, doing piles of extra laundry, trying to get a heavy pram in and out of a car etc. I am more used to thinking my way out of life’s problems, so this was a bit of a shock to the system. I think it was good for me, though. I am learning to listen to my instincts more. And I have built up some arm muscles, which is a definite bonus.
5. Rediscover the world
Through the eyes of my new arrival I found a new joy in old things. Everything is new to your baby. Everything is a wonderous miracle that needs to be explored and discovered. My daughter has really got into grabbing over the past few weeks, and she wants to explore everything. What does this feel like? What does this taste like? She wants to try out my laptop, wires, anti-bacterial spray, my fork, my cup of tea, a tissue I have just blown my nose on, the nearest plant and so on. I remember when my son had just started to move around, I would scan the house for fascinating things that might keep him in one place for long enough that I could rush into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I was looking at ordinary things with new eyes: wooden spoons as drum sticks, tiny tupperware for putting things in or stacking or sorting, bits of material to wave around like a flag. Everything is amazing when you’re tiny. Going to the supermarket is the best adventure. The library is a maze of exciting books that can be pulled off shelves until you are standing in a sea of them. A flight of stairs is an epic mountain that takes courage and determination to scale. Life need never be boring again.
Before I had my son, I didn’t know anyone in the neighbourhood. I’d get up, drive to work, come home in the dark, spend the evening indoors with my husband, go to bed, get up, repeat ad infinitum. Our social life took place with friends we already had, who generally did not live in our local area. Having a baby changed all that. For a start, I was around in the daytime and reluctant to travel very far afield. I also discovered that people on the street are much more likely to at least smile, but possibly even stop and talk to you if you have a small person with you. It’s a bit like walking your dog, I imagine: you have a handy, ready-made topic of conversation about you. This is how I got talking to my neighbours and two years on, my toddler greets all the local dogs by name. I already mentioned baby & toddler groups – they were the means through which I started making local friends. Now we have playdates that we can walk to and our whole area suddenly feels like a more friendly place that we as a family are a part of. We suddenly discovered we were part of a community.
Being around in the daytime is great! You have a much wider choice of appointment times at the doctor’s/dentist’s, you can actually park when you go into town, you can go to the shops when it’s quiet and you can travel at off-peak prices. As I was working in education when I had my first baby, we suddenly found that we were no longer tied to school holidays while I was on maternity leave. For a family on a budget, this can suddenly bring a sunny holiday within affordable range. Even if you were never tied to the school calendar before, you will be once your kids are 3 or 4 years old, so make the most of off-peak travel while you still can!
8. Supersonic hearing
I have always wanted a t-shirt that says: “I make milk. What’s your superpower?” Not my witty joke, I hasten to add, I saw this on Facebook a while ago. But yes, mothering comes with superpowers. You may or may not choose to use the milk one, but you can’t avoid the Supersonic Hearing. It is tuned to pick up a baby’s cry at incredible distances, through thick walls, in a crowded cafe and in your sleep. And you will know very swiftly whether it is yours, too. One caveat though: if you live in a fox-rich environment, you may find yourself waking up in the night, convinced your baby has woken up, only to find it is a fox on heat. Slight design flaw in the superpower – or in the foxes.
9. Understanding your parents
I didn’t really want to write this one, as I don’t want my Mum to feel too smug. But yes, when you have a baby you suddenly find a new appreciation for your parents, and an understanding for all the things that used to annoy you about them. Having thrown several teenage-like strops at the ripe old age of 27 or so, explaining to my mother that I was a grown woman with a job and a house and I didn’t need her to point out that my skirt was too short/it was time to phone my grandfather/send thank-you cards/file my tax return, I now see what was going on. As a parent you are always several steps behind on your child’s development. They change and grow so fast that it is impossible to keep up and adjust in time. I remember realising when my son was about 8 months old that I was still bathing him like a newborn, with cotton wool for his eyes, in a tiny baby bath. He could actually sit up and splash about in the big bath by then, but I still thought of him as a little baby. Today, as my daughter screamed in protest at me picking bogies out of her nose, I had a very clear memory of pushing my own mother away as she picked my nose for me. I can tell you, I was definitely over three years old and well able to keep my own nose clean. There is no time to get into habits with children – as soon as you do they change and you have to adjust.
Sorry about the nose-picking story, that was a bit grim.
10. More love.
I’m guessing this does not sound like an unexpected benefit of having a baby. Part of the reason we want babies is because we long to love and be loved. But isn’t there a tiny part of us that is a bit worried that our relationship with our partner will diminish, eclipsed by the love we feel for the baby? I am sure many expectant fathers are more than a little concerned about this. Mother and baby live in such a symbiosis, both before and after birth – will there be less love available for them? Mother Teresa said: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” When you have a baby, you don’t suddenly have to share the available love out between three people instead of two, there is suddenly a whole lot of extra love to go round.
But that wasn’t even exactly what I meant. Your relationships change when your baby arrives, and the love you feel for your family is different. I remember my husband saying in wonder, during the mad week after our son was born and I was recovering in hospital: “I’ve suddenly realised that ‘Mum’ is no longer the person who looks after me, but the person I look after.” We had added a whole new level to our relationship: besides husband and wife we were Mummy and Daddy now. And our parents were equally bowled over by their new role as grandparents. Both our mothers have remarked that they were completely taken by surprise by the strength of the love they felt for their grandchildren. All this new love has knit us all together as a family more closely, it has given us something unique to share.
So there you go. If I left you despondent with my list of Top Ten Things to do before your First Baby Arrives, I hope I have cheered you a little with some happy things to come, should you be expecting your first baby.
I am linking this post up with Vic Welton’s PostCommentLove. Feel free to nip over and check out some other blogs.