The setting is Dublin Airport. A toddler is having a full on meltdown over a bag of Haribos. Lying on the floor, arms flailing, legs kicking – screaming: “I WANT the SWEEEETIEEEES!! Give me the SWEEETIEEEES!!!!!” The father is quickly stashing the fodder in question in his pocket while the mother crouches down with a small baby strapped to her chest. She’s trying calmly to reason with the screeching child so as not to cause even more of a scene.
“What are you doing?” I ask the husband who is inserting an ipod headphone into one ear. “Putting some music on so I’m not bored out of my head,” he replies as I settle down for a cat-nap while he navigates the long drive back from Northern Ireland’s North Coast. The husband is referring to the fact that I have developed a dislike for having the car radio on, declaring: “There are just too many levels of noise – toddlers rambling, music blaring and us trying to have a conversation – it’s too much!” In truth, when it comes to the volume button these days, I’ve become a little grumpy.
I’ll confess to being a bit grumpy over the past few weeks. Ok, you’ve got me. That’s not the full truth. I’ve been tearful, snappy and at times at the end of my tether. Blame it on the hormones, blame it on Henry’s growth spurts, blame it on Molly’s at times challenging and naughty behaviour – whatever the reason – I’ve been feeling out of sorts. Constant feeding combined with sleepless nights have been draining my energy, making me wonder if I will ever find a rhythm that I can comfortably handle again.
Ah, Sleep. My old friend. How have you been? I haven’t seen much of you lately and right now, I’m beginning to fear we might never get acquainted again! I remember all too well your cosiness. Sinking into the land of nod without a care in the world. No-one to disrupt us except perhaps a snoring husband after a few too many beers out with the lads. Ten. Blissful. Hours. Ah, yes Sleep. We were great friends back then. What happened?
Lately I’ve been doing exactly what I told myself I wouldn’t do this time around. I’ve been tormenting myself by looking for answers to questions that don’t seem to want to be answered just yet. My late night google-ing sessions in particular have been driving me mad! “When will my baby sleep through the night?” “Should I be stretching out my feedings by now?” “Why won’t my baby nap during the day?” “Why hasn’t he done a poo for 3 days?”
“I thought you said you wouldn’t analyse things so much this time,” said the well-meaning husband as he listened to me rant about the fact that I thought Henry should be taking a nap. “Didn’t we say we’d go with the flow a bit more? Just watch and see how things pan out?” However, going with the flow is easy when you’ve had 10 hours sleep, a long uninterrupted shower and a peaceful cup of coffee. Cue the reality of sleepless nights, the loss of your free time and a second small child to deal with and you’ve got a recipe for going slightly crazy!
“You need to calm down mummy. You need to calm down,” Molly tells me, patting my back as I stand bouncing Henry in one arm, while wiping my tears away with the other hand. It’s not the picture of perfect parenting: in fact, it’s a complete role reversal. Unruly post tantrum toddler comforts sobbing mum, whose patience (held together that day by a single very frayed thread) has finally given way. It’s the moment when there are no more buttons left to push. The moment you think: “To heck with motherly composure. My child has seriously p@£$ed me off. Now it’s my turn to have a meltdown!”
It’s 4am and Henry’s little eyes are wide and alert, while mine are fighting to stay propped open. Three weeks after his birth and the adrenalin and haze of the early days are beginning to clear, only to be replaced by good old sleep depravation, which has really started to take its toll. It’s in these wee small hours that I’m starting to question whether I’m able to handle all this. Whether I’ll ever feel properly rested again. Whether I’ll ever sleep more than a maximum of 2 hours at a stretch. Whether my eyes will ever be without the dark purple under circles that even my trusty touche éclat can’t shift!
Already armed with at least some knowledge of what to expect from a brand new baby, being a new mother is somewhat easier the second time around. I use the word ‘easier’ loosely as those of you who are mums out there will probably agree with the old cliché: it’s the best, yet the hardest job in the world! For the first timers, the pressure of not knowing what to do and not being able to have full control of the situation can be all consuming – I know I certainly felt so when I had my first. This time, however, I’ve vowed to trust my instincts a bit more instead of sweating over the parenting books (which would probably prove more useful if every baby was the same and played by the rules. Which they definitely don’t!)
“Haven’t you had that baby yet?” said the well-meaning lady at the gym, where I’d just been for a swim two days past my due date. “We didn’t think we’d see you back in here!” Little did I know that the early hours of the next morning would mark the start of our son’s intense journey into this world – arriving on the 17th June after 8 hours of labour.
That day I was feeling the need to be extra active and even slotted in an online yoga practice and a “prepare for birth” meditation that evening. In the video the man guided me to visualise when I would like my labour to begin – for some reason I thought 4.30am would be a good starting time, giving me a chance to at least clock up a few hours in bed first before having the stretch of the day ahead. I pictured the husband and I calmly driving over the hills to the hospital as the sun was rising – calm, idyllic, in control.