The first weeks with a new baby, especially your first, can be a mind-blowing experience. There seems to be so much to do for the little one, and the mix of emotions is potent. One minute you might feel elated with your new arrival, another minute tearful from lack of sleep, then later overcome with sentimentality. There is so much to learn, and as many people like to say, the learning curve is very steep.
I gave birth to my first-born in the local hospital, only a 5 minute drive from the house. We checked out on a cold November evening. My husband drove and I sat in the back with my tiny baby wrapped up and tucked into her car seat. I can remember wondering why on earth they let me walk out the door with this baby. It shouldn’t be allowed, I thought! I had no idea how to care for a newborn! I watched the door of the hospital, waiting for the staff to run out saying, “No, stop! We’ve realized you don’t know what you’re doing!” But they didn’t.
In the hospital the midwives showed me how to breastfeed and how to bathe the baby. I fiddled with snap closures on the clothes with shaking, sweating hands– my incompetence an embarrassment. Here I was, a woman used to knowing how to do things, and I had no idea how many layers to put on the baby before we went outside. When I picked her up, her head lolled about on her shoulders, and I realized only too late that I should have supported it. Oh baby, how unlucky you are to have such a hopeless mother!
I wept nearly the whole way home. I cried because of my incompetence and my fear of doing everything wrong. I cried because we were leaving the security of the hospital, where the ‘experts’ were. As much as I hated the hospital, I remember feeling that I was being released into the big, wide world, along with my baby. It was now my responsibility to look after her and protect her. Was I actually capable of doing this?
It turns out that I was. Sure I made a lot of mistakes in looking after my baby, at least in those first few weeks, but the bottom line is that for my baby, I was the most competent person available for the job. When the advertisement came out for “this baby’s mother” I was the only applicant, the only interviewee, and the best one at that. It took me some time to realize that. And importantly, I was the mother that she wanted. In spite of my foibles and mistakes, my daughter loved me best of all. I was precisely what she had been hoping for in a mother. She showed me that every day as she lay on my chest and snoozed peacefully, and every night as she screamed and I cradled her in my arms, encouraging her toward my breast. Like a key in a lock, we were a perfect fit. I was just a bit of a rusty lock, that’s all.