New Year, old beginnings …

2 Jan

Like many parents, I’m sure, I read Jess Phillips’ piece in the papers on New Year’s Eve with a feeling of recognition.  She wrote very evocatively about the early days of parenting in winter.  Her baby was in the night feeding stage as Christmas came, meaning that the effort to stay warm when woken in the pre-dawn hours was paramount. Bundled up with a baby in blankets on the sofa, the world shrinks to a milky bubble.  It took me right back to the strange half-lit half-life of the first few weeks with my own two children, but with two important contrasts.  My firstborn arrived in summer, and therefore the struggle was not how to stay warm in the darkness, but rather how to keep cool enough… and I did not manage to learn from my experience, as my second child was also born in the holiday season.   As another year comes around it’s a time to reflect on past and future, and I found myself transported back to that time of muslin cloths and weak sunlight: the seemingly endless weeks in the not-quite-daylight, nursing newborns….

My first birth did not proceed to plan, so we were in hospital for several days.  It was already warm outside.  I remember holding my new baby up to a mirror as the scent of gifts of flowers hung cloyingly around us, and the noise of the city from the street below was like something from another world.  When we got home, it was one of the hottest weekends for years, and I was fixated on the card thermometer in the bedroom which, even in early hours, struggled to stay in the green hues of the ‘comfortable’ zone.  As my son fed, in his little vest, I worried that he was getting too red from shared heat as he lay in my arms.  I would settle him under a muslin square as we saw the night hours through listening to the radio – the World Service still makes me think of babies.   Our bedroom then was painted blue, and as the rising summer sun filtered through the curtains and played on the walls, it was almost like being in a fish tank – the glimmer made it hard to get fully asleep again.

When my second baby was born, it was already high summer, and I remember particularly taking her on an early outing, after a few weeks back in the fish tank.  We were off to the suburbs to spend a day with relatives in their garden.   I was pleased to be getting away from our street where the buildings reflected heat off each other to make things even more oppressive – just my luck that this turned out to be among the hottest days on record in the UK.  I was concerned that the baby would get overheated and distressed in unfamiliar surroundings.  In fact, we set her in the shade at lunchtime, and she just slept, and slept, completely peaceful all that long hot day.  She woke in the late afternoon, and as soon as we got home it was a clear that it would be another very broken night.  With a cooling fan droning past us, we somehow got through, stickily, to the other side …

Those, hazy, hallucinatory days of summer sleeplessness taught me a great deal about babies’ resilience, and about keeping going… This New Year, my children are both teenagers, full of lives of their own, and the challenges are rather different. But even at this distance, reading about the cocoon of early parenthood brings it all back. The long nights of early child rearing are a kind of a time capsule – although deeply buried, you can always revisit them.  It’s a phase that does pass – often with relief –  but it is also somehow indelible.  A season in life, no matter what time of year it happens.





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