I don’t know how it happened, but child 3 is six months old. One moment he was a tiny newborn who refused to be put down, hated the pushchair and lived in the sling, and the next he was a six month old who’s roughly double the size of most other babies his age and is (fortunately for my general health and especially my back) a bit more willing to be apart from me, at least by a few feet.
What strikes me most about these first six months is that they have been full of contradictions.
I have loved and feared, fiercely, in pretty much equal measure.
I’ve watched him sleep, his little face turned towards me, trustingly, and thought I couldn’t bear it, the hugeness of this love. I’ve felt such fear: I’ve seen in my dreams his pushchair plunging beneath the wheels of a passing car, his tiny form slipping from my sleeping grasp, his helpless body falling headlong to the floor from my reaching arms.
I’ve been elated – how did I manage to create three such perfect little beings? -and I’ve been terror stricken that the world could get hold of them and harm them beyond measure.
I’ve been obsessed and I’ve been bored. I’ve felt as though I could never know him too well, be with him too much, have enough time to know and to love him. And I’ve woken to days when the dreary routine of feed, change, get to sleep, feed, change, get to sleep, threatened to overwhelm me with the grinding, hard sameness of it all.
I’ve wanted to be with him and I’ve wanted to go to work. He has been everything during those daytime hours where it’s just the two of us, my sweet, smiling boy who looks for nothing except me. I’ve felt so lucky to be at home with him and those lazy hours have drifted by, aimless, beautiful hours in which nothing mattered except him. And sometimes those hours have dragged. I feel useful at work. I feel like I’ve achieved things. It’s hard to get to the end of a day in which all I achieved was getting a baby to sleep three times. I missed my students, my friends, the joy of seeing a child’s face light up with getting a concept that previously seemed insurmountable.
I’ve been a good mother and I’ve been a terrible one. I’ve been patient and I’ve walked the floor and I’ve rocked and pacified and soothed. And in my head I’ve shouted and screamed and begged for sleep.
I’ve loved the older two beyond all measure as they’ve grown older and wiser and into the most amazing big siblings. And I’ve found them the hardest work imaginable, when all three of them have needed me and I haven’t known where to turn.
This time, though, these first six months, I’ve cherished all the little moments, as instructed so often in with my first two, and because this time I know they don’t last for ever. This time I know these days melt away into the night, and soon they are weeks, months, years. Soon that baby disappears and in its place comes a person with views and difficulties and strengths and complexities. A person you love with every ounce of your being, with everything you are, but it is, nevertheless, a more complicated love. That first love for your baby is fresh, new, entirely uncomplicated. I have tried to take these moments and box them up, capture them, store them away for ever. Most of all I have tried to take joy in those moments as they happen, clear, shining, sharp.
They are gone now, those first six months. I’ll never have a newborn again, never feel the tiny grasp of those little fingers around mine, never feel the softness of just-born skin. I’ll never have that curious mix of sleeplessness mixed with absolute euphoria, those nights that I thought would never end, but that I longed to freeze for ever. I’ll never hold a small, wrinkled hand, or nestle a little body inside the sling.
But instead I have this: this beaming little ray of sunshine who tries to charm everyone with his huge smile. These reaching arms, this face lit up with excitement, this little creature who turns his face into my neck and holds onto me with everything he has. It is an ironic fact of parenthood that while others stop finding your baby, no longer so small and new, so interesting and cute, you love them all the more. He’s a real person now, with his likes and dislikes, his shrieks of excitement and his smiles of joy. He’s resolute, definite, irreplaceable.
And so, mostly, just as on that very first day, these first six months have been just this: six months of profound, searing, flaying, depthless love.