New life, no sleep

My delightful sister-in-law number two has just had her first baby, and we have all been looking forward to his arrival, writes Kate Oktay.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay

New babies are lovely with their milky smiles, their new-to-the-world smell and their snuffly sleepy noises, but I have been quietly, albeit gleefully, anticipating my newest nephew for an additional reason; schadenfreude.

The happy couple's pre-baby existence was one of mutual career satisfaction, spontaneous overseas holidays, restaurant meals and theatre. They were the sort of people who would have a leisurely Sunday morning brunch at a hipster cafe quietly reading a paper, before heading off to an exhibition or a pub. Now, with the arrival of little Finn, their peaceful life is about shatter into Disney movies, nappies and Saturday nights spent at home arguing about bedtimes with a truculent child. Just like the rest of us.

Having a child when you are in your mid to late 30s is an enormous shock to the system. Particularly if, like me, you had exactly zero to do with children prior to producing one of your own.

When I became pregnant, I began to get concerned at my complete lack of experience, and in a panic at the thought of it all, went to brother number one for advice.

"It's no worries" he said.

"Just think of a baby as a sort of a high-maintenance pet."

I remembered back to our childhood, where there were always an assortment of baby possums and rabbits hanging in socks in the cylinder cupboard. This made me feel a little better until I remembered that quite a few died in our care, with said brother cheerfully shaking out their cold pink remains into the mouth of a Labrador who would be jigging on the ground in front of him in delirious excitement.

"Still," I said when talking about it with my friend, "on the bright side, he has two daughters who haven't been fed to an obese family pet, so there is hope for me, too."

It was when I went to antenatal classes that the reality of my impending change in circumstance was made clear. We were instructed to make a 24-hour clock. Then we were told that babies needed to be fed every three hours and to fill in the clock. It was then explained they needed changing after each feed and to slot that in, too. Then we had to put sleep in after this.

"That can't be right," I said to my husband. "When do I sleep?"

The answer to that question is never. For a year, you never sleep.

You also never wear clothes that are not adorned with shoulder vomit. You get pooed on. Let me say that again - pooed on. Poo becomes the predominant subject matter in your household. Colour, texture - it is all suddenly relevant in a way it wasn't since you were 7 and it was the punchline to all of your favourite jokes.

As babies were uncharted territory, I applied all my strategies from previous employment to my new role of Not Breaking the Baby. I spread-sheeted everything. Not just feeds. Everything. I scheduled in songs, books, walks; "Right-oh, 3.05pm, we are late for Twinkle Twinkle." I would say to the small bundle on my lap like a demented baby project manager.

After the initial year of sleepless delirium, the second year stopping them from eating sand/beetles/choking hazards 50 times a day, and the third year of pulling knives out of electrical sockets it becomes a lot easier. Parenting as my daughter got older has mostly just been repeating "Mummy said a bad word then, sorry. You are not allowed to say that. OK?" several times a day.

Children bring an exuberant joy to your home with their insistent belief in magic and deep interest in sticks, mud and feathers. It's hard to stay cross at life's small irritations when you are setting the table with an additional place for your child's imaginary friend who is a flamingo named Louis. Not to mention that nothing makes you more aware of the brief gift that is life like hearing a 4-year-old on a roof yelling a super hero catch cry.

A first baby is a small but destructive hurricane, which rips up the nice quiet life you had and replaces it with something more chaotic, of a richer fabric and focused (annoyingly) on something rather than solely yourself. Now, I am listening to my brother's phone calls describing his disbelief at what is required to take care of a small person with a silent smirk. Welcome to the club; sleep is for the weak anyway.


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