No Matter How Much You Wanted a Baby, Dirty Nappies Still Suck (or: The Secret Guilt of the New Parent)
Last week, in a blog post about National Fertility Week (did you know that one in six couples struggle to conceive?!), Louisa mentioned that she couldn't find any specific support for people who are pregnant following IVF. Now, I am lucky enough not to have needed IVF but I'm not lucky enough to have had an entirely straightforward time becoming a parent; some of what Louisa wrote was familiar to me.
And what it made me think about was the immense guilt that a lot of people seem to feel for not enjoying every single second of their life with their much-longed-for new baby.
I've seen forums full of new parents whispering to one another about how desperately they wanted their baby - having previously miscarried or having taken years to conceive or having been through round after round of IVF - only to discover that sometimes they don't really enjoy looking after it. They wonder whether that makes them a terrible parent and they wonder whether it makes them a terrible person. And there doesn't seem to be much professional support out there reassuring them otherwise.
When you know first hand how heartbreaking it is to lose a pregnancy or how devastating it is to face up to infertility, you know - you really know - that there are people out there who would give absolutely anything to be in your position, to be the parent of a newborn baby.
So why do you groan when the baby needs fed at 2am? Why do you hope that the dirty nappies will all happen while your partner's holding the baby? Why do you occasionally cry over your crying baby, convinced that you can't do this any more, that you've made a mistake, that you're not cut out to be a parent?
Why aren't you appreciating every single second of this baby's existence?
When you've spent night after night in floods of tears because you didn't have a baby, why are you now spending night after night in floods of tears because you do?
What sort of monstrous mother are you?
I've felt this guilt myself. Matilda was a very easygoing newborn and yet there were times when I didn't know how on earth I was going to cope with raising her; at those times, I would think about how devastated I had been by my miscarriage and how desperately I had wanted to have this baby and a part of me would wonder what was so very wrong with me that I sometimes wanted to run away to the nearest cheap hotel and revel in some uninterrupted sleep.
But the fact is: caring for a newborn is challenging. There's so much to learn and so little sleep to power you; you have this whole new tiny person to worry about and so many unexpected aspects of their life to be scared by.
Almost all parents will struggle from time to time.
But it absolutely does not mean that they don't deserve that baby.
Wanting a baby doesn't give you some extra, innate knowledge of how to care for one. Just because you struggled to conceive it doesn't mean you have to feel like a capable parent at all times. Those things are not linked.
And, when it's 2am and you haven't slept for more than an hour and a half for the past two months and your eight week old baby has done not just any poop but the highly infectious post-rotovirus-immunisation poop all over the wet nappy you were removing and the clean nappy you were putting on and herself and her brand new clothes and the changing mat and your hands and your pyjamas, it is not reasonable to expect yourself to smile. This is not fun. No matter how much you love that baby, the sane person's reaction is going to be this: bursting into tears and deciding to chuck everything but the baby into the bin.
Parenthood is amazing. Sleeping babies and smiling babies and cooing babies are incredible. Watching your child learn new skills all the time is better than you ever imagined it could be. The amount of love you feel for this tiny little person will blow your already frazzled mind.
But there is mess and there are tears (yours) and more tears (the baby's) and questions you don't know the answers to and questions you never ever learn the answers to. It is normal to question your own abilities and normal to resent the lack of sleep and even normal to be a little bit bored every now and then.
It doesn't mean you're ungrateful. It doesn't mean you don't appreciate your luck. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent.
In fact, I would argue that the very fact you're in agonies about what a terrible parent you may be is proof of just what a good parent you actually are. It's good parents who're scared of being a bad one.
Hi! I'm a 30-something stay-at-home feminist mother-of-one. I live in Aberdeen, Scotland with my toddler, boyfriend and two black cats.