Very good friends of ours announced their pregnancy to us recently. It was welcome news but not planned, not for a while anyway – a good old birth control fail.
After the excitement of telling us about the early sonography scan they’d had, and referring to the baby by the name of the fruit its size correlated to (at time of writing: raspberry), there was a lull in conversation where a small wave of panic lapped at the shores of their faces. The same panic that all newly expectant parents have, no matter how anticipated their pregnancy is. The panic that translates simply to “holy shit”.
They started to tell us about the absolute non-negotiables – the car seat, that would be researched with absolute scrutiny, likewise the breathing sensor pads. My husband and I threw an almost imperceptible glance towards each other. “Oh, they’re in it now alright. They’re in the baby game. And they don’t even know the half of it.”
I reminded “mum” to keep up with her folic acid and consider an extra iron supplement. I promised to do a list of tried and tested must haves, knowing full well that they’ll ignore it and pave their own way, falling into the same trap as the rest of us and buying stuff that is almost instantly obsolete.
It struck me how we deal with such monumental news by immediately jumping into practical mode. Is it our defense mechanism, because the idea of harbouring new life is so incredibly overwhelming? Do our brains tune out the burgeoning feelings of vulnerability and fear, papering over them with an assurance of “yes, research and organisation is achievable, it will all be ok because I can research and organise this”?
I want to warn them. I want to tell them that parenting is without doubt the most exhausting thing a person will undertake, because it is so very relentless. That although every bugger will tell you it’s rewarding, they don’t tell you that sometimes days or even weeks pass with no reward. Well, I tell a lie, there are several days when bedtime IS the reward. When I wake and literally count down the hours until I’m not in charge of two small people and I can just not think, for a while. Not second guessing their moods or be planning three activities in advance or wondering if one will eat the dinner I’ve made from scratch.
I want to tell them that it’ll test their relationship and at times, push them to the brink. That some evenings they will sit on separate sofas and actually say to each other “I’m sorry, I’m not pissed off at you, but I literally cannot speak.” That they’ll crawl into bed some nights and lay there in the dark, willing themselves to initiate sex because they’ve not done it in three weeks, or is it four, but they’re so, so, so exhausted that they wish they could sleep for a year.
That there may be very real, and very scary times when they might question their relationship because they’re craving escape from the pressure and unrelenting drudgery. When they need to Sit Down And Talk About This and decide if they still have a future, because becoming a parental unit is threatening to destroy their marital unit. Which sucks balls, because the marital unit got to the party first and isn’t God or someone supposed to have blessed it with longevity?
I want to tell them about the low, ever present rumbling of fear, that morphs and changes as the months pass but never seems to abate. Why is she not doing this yet, what if she can’t get into that school, does she need to start seeing the dentist now, what if she’s stopped gaining weight, what’s that weird mark on her hairline, what if she’s autistic, what if someone hits her at pre-school, we need to get more clothes, why is she being like this, what if she’s got cancer, where did she learn that word from. On and on, round and round it goes.
I want to tell them that some days, all we can do is write it off as a bad one and tell ourselves that tomorrow will be better. Only some days tomorrow isn’t better, or the day after that, and then a week has passed and we have to shrug it off with an “oh well, pass the wine” gag because if we stare too closely at the seams, they give way to all sorts of unfit parent doubts.
Of course I can’t tell them any of these things. In any case, one person’s experience of parenting is entirely different to the next, and it’s all relative, isn’t it?
Equally, I can’t really tell them about the good stuff either, because that’s all relative too. I can’t tell them how they’ll feel when their baby is first placed in their arms, because I don’t know. I can’t tell them how amazing it will be when their baby smiles at them for the first time, because to truly comprehend the highest of their high they need to go through the lowest of their low.
So what do I say? “Wow, that’s amazing news!” Because it is. And at the moment, it’s all I’ve got.
-SJW October 2016
Disclosure: Sorry if this post makes me sound like an absolute mizzog. Tomorrow will be better, and all that!
This post was published on the Huffington Post on 7th November 2016. You can view that version here.