by Hayley Doyle
‘Binge on as many boxsets as you can.’
Since announcing the birth of my son, this has been common advice.
Except the remote is on the carpet beside a cup of tea that’s long gone cold.
‘Eat whatever you like, you’ll need the calories for breastfeeding.’
Another offering. Solid gold.
If only that Mint Aero could grow legs, walk out of the fridge and into my mouth.
But above all, amidst messages calling me a ‘warrior woman’ and a ‘rockstar’, I have been told again and again and again to, ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps.’
Sat beneath a canopy of pale blue and silver cards, hanging from wall to wall on string held up by drawing pins, I wince and wonder if it’s acceptable to use the nipple shields I ordered from Amazon at four o’clock yesterday morning. I’ve been a mama for fifteen days. One website advises not to use nipple shields until the baby is three weeks old. Another advises not to use at all. My sister advised to ignore all the advice and to use them immediately.
‘Come here, little bear,’ I whisper, forgetting the midwife’s advice to slip my pinky finger into baby’s mouth to unlatch. ‘Agh! Ouch!’
His cherry lips dance in an array of ‘O’ shapes, a tiny cry escaping. The gentle giraffe on his vest twitches, his bird legs kick. With my hand behind his floppy, warm head, I switch him from left to right, remembering to kiss his crown. God, he’s delicious. Inhaling his tufty hair is my new hobby.
I brace myself.
Oh, I don’t want to dread it, but I do; the latch.
The nipple shields are on the armchair, out of reach from the sofa I’m sank into, crosslegged. They’re also still in the packaging. Even if I could reach them, they’d need steralising. This thought hurts my head. The tips of my fingernails ache for sleep. Pins and needles tickle my feet. Moving is not on my agenda.
What was I just thinking about?
My phone rings. Mum.
To pick up, I need to stretch to my right, but I freeze, look down…
My baby is asleep!
Nuzzled against my bare skin, he’s not in a frenzy freak out for milk. His chest is moving up and down to a satisfying beat. And he’s snoring. Pop the champagne! Never did I imagine a day that snoring should be celebrated.
Keeping movement to an absolute minimum, I tap my phone to answer and put Mum on speakerphone. I sing-song a quiet, hello.
‘How’s my little grandson?’ Mum belts out.
‘Ssssh, he’s sleeping.’
‘In his Moses basket?’
‘No, no. Put him in his Moses basket.’
‘It might wake him.’
‘You should sleep when the baby sleeps.’
I rest my head back into the sofa.
‘I plan to,’ I say.
‘Janet from next-door’s knitted a blanket, I’ll bring it over this weekend.’
‘It’s Janet you need to thank. Have you ordered cards yet?’
‘What do you mean, what cards? Announcing the new arrival! You can get them online. You just need to put his date of birth, his weight, and choose a nice pic, preferably one with his eyes open. Ooh, has he smiled yet?’
I don’t know. Oh, God. I honestly don’t know. Have I missed it?
‘Love? You still there?’ Mum asks.
I hadn’t realised I hadn’t spoken.
‘What time is it, Mum?’
‘One forty three.’
‘One forty…?’ I’m still in my PJs.
It’s impossible to believe that I used to wash and blow-dry my hair, make coffee, drink coffee, dress, apply a full face of makeup, use the toilet twice, check my phone much more than twice, catch a bit of Sky news, insert earphones, choose a podcast, walk to the Metro station and get to my desk before nine. Since giving birth, I’ve managed perhaps two things off this list within a twenty-four hour period. And yet, I’ve been home most of the time with nowhere in particular to be other than, well, at home.
‘I’ll let you go,’ Mum says, ‘You need to sleep - ’
‘ - when the baby sleeps. Got it.’
‘Oh, by the way, that photo you sent to the family Whatsapp was fantastic, you know.’
‘Yeah…’ No clue what photo she’s referring to.
‘Dad and lad. Peas in a pod.’
Ah. That one.
He’d just got home from work. Sleepless nights plus the end of paternity leave had resulted in him conking out on the sofa. Our baby lay on his chest, also conked out from a long day of bad wind. I’d taken this opportunity to shower. I replied to a few messages. Then, popping my head into the living room, I witnessed the the two loves of my life in adorable slumber together and it made my heart swell and my head woozy. There’s no other way to describe it. I had to capture the moment. Smelling of shea butter and feeling a freshness resembling that first shower after Glastonbury, I couldn’t resist cuddling into them both - just for a minute - because I still needed to clip my toenails and… Well.
It doesn’t matter what else I needed to do. My time was up and my boobs were required.
‘You’ll have to frame it,’ Mum tells me. ‘Shall I get it printed for you?’
‘Look, I’ll let you go. Let you sleep.’
I’m staring at his eyelashes, enjoying his doll-like fingers gripping my thumb, when we’re interrupted by a long, dull buzz. The doorbell. What else did I order from Amazon? Fired with a sudden burst of energy, I stand, my little bear snuggled into my shoulder and dart to the front door before a second, more impatient buzz takes place. Barefoot, I make it down four flights of stairs without waking a newborn. Now, that’s rockstar. Opening the main door, my relief is expressed through a wide smile and I punch my shoulder forward, showing off my beautiful - sleeping - baby. I don’t care that the shine on my hair is grease way past it’s best-before date. I couldn’t give a hoot that I haven’t brushed my teeth since yesterday. I’m capable. I can juggle. I can receive a delivery and care for an entire human, all in the middle of having a phone conversation with my mother. Hear me roar, people.
The delivery guy melts. I see it. My baby has reduced him to a puddle.
Parcel in hand, he asks for my name.
‘Jude,’ I say, then after a beat, shake my head and say, ‘I mean, Cath. I’m Cath. He’s Jude. I’m Cath.’
‘Cath,’ the delivery guy repeats and types it into his device.
That flicker of smug has gone. I grip my son with one arm, my hand behind his neck and tilt backwards, knees bent, as if I’m about to do the limbo, all to free up my other arm to take the parcel. The delivery guy notices my struggle and slips the cardboard box across the doormat beside my bare feet.
‘Got four of them at home,’ he tells me. ‘Although, not so little anymore.’
‘Four?’ Is all I can manage.
‘Four,’ he confirms, backing away. ‘If you want my advice, sleep when the baby sleeps.’
He’s barely down the front path when I spot the apartment number on the parcel; three.
I live in apartment four.
I sob, pretty uncontrollably to be honest, as I lug my unfamiliar body back up the stairs, baby in one arm, parcel in the other. En route, I drop the parcel on number three’s doorstep and release a little howl as I reach my own. I’m just so, so tired.
Then I remember my phone, still on speaker. I never hung up.
‘Mum?’ I cry out.
‘It’s okay, love. It gets easier.’
‘I’m gonna hang up now, if that’s okay?’
‘Is he still asleep?’
‘Good job. Now go. Sleep when - ’
But I cut her off. I’ve slunk into the depths of the sofa, my position not too dissimilar from the photo of ‘Dad and lad,’ to quote my mum. I sniff Jude’s head, I imitate his sleepy pout, I let my neck sink into the cushions. If anything is worthy of a hashtag-bliss, then this would be it.
I close my eyes…
…and my baby wakes up.