When I was pregnant, I was pretty well informed on all stages of pregnancy. I read all the recommended books and some that were less well known too. And I thought a lot about what it would be like once Ava was here, but I think that I imagined it like a series of scenes from a film. I somehow imagined the reality of it to be smooth, easy and always natural.
So the first few weeks were also somewhat of a surprise. I was surprised to feel so tired, so emotional and on edge. I was surprised at all the things I didn’t automatically know. More than anything, I was surprised at how Ava was already a complete person, a person who I had to get to know and understand.
When she was first handed to me, I remember thinking that she was much fairer than I had imagined. Her big blues were open wide and calm, and her little body was pink and plump. I felt amazement. Not only was she beautiful, healthy and mine, but she was also a stranger. I had never seen her face before (of course) but I was surprised that I didn’t instantly recognise her.
It is of course incredible how strong and immediate the physical and emotional bond is. But what I thought of as love at the beginning is very different to how I love Ava now. I guess at the beginning you can’t really love your newborn baby, because you’re yet to know them, but you love the idea of them, you love the baby you imagined and how much better the real baby is. It’s kind of like the difference between the flurry and heights of excited love at the beginning of a relationship, when you’ve yet to marry the illusion of this new person with the reality of them, and the deeper, stronger love you feel when you’ve grown together.
But now – now I love Ava because she does things that are only Ava. She smiles in a way I’ve never seen anyone else smile. Her finger patterns are delicate, unbelievably sweet and intricate. I know the tone of her voice even though she’s never spoken, and her serious face as she evaluates everything.
When you emerge from the total chaos of the first 6 weeks, you realise that something has happened without knowing when or how. It starts to feel normal to have a baby. It starts to feel like a new but integral part of your life. The constant breastfeeding is no longer such a shock and so tiring, but genuinely a pleasure.
I used to dread middle of the night feeds, but now that they’re sandwiched between decent stretches of sleep, they’re by far the times of the day when I feel most creative.
I love the look on Ava’s face when she feeds. It’s so serious and calm. Her lovely hands are either balled up into fists by the side of her face or resting on me. She likes to study my face when she’s awake and feeding, occasionally furrowing her brow for reasons I can’t fathom. She looks so unlike a baby when she does this – her lovely clear eyes incredibly presient.
There was a time not so long ago, when I felt that breastfeeding was largely something that had to be done for Ava’s sake, but I dreaded waking every two hours feeling exhausted, hormonal and so out of it. Now, I feel like it’s something sacred we get to do together, bonded through a physical closeness which is unlike anything else. I really enjoy knowing that I can nourish her and it certainly feels like a natural transition from when I was pregnant and she was completely dependent on me.
I can really understand why some mothers bear the social stigma of breastfeeding older children because it must be incredibly hard for both mother and child to give up this kind of bonding. The WHO recommend breastfeeding til your child is two, even though from 6 months onwards they will be on a diet of mainly solid foods. After this point, I imagine that it will be even more special to share one or two feeds a day with your baby, curled up together last thing at night or first thing in the morning.
Nursing in bed has been a lifesaver. Rather than having to get up, position yourself with pillows and phones and books, and then trying to settle a fairly awake baby, I can get to her before she even really wakes, and we can lie curled into another half asleep until she finishes, drifting off easily after.
We sleep in this position, our bodies facing one another. Her head always faces me and her arms like to hold onto some part of me. I love sleep sharing. I often wake a few moments before she does, and in the morning, when it’s just the two of us in the middle of this huge bed, I think we must look a bit like the yin yang symbol from above, which seems about right.