Real life confession: I hated the newborn and baby phase

Penny Flanagan with son

I’ve never been a forward planner and when I fell pregnant with my first child, I hadn’t put much thought into it beyond, “I’m married, I’m ready.”

Most significantly I had not considered the possibility that I wouldn’t love the baby phase. I just assumed that you had your baby and became a serene motherly person who loved holding babies all day.

When my son was born, while I was awed that someone who wasn’t here a second ago, was suddenly here, I was not hit with the rush of love that a lot of mothers talk about. To me, he was a mysterious being, the depths of whom I had not even begun to fathom.

In fact, for the first three months of my son’s life, I was afraid of what he thought of me.

I can see now how totally ridiculous that was: he wasn’t thinking anything. But he was so completely unknowable to me: I didn’t know what made him cry, I didn’t know why he wouldn’t sleep, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with him beyond just try to keep him alive.

Most of all, I didn’t know how to make him love me.

Added to that, I did not feel my usual robust self. I felt sluggish and groggy and I was constantly running on empty. I had a squishy blob of deflated skin where my stomach used to be and my arse was inflamed with an angry bunch of haemorrhoids. I was tired, all the time.

As a second generation feminist – a ‘70s child who had been told repeatedly that ‘girls can do anything’ – the baby had robbed me of my most precious asset: my physical strength and my ability to say, ‘I can do it myself.’

I was now dependent on my husband and I hated that.

I also had no idea what I was doing

I didn’t spend my pregnancy reading up on how to care for a newborn and even if I had, it wouldn’t have made any difference. I’m not the sort of person who can learn to do something by reading about it. I told myself I’d just ‘wing it’ when the time came.

But at the pre-natal classes, one particular exercise made me realise that sh** was about to get real.

We were given a print out of a clock’s face. We were told to portion the clock’s face into a 24 hour cycle: with six feeds for our newborn that would each take 30 minutes to one hour. The time left over was when we would be able to do everything else in our lives that we needed or wanted to do: make meals, shower, sleep, spend time together.

I was still so clueless that I distinctly remember desperately trying to wedge in a 30 minute time slot where I could watch Friends.

Breastfeeding did not come easily, it was a constant struggle with a screaming baby who turned out to be starving. By eight weeks, I was bottle feeding him: bleary-eyed and counting scoops of formula into bottles every night, I’d forget where I was up to and then have to start the whole thing again.

If I wanted to leave the house, I had to forward plan the ensuing hours down to the finest detail. It hurt my brain.

In short, I was not cut out for this baby thing

I felt captive to the feeds and the sleeps. I was trapped in my own home. I felt the dead weight of not having achieved anything at the end of a long day.

I also struggled to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t loving it. This whole baby thing was just not making my heart sing the way other women said it did.

In all the photos taken around that time, I look like I’ve been kidnapped and then told to smile for the camera. Eighteen years later I can still feel that horrible sense of being tired and trapped.

Gradually though, this mysterious little being began to reveal who he was inside.

He smiled, he gurgled, he reached out for me. He crawled, he cried inexplicably when he saw me emerge from the bathroom with a towel turban. He was a sensitive little soul and the sound of the vacuum cleaner also made him cry.

But when I took him out in the stroller, he sat with his hands up, making twinkling movements beside his head, feeling the air rushing past him with his eyes fluttering in sensory ecstasy.

He stood, he wobbled his first steps, he began to parrot my every intonation: mah –meee (excuse me) hep-ooo? (Can I help you?) and shews (shoes)

He began to speak in sentences and he jabbered at me non-stop. He was here.

There’s a photo of us from that time, the time when I finally started to love being his mum. It’s been snapped quickly at a family gathering. I’m sitting, he’s standing just beside me, all of two feet tall with his Fraggle mop of blonde hair. His pudgy little hand is rested proprietorially on my knee. I’m looking at the camera smiling and my eyes are shining. He is looking up at me, a look of total adoration on his face.

Penny Flanagan with son

By that stage, whatever I was doing I was doing it right. He was my little guy and I was his mum.

The thing is, the baby phase isn’t for everyone. But that doesn’t make you a bad mother. Just wait it out. Your time is coming.  


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