Baby Amnesia

Finding yourself cooing over tiny sleep suits? Joanne Robinson, mother of a five year old, four year old and seven week old baby Angus, realises that her ‘newborn memories’ could have been slightly rose-tinted.

If you are already a mum, do you remember the first few weeks after your baby arrived in the world? Are those memories fresh and raw or have they been tinged by a few years of amnesia? I thought my memories of caring for a newborn were still vividly real. I have, in fact, whiled away many happy hours imparting my hard-earned nuggets of child-rearing wisdom to pregnant friends eagerly awaiting the birth of their firstborns.

My latest (and final) baby has left me flummoxed. Hand on heart; I can honestly say that I’ve pretty much forgotten everything my previous two goes at this newborn lark may have taught me. I ought to take this opportunity to apologize to all those to whom I have offered unasked-for advice over the four years since my second was born. It seems I was talking utter rubbish.

I recently spent a smug third pregnancy re-assuring midwives that I knew what I was doing and adopting a complacent expression in ante-natal waiting rooms. ‘It’s my third’, I’d say, in a world weary I-know-exactly-what-I’m-doing-thank-you-very-much manner. Why then, I wonder, should I have been so utterly unprepared for the post-natal world of my third child? I type through a fog of exhausted bemusement; can I really have forgotten all this and allowed myself to have only remembered the bits when I was in control?

Am I the only mum to have been affected by ‘baby amnesia’? Take breastfeeding. ‘Do you need any help latching on?’ asked a concerned midwife, peering around the hospital curtains on day two post-birth. ‘Oh no!! I’ve done this before – third time you know!’ I answered cheerfully, sending her away to some poor inexperienced first timer. By day three the cracks had (quite literally) begun to appear and by day four I was screaming for drugs whilst latching on. Not quite the breast-feeding pro I’d been presenting myself as. My memory of breastfeeding from the last two babies consists of me discreetly and competently feeding my babies whilst completing the Times Crossword. Nowhere in this image is the left side of my shirt sopping wet because I’d forgotten to put in a breast pad. Nor am I anxiously attempting to cover the other revoltingly blue-veined boob whilst a squirming newborn chooses Marks and Spencer’s café as the moment to refuse a feed in favour of a screaming fit. And the nights! I had totally forgotten that all-pervading exhaustion reminiscent of a victim of prolonged torture. I had remembered sleepless nights were involved somewhere, but in my pink and fluffy memories I was always rocking, in the nursing chair I had insisted was as much of a necessity as a cot, humming lullabies to a talc-smelling angel of a child, who gazed up adoringly whilst enjoying a softly bonding night-time feed. Of course the reality, which hit me with the ferocity of a head on collision on about day two, is me looking confused whilst baby screams at an ear-piecing volume and I feed for the twentieth time because I’m too tired to think of doing anything else.

I honestly think that I had forgotten that babies cry. Which they do. Mine does it in the night. A lot. I also forgot how much babies poo, and that you’re supposed to mess about with bits of damp cotton wool trying to wipe little botties whilst they pee in your eye. And that after three weeks they are as spotty as an angst-ridden fourteen year old, just as you’re feeling up to wandering around Waitrose to receive well-deserved praise for the production of the most beautiful baby ever seen. My most-regretted bit of amnesia however, and here I really should have known better, was that eating a galaxy bar (or perhaps two…) every day will result in weight gain in the end, and that the enormous bottom one develops during pregnancy doesn’t automatically disappear when you exit the maternity ward with your shiny new baby. I am genuinely bemused that seven weeks after birth I still can only wear my maternity trousers. My eldest daughter asked me yesterday if I had another baby in my tummy. Wish I hadn’t laughed at the idea of a pregnancy healthy eating plan now.

Perhaps this amnesia is Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that we reproduce again. We forget the toe-curling agony of cracked nipples and the mind-numbing exhaustion of watching the night-time hours tick by whilst you settle a fractious newborn and your partner sleeps on unaware. We start to pore over the photo albums and find ourselves playing peek-a-boo like a maniac with round-cheeked cutesy babies in the supermarket queue, thinking ‘I’d like one of those…’ ‘Newborns are so easy compared to toddlers!’ we say to our friends on the school run. ‘Our babies have always been so content!’ I remember muttering to my husband as we considered enlarging our brood ten months ago. Ho, ho.

But then again I’d also forgotten that when they smile their first toothless grin you feel like your heart is breaking with love. And that you can watch their softly rising chests for an hour at a time as you marvel at their perfect hands. I’d forgotten how they curl themselves up in such an adorable way when you lift them sleeping from their car seats; how their eyelashes seem to grow overnight so that you can spend a whole morning marvelling at the absolute, breath-taking beauty of their perfect faces. I must, yes absolutely must, remember the nights and the nipples because this time really has to be the last…