In part three of Diary of a Mum, Becky Dickinson gets to grips with having a trio of children – and unprecedented levels of sleep deprivation.
Newborn is 10 days old and I can count the hours of sleep I’ve had since her birth on both hands. I arrive back from the school run feeling like I’ve done a day’s work. I’m as frazzled as the toast I left under the grill this morning. I have vomit on my shoulder, milk down my top and a headache the size of a Jammy Dodger above my right eyebrow.
Newborn needs feeding, D needs her bum wiping (or bottom, as she’s started calling it since attending nursery) and I need a cup of tea. I can’t work out which to do first.
Then the doorbell goes. Brilliant. I kick a pile of washing out of the way to answer it and am greeted by a benevolent looking middle aged woman. It takes me a second to realise it’s not the postman.
‘Midwife,’ she chirps. Midwife?! Oh God, I’d forgotten these impromptu visits. The ones they call the ‘10 day check’ which are secretly designed to see if you’re coping, or at least not necking G and T before breakfast. I kick some more washing out of the way and let her in.
‘Err.. I’m really sorry,’ I stammer. ‘I’ve got one on the toilet, one screaming in the pram and… ‘The joys of parenthood,’ the midwife smiles. ‘You sort the one upstairs; I’ll sort the other one.’ Suddenly, I feel like crying. It’s the most helpful thing anyone has said all week.
A minute later, the screaming has stopped, D has her pants on and I sneak the opportunity to shove some damp washing on the radiators. I go downstairs to find the midwife reading D a story, with Newborn happily ensconced on her shoulder. I love this woman. I feel like asking her to stay, to knock up a couple of meals. To be my Mum. Instead, I just offer a weary, but heartfelt thank you.
Once Newborn has been stripped, weighed and prodded, it’s time for the questions. Does anyone in the house smoke? (No, I just burn toast). Recreational drugs? (Only a paracetamol habit). Do I drink? (Not before breakfast). Am I breastfeeding? (At least I get a bonus point for that one).
‘Have you thought about contraception?’ the midwife continues merrily.
I know she has to ask, but honestly, as if stretch marks, severe sleep deprivation, and leaking boobs weren’t enough of a passion killer, do I really look like I’ll be getting into the missionary position anytime soon?
For a start, Newborn refuses to sleep more than a millimetre away from her milk supply. This means she spends every night either hanging off a nipple or with a milky cheek suctioned to one of my E cups. If I try to remove her, or even worse, attempt to place her in the crib (what a waste of money that was) she goes off like a car alarm. The only way to avoid waking the rest of the household, and possibly half the street, is to let her sleep with me.
Unhusband, meanwhile, has sought sanctuary in the spare room. Which means for the foreseeable future, sex is about as imminent as a decent night’s sleep. And given the choice, I know which I’d rather have.
Back to the contraception question. ‘It’s alright,’ I say. ‘He’s moved out.’
The midwife looks alarmed and I hastily explain we haven’t actually split up, he’s just keeping the futon company until Newborn learns to appreciate the difference between night and day, her body and mine.
The midwife looks marginally reassured. The questions continue until she’s satisfied that I’m as sane as can be expected. She offloads a bundle of parting literature on everything from breastfeeding support to post-natal classes which I won’t have time to attend.
‘It gets easier,’ she says cheerily. ‘You’re doing a great job.’ I’m not sure I believe either statement.
I feel like begging her to stay. To read D another story while rocking Newborn, so I can get ten minutes sleep. But that’s what grannies are for (if you’re lucky enough to have one available) not overstretched NHS staff.
Newborn spends the rest of the day asleep, which means I’ll be spending another night awake. Nothing I do, from stripping her off, to subjecting her to Jeremy Vine at unnecessary volume can rouse her. I try explaining that she lives in England, not Australia, and that it’s customary to sleep between midnight and 6am, that even a couple of hours between those times would be helpful. I am seriously tempted to emigrate just to fit in with her sleep pattern.
Unfortunately, the effects of the energy-boosting placenta smoothie I drank after giving birth, have long since worn off. And no, I’m not part of some bizarre cult; placenta consumption is all the rage. Well okay, maybe among humans just yet, but I’m a sucker for anything that claims to keep me out of the doctor’s surgery.
Anyway, after it was whizzed up with a load of fruit, it didn’t taste that different to anything out of a carton, just with the benefit of added iron. I’ve had so much of the stuff, I must be magnetic. I also have a stash of placenta capsules sitting in the fridge – concocted from the rest of my sizeable afterbirth, and designed to keep me going until normal life resumes. Unfortunately, I still need caffeine. And chocolate. And alcohol (in moderation, of course). Oh, and sleep.
Sleep. I count it in minutes, like other people count calories. I crave it, covet it and actively avoid people who get too much of it. In fact, I can barely disguise my disdain for anyone who boasts their baby is ‘sleeping through.’
Later that evening, just when everyone else is going to bed, Newborn’s nocturnal activities commence. Fifteen feeds and several nappies later, she’s still either screaming or sucking. By 3am I’m still singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It actually crosses my mind to post it on Facebook, though I manage to restrain myself in case anyone cool is reading.
Finally, as the sun rises, ready to launch another frenzied day, Newborn falls asleep. She snores softly against my boob. I touch her silky cheek, stroke her velvety hair and allow myself a moment of pride for producing something so amazing. Despite everything, I love every tiny ounce of her. I’m knackered and flabby, but she’s worth it. Just as long as I don’t look in the mirror.