Our lovely little girl celebrated her first birthday at the weekend.  On the one hand I’m staggered by how quickly that birthday has come around and yet, on the other, it’s hard to remember a time when she wasn’t part of our lives.  Watching our great big girl tucking into her birthday cake gave me cause to reflect on how far she (and we) have come in that first year.  However organised or prepared we thought we were, nothing really made us feel ready for that terrifying walk from the post-natal ward to the hospital car park.

I think that sums up the early days for me: the fact that we had this vulnerable, fragile and terribly precious person in our care.  Of course we were delighted with her, and over the moon to be parents, but it didn’t alter the fact that we arrived home with that all-too-familiar sense of ‘what the hell do we do now?’  Well, we did what every new parent does, we got on with it and learnt as we went.  Some things were immediately successful, some quite the opposite, but we got there.

I should say that I was lucky to have come out of the birth relatively unscathed (apart from some minor internal grazing).  This meant that I was in good physical shape for the challenges of the early days.  A word of warning, though.  I was told ‘you will bleed for a few days after the birth’.  That translated as ‘you will be like a leaky bucket for several weeks’.  Not a problem, and easier than dealing with, say, a caesarean, but I wish I’d been a little better prepared for that.  Other than feeling a little woozy sometimes in the first week, and having to retreat for a warm bath and a lie down, I was fine.

I knew I wanted to get her into some sort of routine.  I personally think that if you have no routine at all, you will go stark raving mad.  Several friends had waxed lyrical about Gina Ford, and an equal number of them had spoken of her as some kind of parenting antichrist.  Personally, I found a lot of her advice very useful (especially in terms of baby essentials and items to avoid), but her actual routine is far too didactic for me.  There are also a few things that I have to disagree with; she insists, for example, that a baby is always put to sleep in a pitch black and silent room, whereas I’m rather pleased that our baby will happily doze off in a noisy pub in broad daylight.

I actually found Tracy Hogg’s ‘Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer’ much more helpful.  Her ‘E.A.S.Y.’ schedule is more of a pattern than a routine, and it really worked for us.  To be honest, we didn’t have to try very hard.  M’s natural pattern seemed to match the ‘E.A.S.Y’ one very well.  It gave our days (and nights) some structure and made us feel that we had some semblance of control.  I don’t think chaos would’ve been good for M or for us.  The way we approached it was by getting the evening routine sorted out first.  After a few weeks we were bathing her regularly at 7pm and putting her down by about 7.15.  Having a regular bedtime led quite quickly to regular waking (1am and 7am, eventually).  Daily bathing did dry her skin out, however, so we now bathe her every other day.

The scariest thing of all, for me, was sleep.  I’m certain that the fear of SIDS means that all new parents are concerned about the potential hazards of putting a baby down, whether for a quick daytime nap or at night.  In the first few weeks she either slept in her bassinet (if we were out) or her Moses basket (indoors during the day and beside our bed at night).  For her night-time sleep we had (and still use) a baby monitor with a mat that goes under the mattress to keep tabs on the baby’s breathing.  At the beginning I would barely take my eyes off of the monitor but now I simply keep one ear open for its reassuring ‘tick … tick … tick’.  We also put her in a sleeping bag from the outset (having decided against swaddling) because that eliminated any issues with her becoming tangled in sheets or blankets.

It’s easy to become quite agoraphobic with a newborn.  I think there are two reasons for this.  Firstly, going out requires lots of preparation (gone are the days when I’d just check my pockets for wallet, keys and phone before leaving the house).  Secondly, it’s much easier to deal with problems (leaky nappies, wet clothes, vomiting, endless crying) if you are safely behind your front door.  The first issue can be dealt with on a very practical level.  We bought a bag (a very plain and unisex one, so N wouldn’t feel daft carrying it) and kept it permanently stocked.  It was always in her buggy and contained a changing mat, nappies, wipes, a change of clothes, a muslin, a pre-measured bottle of water, formula and hand sanitiser.  As she’s got older, it now contains things like snacks, a drink, suncream and Calpol.  This means that you can leave the house at five minutes notice.  That leaves the second issue and, frankly, there’s no easy fix.  You just have to take the bull by the horns and get out there.  N noticed that I was staying in a lot and he would ask me every morning what my plans were for the day and encourage me to go out.  Also, one of my NCT friends set up a Whatsapp group for all of us and we would constantly chatter about what we could do, where we could go, when we could meet.  It didn’t have to be anything major.  I made a point, for example, of always taking M for a long afternoon walk around the Common.  That was our routine for months, and I really enjoyed it.

Very soon, and relatively easily, everything became second nature.  As she has grown her routine has changed (she now only naps twice a day, for example, and I think that will decrease to one nap quite soon) but a lot of the basic principles we employed at the very beginning still hold true.  We tried to tread a line between her needs and our wants.  Did we get it right?  She’s a happy, contented little thing, so I like to think that we did.