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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Even in the darkest days of new parenthood, I hold on to the thought that this too shall pass

Woman alone with baby
‘Other parents tell me that remembering that you’ll never have to live that day again helps.’ Photograph: Chris Rout/Alamy

I write this from a pub garden, where I’m wondering if it would be rude to paint my toenails. Having reached a stage of cabin fever thatwas verging dangerously close to despair, I followed my mother’s advice to buy myself a small treat. In this case, a nail polish in a shade called Cheer Up, Buttercup – without considering that I’d need to somehow find the time to put it on.

Time is something I’ve never had so little of before – 10 minutes to inhale a croissant, a moment to brush my teeth – nor have small snatches of it ever felt in such short supply. None of this is news, of course, but when people talk about parenting being hard perhaps what they are really talking about is how relentless a day feels without a small moment of rest.

With that in mind, I’ve been asking people what gets them through the worst days. The ones where you’re bone tired and both you and the baby are crying. One idea, from a medical professional, was to make sure that you leave the house every day on your own, for a breather. If anyone knows how to achieve this, please let me know.

Wine, people suggest a lot. And it’s true that wine helps, though I intensely dislike the “why mummy drinks/mummy needs gin” culture (you would never have a sign in your kitchen that said: Diazepam: Mummy’s Little Helper!). It has to be exactly the correct amount of wine – enough to cheer you up and take the edge off your stress, but not so much (and it really takes very little these days after months of abstinence) that you then end up hungover while trying to entertain a baby, which is the worst way possible to spend a hangover, with the exception of attending mass when you don’t speak the language and aren’t even Catholic (as I did in 2005).

Then you have food, which I’ll admit that I did once use as a way of breaking up the mundanity of my sad little life. I’d think to myself, “Hmm, might have some cheese on toast later”, and dark skies would immediately brighten. Not so any more. Once a source of joy and experimentation, food is now merely fuel, wolfed down lukewarm in a separate room from my husband, who has usually worked hard to feed us, only for me to scarcely remember what I ate.

Social contact, people are big on, too. Which is all very well until you’ve spent all morning trying to get out to the children’s centre only to be told that the class is full. It was a bit bleak watching several other mothers and babies being turned away at the door too, our potential friendships crumbling into dust.

Anyway, you keep trying, because what else is there to do? Other parents tell me that remembering that you’ll never have to live that day again helps. Viewing everything as a phase is also useful, and it’s true that it does go so quickly, you reflect as you fold up all the newborn clothes to put away or donate, wishing that you hadn’t spent so much time in the early days looking at cat memes rather than the adorable, ephemeral neonatal wrinkles that have now vanished from your child’s face.

It doesn’t feel quick, though, when you are singing Ten Green Bottles at the speed of a funeral lament, just to eke out a few more minutes of sitting down (I also do a very slow, lugubrious version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and am available for children’s birthday parties).

I do think that, of all the coping mechanisms, writing this column has, in many ways, saved me. I’m so grateful for all the advice and support from readers. It has given me a community. And as one parent said, in response to my question of what gets you through the hardest days: “Watching the little buggers sleeping. All is forgiven – on both sides.” When I look at my baby peaceful in his crib, I feel intense love, but also gratitude. Not everyone who wants a baby gets that privilege, and remembering that stops you moaning too much.

Saying that, it’s several days later and my toenails remain unpainted.

What’s working
I’ve loved reading the children’s classic Peepo! to the baby, which he loves. A few years ago the archaeologist Gabriel Moshenska tweeted about how it’s rooted in the material culture of the second world war, and I’m enjoying noting the references on every page: a gas mask, a ration book, a portrait of Churchill.

What’s not
Having an indoor cat – Mackerel’s choice, not ours – and a baby in one flat is proving rather challenging, as I discovered this week when I trod barefoot in cat sick while changing a nappy. As many new parents find, having more space is suddenly a priority.

  • Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a Guardian columnist and author

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