Welcome to motherhood! It’s a strange planet, isn’t it?
You did it! It’s over! You’re amazing. And look at your gorgeous baby. Almost unreal in his perfection.
But you know he’s real, because if he wasn’t, why would you be here holding him at 2.30am? It’s a strange world, the middle of the night, don’t you find? Just you and your child in the dark, alien sounds breaking the silence: the plaintive, piercing cry of a hungry baby, the blissed-out little mews in the back of his throat as he starts to feed, the tiny squeaks he gives when he sleeps in your arms.
And you look around. It’s your room – but not as you knew it. A lot messier, probably. Unfamiliar things lying on your bedside table: Lansinoh, Infacol, a cup of tea you didn’t have a spare hand to drink. Muslins and tiny clothes on the floor. A stack of baby books on the chair.
Your partner may be next to you but for now, you are alone on this strange planet. Alone but for the life you have created. You may feel light years away even from those who love you. Even from other mothers. They may have taken this journey but no one has given birth to your child. You are on your own Mars.
If it feels alien to you, imagine how it is for your baby. A foreign air rushing into his lungs, unfamiliar soft fabric brushing his tiny feet, his mother’s voice unmuffled by the womb, her skin warm on his.
You are travellers together in a strange land.
You watch the sun rise and light up the soft down on your baby’s little head. You feel the storms rage, as he won’t stop crying and you don’t know why, or your husband forgets to bring you a biscuit when you’re feeding.
You feel detached from the real world, even though it flashes before you on Facebook. Friends without babies on nights out – they cannot understand. They have not been on this journey that is more miraculous than space travel. But they can still help you, cheer you up and cheer you on. Give you a hug. When you are ready, they will be there.
You might have heard they just found water on Mars – I know, world news can pass you by when you are watching your baby breathe in, breathe out. You may find yourself crying and you’re not sure why. Especially when your milk comes in on the third day. You have done something so momentous, your daily – and nightly – work is so momentous, each tiny development in your baby’s life is so momentous. It is huge, becoming a mother.
You may feel overwhelmed. Crying, feeling low, worrying about your baby, know that these are normal. But if overwhelmed becomes over-riding, if you feel you just can’t cope, talk to someone.
You probably won’t see The Martian, Matt Damon’s brilliant new film, until it’s on Sky Movies. (Although, I smuggled my youngest into Skyfall at two weeks. I got some pretty strange looks when he started making noises but I managed to see all but the ending!) I’m not spoiling it when I say that Damo has to survive by growing potato plants. Almost his whole time on Mars is devoted to nurturing the precious life he created.
That is you, now. Don’t worry about the washing up or the laundry or tidying up for guests. You are nurturing life. It is incredible. It is also incredibly hard work. It is forever. You don’t want it to stop. But you really need a nap.
Maybe your experience on Mars is different. Maybe you think this is sentimental nonsense, over-dramatic, an analogy stretched. You would have preferred warm congratulations and practical advice: how to cope with breastfeeding problems, how to do up a onesie without missing a popper, how to change an up-the-backer nappy in the dark, silently, with nothing but your last two baby wipes.
I can do all that too. But for now, I just want to say – wherever you are in the universe – you are doing a fantastic job.