I am sorry that it took me so long to answer this. I am sure that it has actually gotten easier by now, simply because I took so long to answer. The first 3 months of being a new parent are like being in a tumble dryer. Reeling, though, is the feeling of transition; and the transitions will now change very quickly for you, with seasons flipping past in a montage.
Here’s what Most Parents are going to tell you - in fact they are reading this post and they salivating already, because they really want to be the First Person To Ever Tell You This. They are lining up, like hyenas, to say “AHAHA! IT NEVER GETS EASIER! AHAHA!” They will roll on their backs and wave their paws in the air. “You did a setup for a joke! Just now! The joke is that it never gets easier!”
And then as soon as we try to continue our conversation, the hyenas will leap back in, yelping “REELING? You think you’re REELING? You’ve been parenting for THREE MONTHS! AHAHAHA YOU SWEET SUMMER CHILD! Wait until they reach [milestone]. Wait until they’re a toddler. Wait until they’re teenagers. Wait until-”
So: thank you, Parenting Hyenas Who Can’t Cope. We witness you. We love you. We have heard about your experiences (nobody could really avoid doing so) and we honour them. Your contributions are valuable. Your jokes are funny, Parenting Hyenas, and we do appreciate the work you have done. BUT we are going to move on, in the expectation that Anon here has some important feelings that are just as valid as those of an Experienced Parenting Hyena, and that for them, maybe coping is possible.
Right. Sorry. I had to say all that because if I didn’t, then people would make the joke in the notes (“AHAHA! YOU THINK IT GETS EASIER! AHAHA!”) and it irritates me, although I love the Parenting Hyenas very much.
To answer your question, Anon, with disclaimers:
I personally believe in the Fourth Trimester Theory, which is that the first 3 months of a baby’s life are liminal and primal. Neurologically and physiologically and in its ancient little psyche, a human baby hasn’t really arrived in the planet yet for the first three months of life. It is not really part of our world; it is not a public being; it is here as a visitor, whose only commentary is crying. It is still in that liminal space between the bright noisy terrors of the world, and your womb, that was also the Void. It looks at you with its changeling eyes and it appears to see infinity. It is very obviously a traveler from somewhere else, now trapped in the form of a potato, and it is composing the MOST scathing Tripadvisor review. And at all times, it NEEDS you. It is an ancient baby mammal and all it wants is your heartbeat, the warmth of your skin, your milk (if you’re giving it your own milk), and to be Parented. It needs these things to live. As science and psychology learn more about the importance of things like “skin time” and “touch starvation” and “attachment,” we realise that the default state of the human baby in the Fourth Trimester is “being held.” That’s it, that’s its job, that’s what it does; it wants to eat while you hold it, sleep while you hold it, and stare penetratingly at strangers and chickens while you hold it. It is not separate. If you are breastfeeding, it is an external part of your own immune system. But emotionally it’s also an external part of your own heart - like a daemon in the Northern Lights series.
You are basically still pregnant. But when you were pregnant, you had a convenient internal life support system for the baby, and both hands free (assuming you have the use of both hands). And now you are supposed to keep yourself and the baby alive in the outside world, which involves doing life support for you both, with no hands free. So yes. YES, this stage is FUCKING hard.
This age of baby is frequently irritating with this Constant Need for your body, and you snap at it, wanting some fucking space, and then immediately feel as if a Goblin King is about to come in through your window in the form of an owl and STEAL it, because you let your guard down for a second, and for a second there you didn’t want your baby. But of course you want your baby! You just don’t want your baby ON you! You wanted somebody else to hold the baby for ten minutes while you had a poo and then stared silently at your tongue in the mirror because YOU ARE JUST TRYING TO LIVE, BABY, YOU ARE JUST TRYING TO LIVE. I mean, maybe that’s just me. I’m 90% sure that was just me. But yeah!! It takes some getting used to!!
After the Fourth Trimester, the little potato becomes a lot more like a baby. At three months, the little oven timer goes “ding!” And it’s a lot more fully cooked and developed. It levels up a lot now. If it had colic (uncontrollable screaming with no particular cause, usually in the evening) then colic is about to go away. It will hopefully know the difference between night and day. It will probably not poo at night any more, and you can let it keep one diaper on all night. It stops looking at you like a judgmental goblin ALL the time, and may smile occasionally. Breastfeeding (if you’re doing it) should have become easier, hopefully completely painless, and you’re hopefully feeling comfortable and confident about it. You will probably have survived at least one scary crisis, such as Running a Very High Temperature, or Dropping The Baby In The Bath, and come through it okay, astonished at your own bravery. So many things get easier now. SO MANY.
When does it get easier? For me, I found the first three months to be really rough and incredibly lonely and difficult, and it got increasingly easier after that. Caring for the baby became more of an exchange and a communication. They transitioned very distinctly in my eyes from an angry goblin potato to something more like a chirping pet. We bonded, as well; when the baby was born, they were a stranger to me, and I didn’t like them particularly (although I was prepared to do my absolute best for them) because I didn’t know them very well. But I did love them more and more, the more I knew them. My love needed time to grow. For me, the growth of baby and bond made it easier to meet their endless needs. Some people won’t share this, and some babies won’t do this; there will always be high-needs children too, and children who don’t develop according to Timelines, and relationships that have a different molecular structure. But the thing is that the whole point of babies is to change VERY fast: you will break, or you will get stronger, or things will change. Next week, your baby will be a different baby. Next month, it will be a different animal.
And sometimes the thing that changes is your relationship to the role of parenting. So that also happened for me to: the transition from my Self as a busy person with an unplanned pregnancy and no particular interest in children, to the Official Adult in Charge of one of Earth’s newest members. Who was an early arrival, to boot. It took a long time for me to set down my own ambitions to focus on Glassbab’s fragile, evanescent babyhood. I had to give up “being a person who goes to parties,” “being a person who has lots of hobbies and related friends,” “doing standup late in pubs,” and losing each one made me feel like I was being killed. But it turns out, I do actually have a personality beyond The Stuff I Do - I’m actually valuable and likable even if I’m not destroying myself with trying to do everything - which was actually a nice discovery for me.
That’s another thing that people don’t write about - other parents don’t give you any map for how your own identity might change, and how that might actually be GROWTH, and what you might like to do with it. They just laugh “hahaha you’ll never cope again! hahaha mothers don’t have IDENTITIES! mothers don’t cope!!!” and you want to kick those hyenas RIGHT IN THE HEAD.
Because, it turns out, those hyenas are only talking about their own experiences. Parents do have identities. Many parents cope. Many thrive. Many people feel this transition as growth, as a part of their lives where they grew and loved and learned, and achieved amazing experiences, Some people even feel the reeling as a pleasant thing; the way that you feel at a party, drunk, looking up at the ceiling until you are looking down at yourself, spinning in a blur of color and the moment. Pin this time, this reeling and draining time, down with lots of pictures. In a year these memories will be hard to catch again.
1. If the reeling is Too Much, please see a health professional. I don’t know what “Too Much” is and I am not qualified to advise you on your mental health, but you can use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Test as a tool to decide whether to seek further help.
2. All babies and all people are different. No advice will ever suit everyone. If my advice, or indeed any advice, does not apply to you, then do not take it.