The start of 2023 has been unusual for me. It has been devoid of the usual commitments like ‘Dry January’ and ‘I quit bread’ – both of which I never succeed at (the bread always goes first if you’re wondering). Instead I am allowing myself to indulge more than I have for almost a year… a few more drinks, a lot more cake, time off work and for me, a shocking paucity of social plans.
No I haven’t developed a major case of Fuck New Years Resolution Syndrome (though I’d probably go and lick someone’s face if it was contagious) – I have had a baby. I pushed a tiny human being (who at 8llbs 8oz didn’t feel so tiny at the time) out of my body. Honestly, it’s a total head fuck! A brilliant and joyous one for the most part, but a total head fuck nonetheless.
It’s probably clear what the beginning is here; a new life, new parenthood, a new year. But it is preceded, like all beginnings, by the end; the end of my life as I knew it, the end of my time being totally selfish and spontaneous and stacking my week with social plans. The end of sleeping a full night and waking up to an alarm for work or play. For now anyway.
Both these transitions are major. They are scary and exciting, and in some ways both welcome and unwelcome at the same time for what they mean. Is it even possible to meet such an ending and a beginning giving both the same respect, curiosity and acceptance?
For some people maybe it comes naturally; maybe they flow seamlessly and contentedly from one state into the other. Probably not for most of us! Change is hard, unpredictable, scary even.
For me, it has not been, and is not, seamless. I am thinking for most people it isn’t. After spending (in my case 33) years pretty much just looking after numero uno every day, it’s been a lot to get my head round. There have been meltdowns, lessons, pleadings, and ohhh there have been tears. In many ways I have been displaying many of the behaviours of my newborn, just in a (slightly) more adult manner! Let’s start with the endings.
When people say ‘if we lived forever then life wouldn’t hold the same value’ I only partially agree. How can life not hold value however long it lasts? The fact that we’re even here, alive, on the Earth is almost unimaginable in its epicness, except we don’t have to imagine it because it actually went and happened. But I do agree with this: when we acknowledge something is temporary it nudges us to really savour it, be present in it and not to take it for granted.
In the last couple of months of my pregnancy, it definitely dawned on me that things were really changing. I employed a habit which helped me to savour the things that would soon change, or at least disappear for a while. It was a ‘musing of lasts’, if you will. Engaging in an activity that I knew would soon be off the cards, I would consciously consider that it could be the ‘last’ for a while.
I did this with my slow and pleasurable swims in the pool whilst on maternity leave before the little guy arrived.
I did it with my solo wintery drives in our 2-seater with the roof down, wrapped in all my winter clothes and with the music blasting.
I did it with my gratuitously long baths, binge watching Jane The Virgin (again) for its ability to make me laugh so easily, swishing warm water over my bump.
And I did it with small moments too, like feeling his feet wriggling about – always in my right hand side – or his bouts of hiccups, knowing that each one could be the last time I would feel it before he made his stage entrance.
Considering the possibility of it being a ‘last’ naturally led to me enjoying it more and staying more present in the moment. I would actively stop and check in with my senses – note the things I was seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting (cue bath time fizzy sweets in quantities the midwife told me she did not recommend).
We don’t always know when things are about to change, but when we do know in advance I have felt both denial or a propensity to wish the time away. Perhaps if the change is unwelcome it is simply less painful not to admit that we are moving into the territory of ‘lasts’. Or if the change is really welcome, that we simply adopt the I cannot wait until mentality, where we just try and get through the remaining days, badging them as less important than the ones to come.
Really living the last days of a chapter in our lives requires acknowledgement that every day holds the same value as our others. A Tuesday morning at work holds the same value as a Saturday night on holiday, or Christmas day. Each are just as precious and can hold just as much enjoyment (alright maybe a morning at work can’t hold quite as much!) if we consciously live in those moments and savour them for what they, what they bring us, and what brought us into them.
Once upon a time. The classic fairytale beginning.
Isn’t is true though that most beginnings only come because something else in our life has ended. It might be a tangible beginning like moving to a new place or having a baby. Or it might be less concrete; new found freedom having paid off debt or a fresh start after a relationship ends.
When I think about how I have processed my beginnings in 2023 – it’s definitely been in fits and starts. The hormone-raging, body-aching sleeplessness of having a newborn has both dulled and heightened everything. On the one hand I have been feeling every emotion keenly – and it really has been every emotion; within the space of five seconds I can go from an inferior heart-breaking low of ‘I’m not cut out for this’, to a ‘luckiest person in the world’ euphoria. But, it is also true that my days have become cyclical and predictable cycle of feeding, changing and nap-coercing and this somewhat zaps the ability and time to process and reflect. In fact, the repetitive nature of each day and night has posed a unique problem in and of itself; once someone who embodied the adage “if you want something done give it to a busy person”, I can now only guarantee three things I’ll definitely be able to accomplish in a day – and you guessed it, they are feeding, changing and facilitating naps for a tiny boy. This has been a big adjustment, and has come with some feelings of guilt and loss.
So, in a day with a tiny to-do list but paradoxically little time, how am I going to keep myself present, sane and ‘me’?
For one, I have been embracing a new affirmation, giving myself the permission to let go of my previous daily ‘achievements’ and in turn praising myself for the monumental achievement of looking after a helpless, dependent and (most helpfully!) very cute baby:
“If I achieve nothing else today except keeping my baby safe, then it has been a successful day”.
And in order not to forget the most salient moments in these blurry weeks, I have been keeping an informal track of things which are happening just using the notes on my phone. It means I can look back and reflect on the weeks and days before and distinguish them from other days; first smiles, first baths, first sleepover away from home. I also used this to capture the story of his birth, a feat I am so proud of him, my body and my husband for (labour was most definitely a team effort in this house! Shout out to the Positive Birth Company for giving us the tools and confidence to have a beautiful home birth).
Doing it on my phone means I have been able to use those hours in the night, trying desperately to keep myself awake while I burp him and soothe him back to sleep on my chest.
Time for meditation as I formerly knew it is currently impossible, so I am incorporating mindfulness and gratitude into daily tasks more instead. Making sure my showers are mindful turns them into mini spa experiences. Making sure that time when I am able to clean the house is mindful means I enjoy the process of tending to our space, and reap the benefits of completing a task (didn’t take me long to realise that parenting can never be completed, no matter how small you chunk it up).
And in difficult times I am trying to remind myself that these hardest of days won’t last forever. Instead of wishing, in the middle of a sleepless night, for the time when he will sleep for a solid stint overnight, or the time when he doesn’t need to feed every 2 hours and my body can rest, I will savour the fact that he still has his baby smell, that he still fits snugly on my chest for his morning nap, and that I can guiltlessly eat whatever I want because breastfeeding requires me to take on a tonne more calories each day!
After all, beginnings don’t last either. They too need to be savoured as if they are endings or ‘lasts’ because really they are. It might sound trite but every moment is both a beginning and an end in life. Being as present, as mindful, and as grateful for every one I can is still my goal.
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