I can tell you exactly how many times The Bird fed on the fifth day of her life. It was twenty-one times. I know because that day I logged every time she fed, every time I changed her nappy, every time she slept. With twenty-one feeds to put through her system, the other events were correspondingly numerous. The newborn days are like this: there are no long stretches of anything, just little shards of time, constant switches, constant hand-washing til your skin cracks, needs and impulses that go off at random and cannot be postponed but also can’t be fully satisfied. Often the baby was half dressed. I was never more than a quarter dressed myself. Meals were mouthfuls, dishes piled up, showering was unimaginable. In college, I read Geoff Dyer’s Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, in which he offers this perfect description of the experience of living through a nervous breakdown:
I had, in fact, gone to pieces. I mean that as literally as possible. Everything had become scattered, fragmented. I couldn’t concentrate. Each day was scattered into a million pieces. A day was not made up of twenty-four hours but of 86,400 seconds, and these did not flow into one another – did not build, as letters do, into words and sentences – so that, as a consequence, there was not enough time to get anything done. My days were made up of impulses that could never become acts.
Little wonder, then, that even under the best of circumstances the newborn days bring you to the bleeding edge of your sanity.
Logging everything the baby did was my attempt to exert order over the fragments. It’s hardly novel to point out that trying to subject such a small person to a routine is a thankless task, but in case you doubt the pressure on new parents to do so, let me share one of the comments I encountered when wondering (because I really wanted the answer to be yes) if there were any circumstances in which I could expect a six-week-old baby to sleep through the night. The answer was yes, one commenter on Facebook insisted, as long as you had got them into a routine in utero.
This person wasn’t being sarcastic. She just illustrates rather well the existence of one camp in parenting that is all about order. Routine, regimen, Gina Ford, get your life on a schedule. And, having visited the teetering precipice that comes of living a totally fragmented life, I understand that camp’s battle-cry. Routine might save you. If you can achieve it. If you can’t, pursuing it might wreck you twice as fast. When the Bee was born, I’d given up on any idea of seeking a routine. I was committed to doing whatever it took to keep him content, rather than agonizing over my failure to shoehorn him into something predictable. Let it go, let it go. He’s fourteen months now and still wakes frequently through the night. I’ve never tried to get him not to. And yes, that’s starting to feel a little ridiculous now. All you get to pick, when you choose your parenting camps, is which form of madness you think will be slowest-acting.