Solstice Baby

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I've been meaning to write something on the subject of having become a parent before As anyone who's ever done so can confirm, though, becoming a parent itself tends to drive other stuff out of your mind for at least the first few weeks. Our daughter Sophie is now four weeks old, having been born at 2:15 in the morning on December the 9th after a lightning-fast labour that surprised everyone involved. One of the most surprised people was Sophie's father, who nearly missed the birth of his daughter by nipping out for a pee. We're getting used to having her around, and she's getting used to being around. The world is clearly still a place with which she's not entirely impressed, though - she has to use her digestive system now, for instance, which regularly causes her to howl with anguish for the lost days in the womb when it was all taken care of for her.

It's a total cliche to say that nothing can quite prepare you for the first week or two at home with your first baby. It's also absolutely true. A newborn baby is driven pretty much by their brain stem alone - it's instinct, instinct, instinct and it's at least a few weeks before the frazzled parents get rewarded with the first coos, gurgles and smiles that suggest there might be an intelligent life form in there after all. Mix into this the stress of disrupted sleep, not having time sometimes for even basic things like showering and eating, and trying to sort out breastfeeding and it's understandable that many parents don't feel they are bonding properly with their newborn and wondering why the hell they got themselves into this. A lot of romantic twaddle has been written on the subject of the first weeks of parenting. I suspect it's been written by people who either haven't had children or who had theirs long enough ago that they're looking back through a nostalgic haze and have forgotten the shattered nights, colicky screaming sessions and utter frustration of the novice parent.

New babies start developing slowly. It takes them some time even to get back to their birth weight, as they lose weight in the first couple of days after birth. The pace of development does pick up, though, I'm assured - they pile on weight and grow and guzzle more milk and grow more and pile on more weight. They start responding more consistently to the world around them, and generally start being fun to be around. Compared to other mammals our newborn young are remarkably helpless and physically undeveloped and remain so for a long time after birth. It's all a tradeoff, though. So much energy and effort is going into maintaining and developing the amazing large brain which makes them human that other stuff has to take a back seat.

This is why I was delighted to realise that Sophie had been born very close to the winter solstice. There's a nice little parallel between the shortest, darkest days of the year and the first days of a newborn baby's life. As the days pass after the solstice they start to get longer, and after a couple of months they're stretching out rapidly as sun and life returns to the world. In the same way, the first days of a newborn show little development or wakefulness, but little by little, starting slowly but then speeding up, they come alive, grow and start to look at the world around them. And once they start doing that, there's no stopping them.

Winter has its charms, but we're all looking forward to spring.

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