The pits and peaks of the first year of parenthood

Everyone always says when you get married that the first year is the hardest, but there's no such warning when it comes to parenting.

After nine months of anticipation and build-up, and hours of labour, you're presented with this small, red, screaming bundle and just automatically expected to know what to do.

When Peyton was born, I had no idea how to change her nappy properly, how to dress her without worrying I would break her, or how to understand what she wanted. Babies don't come with an instruction manual and once you leave hospital, you're on your own to stumble through the dark (quite literally when they're up screaming at 2am) working everything out.

My first year as a mum has been the most wonderful, rewarding, love-filled year of my life. However, it's also been bloody hard work. It's been overwhelming, exhausting and a real struggle at times.

Now, looking back, the times when things seemed really bad don't actually seem that bad at all. When I say she was hard work as a baby and people ask how, I find myself trying to remember what she actually did that warranted me labelling her as such. When I reel off my reasons, I realise she wasn't hard work at all. I just didn't know what to expect and, in some respects, was going into parenting with rose-tinted glasses on.

Everyone has their own 'pearls of wisdom' and advice they give you before baby is born and, to be honest, most of it should be taken with a pinch of salt. Someone told me you don't need to wind breastfed babies which was the biggest lie going and resulted in absolute horror shows for us when Peyton was struggling terribly with trapped wind.

Trapped wind/colic was probably one of the worst times. One of Tom's first days back at work Peyton literally screamed from 9am until she went to sleep that night at 10pm. She barely slept all day, just cried and screamed, and nothing at all could settle her. In those first few weeks we'd get to 5pm/6pm and she'd scream constantly until bedtime. It was horrific.

Thankfully, despite how it felt at the time, the phase didn't last long. Like anything that's been hard, it has soon passed. No sooner have you overcome one hurdle before there's another one right ahead.

Feeding was hard in the early days but, once we established breastfeeding and my confidence grew, we soon got into our stride. I sometimes sit, when we are out, and wonder how I fed in public so confidently. Even after doing it for eight months, the thought now of feeding in public makes me feel really, really nervous.

Nothing can ever prepare you for the worry you will constantly feel as a parent. Before Peyton was born, I'd never rang 111. I must've rang it at least 10 times in the last year. We've made quick dashes to the doctors for an appointment before the surgery closes, and we've been to the out of hours service at the hospital at least three times.

There's also the constant anxiety that you carry around with you. Whether it's about going out in public and strategically planning a route than incorporates at least one place with a baby change facility; or panicking in the supermarket car park because all the parent and child spaces are taken and you can't manoeuvre a normal space with a car seat and pushchair. There's the worry about going out to places and your baby screaming - I don't think that'll ever end. We've only ever had one experience of having to leave somewhere because she cried so much. Thankfully, *touch wood*, the rest of the times we've eaten out she has calmed quickly when a meltdown has started.

Poo explosions will become second nature, and you quickly learn you need a change of clothes for yourself as well as baby.

The first year will be the biggest learning curve of your life and I truly don't think anything can prepare you for it.

What nothing will ever prepare you for is the judgement. People like to judge mums, and I don't know why. Mums judge other mums, people who aren't mums like to have their say on what you should/shouldn't be doing, and, perhaps worst of all, you judge yourself.

Baby groups can be toxic places for this; I learned this quickly. Everyone likes to compare your baby to other people's and it drives me absolutely insane, even now.

It's sometimes hard not to judge yourself, and compare your baby to others, but every baby does things at their own pace. It took Peyton much longer to do certain thing than it took other babies we know that are around her age. Similarly, she has picked up other things really quickly. Just like it takes adults different timescales to learn different things, it takes babies the same.

If you sat a group of adults down in front of a broken machine, not everyone would be able to fix it right away. Some would need to be talked through it a few times, some would need to be shown what to do, and some would still need lots of goes at getting it wrong in order to learn how to get it right. Just like everything in life.

It took Peyton until she was almost 10 months to sleep through the night, but I know children who are two/three-years-old and still wake. Similarly, I know people who have babies who've slept through from two/three-months-old. Sleep was one of the biggest things I worked myself up over, and looking back I really wish I'd been more chilled about it. I knew before she was born to expect sleepless nights, so I don't know why, when she was here, I suddenly forgot that and expected her to sleep through from an early age. Don't get me wrong, it would've been lovely if she had, but I do think I had some unrealistic expectations for a time.

I feel like we've really delved into the pits of the last year here.

Believe it or not, there have been so many peaks.

Starting with that first moment she was placed on my chest after she was born. She was this little red bundle who had her eyes straight open and was staring around the room, screaming her little head off. The rush of love I felt at the moment, I don't think anything will ever compare to it. This teeny, tiny 7lb 12oz baby girl who I had waited so, so long to meet was finally here and, oh my god, it was just the most amazing feeling.

Coming home from hospital, too, was just the most wonderful thing. I felt, as we were walking (me waddling) out that someone was going to stop us and tell us we couldn't go. It didn't feel real that we were taking our baby home and it was just going to be the three of us. When we got home we didn't know what to do with her, or with ourselves. It was the strangest, yet best, feeling.

All the firsts have been absolutely incredible, too. Those first smiles, the first laugh, the first time she rolled and the first time she sat up, the first time she tried food, the first night in her own room, her first wave, the first time she clapped, her first steps, her first pair of shoes... every first, no matter what, is special. Whether it's something small, like her first visit somewhere, or bigger like her first word.

Watching her learn new things is amazing. She's started to get this really proud look on her face when she does something (usually something she shouldn't be doing, granted) and it just melts me. Seeing her explore the world is a wonderful thing and I can't wait for that even more now.

Our first little holiday to Center Parcs was a big peak for me. It was so lovely spending the week together and making lots of memories. Of course, P won't remember any of it. But we always will. And I'll always remember just how chilled and happy she was that week. I saw such a huge difference in her, and I think that's because we were relaxed, too.

And Christmas! How could I forget Christmas?! Our first Christmas with a baby. It was magical. Taking her to see Father Christmas and doing loads of festive things was wonderful. Even things that we do every year anyway, like putting up the tree, felt even more special. This Christmas will be even more amazing because she'll understand so much more what's going on. And the year after, well, we'll be thrown right into Christmas chaos then!

Her christening was also another big peak. The build-up to it was a bit squiffy, but I absolutely loved the day itself. It was so lovely to see so many people there for her and so nice to see family and friends, some of whom we hadn't seen since our wedding. Christenings aren't everyone's bag, so it was so nice that so many people made the effort to come and celebrate our little girl with us.

The first time we managed to string together a week of her sleeping through the night is also up there as a peak. To the mums reading this whose babies/children don't, I feel your pain, but keep powering on, because when the moment arrives it's so worth the wait. We'd had the odd night of her sleeping through but it was always followed by a month or so of night waking again, so after the first night mid-April I wasn't getting my hopes up. But, after a week, I realised we may have just cracked it. It's amazing how much better you can feel after a good night's sleep. It was really hard when I came back to work and she was waking up for up to two hours in the middle of the night. Trying to function the next day was hard enough when on maternity, never mind when having to do a full day at work. Now, looking back, I don't know how I did it.

It's amazing how those "bad" things are suddenly soon forgotten. It's taken my absolutely ages to write this because all the times she was "hard work" have been so hard to remember. And just picking a handful of peaks has been hard, too.

Some days, everything feels like a peak. Going into her room on a morning and her standing there waiting for me, with her arms out, and smiling; her putting her arms out for me to pick her up; her trying to climb onto my knee for a cuddle; the smile when she sees me arrive at nursery; how her face lights up when she sees the cat; watching her splashing and rolling around in the bath; her trying to put her shoes on by herself; the excitement on her face when she sees a bird outside; her dancing whenever she hears any music; the way she claps when I say "well done" (even if it's not directly to her); how the simplest of things give her such enjoyment... I could honestly go on forever.

Being a parent is the most rewarding job in the whole, entire world. Some days may feel really foggy, and like everything is against you, but it soon passes. I wish I could do the newborn phase all over again, knowing what I know now, because my expectations would be much more realistic. I would be more prepared, and I'd actually know what I was supposed to do.

I've been feeling so emotional over the last week remembering everything we were doing this time last year. My Timehop is absolutely killing me seeing all the pictures of Peyton as a tiny newborn and all the videos of her. It almost makes me want to have another one soon to experience all of that again. But then Peyton starts climbing on the table and throwing stacking cups everywhere and I suddenly remember, I'm quite happy with how full my hands - and heart - are at the moment.

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