‘Just’ one baby

On New Year’s Eve between last year and the one that came before, after a couple of drinks, I corralled my husband into the coat room of the house in which we were celebrating and told him that 2018 was the year of the baby. 

I don’t think I’d thought a lot about it consciously before that moment, but it suddenly seemed very important and very right.

We agreed that on my impending visit to Australia to visit relatives, I would have my birth control removed and we would “see how things go from there”. 

Two weeks after my return from that trip, at five o’clock in the morning, I was holding a little stick with a plus on it. 

Several frenzied Skype calls later, most of Australia knew that I was in the very, very early stages of a pregnancy and my phone was home to five new apps with names like “Baby Centre” and “What to Expect”.

Nine months is a long time to consider impending parenthood.

In fact, those months struck me as some of the slowest and most stubborn of my life, increasingly so as time went by. By the time I was in my third trimester, the idea of giving birth and no longer being pregnant seemed like a fantasy. 

But somehow, not only did I convert 11kg of belly contents into 3.5kg of baby during one very stressful and traumatic evening, but that baby is now four months old. 

Where time trickled in late pregnancy, it’s flashing before my eyes as the mother of a lovable tyrant. 

Our early days with Elsie were filled with joy, but also terror. Some nights we would get so close to her, trying to hear her little breaths that we would wake her up. Anyone experienced in the art of putting newborn babies to sleep will understand the devastation of this error. 

For those without that experience, the message here is that babies are hard to put to sleep at night, particularly in a safe and not-in-your-arms position.

Every strange noise she made filled us with terror, and newborn babies make a LOT of strange noises. 

Now that she is older and more structurally sound, I occupy my mind with other, more practical thoughts.

How will I cope with my baby’s jetlag in a month when we go “home” to Sweden? Why won’t she take a bottle? Should I have another baby? 

This last one is particularly overwhelming for me. 

Of course, as everyone in the entire universe has told me, I don’t have to decide now. 

But it’s hard not to let it cross my mind. A few times a day. 

What if each child desperately prefers a different hemisphere? What if having another child means we can’t afford to fly to and from Australia to visit my family every year? What if we don’t have the energy to take a toddler and a baby on a plane?

And what about pregnancy and childbirth? It was bad enough just once, and I had a comparatively easy time of it. The thought of spending another three-quarters of a year limited in diet, movement and intellect, waiting desperately for intense physical pain and trauma to finally descend upon me is… less than tempting? 

On the other hand, despite the absolute hell of sleep deprivation, pain in muscles I swear don’t actually exist, wobbly post-natal belly and waterfall-bleeding, holding a tiny, brand new person whom I somehow created inside of my own self is a feeling like no other. 

The baby bubble is real and beautiful. From within it, everything is overexposed and awash with white light. Everything is slightly fuzzy around the edges. Think that weird scene at the end of Lord of the Rings where the few surviving characters are gathered around something. A bed? Anyway, that. 

Half of it is that, and half of it is black and colourless because it’s the middle of the night. 

My husband Felix and I are immensely fortunate to be enjoying Sweden’s parental leave system with 480 days of paid leave between us and extremely affordable preschool when the time comes. 

That, and a fading memory, may well contribute to going in for round two in a year or so, but for now, my search history is drowning in “benefits of one child”, “happy only children”, and “one and done is it ok?”.

Parenting “just” one child is anxiety inducing enough.

I obsess over the smallest decisions, many of which involved social media. 

Before she was born, Felix and I talked a lot about how much we were comfortable having photos of Elsie on Instagram and Facebook. 

We wouldn’t post many photos, we decided, especially where her face was visible or she was naked. The first would be an announcement to tell friends and family she had arrived safely. 

But, of course, we hadn’t even thought to ask visitors to refrain from posting their hospital snaps. Elsie’s first Facebook photo was posted by an ecstatic grandmother, reposted by at least a thousand (four?) other family members, and featured my very tired and recently-in-labor face.

“Don’t look so worried,” said one well-meaning commenter. 

Too exhausted and deliriously happy to care, we just went with it. I’ve probably posted 20 pictures of her in the four months she’s been around, punctuated by the odd image of a water dragon or mushroom to break things up a bit and prove to the world that I haven’t lost my identity completely. 

On a similar note, we’re extremely conscious of the abundance of screens in our lives. As twenty-somethings, our phones live on our bedside tables, in our pockets, and on the table next to our lunch. I’m worse than my husband in this respect. 

A friend of mine told me the first thing her friend’s son did when he started walking was to toddle over and close her laptop. He knew it was a barrier between him and his mother. Felix works from home and I freelance, so our laptops feature heavily in our daily lives. This story has stuck with me. 

I know Elsie can tell when I’m looking at my phone instead of her. She knows she only has part of my attention. I do my best to leave the phone alone when I’m feeding her or sitting by her play gym. 

“Mummy just needs to reply to Grandma’s text now,” I envision myself saying to her when she’s old enough to understand. “Just wait a second while we google the origin of the word ‘horse float’.” (The answer to that, by the way, is not 100% clear.)

I will engage mindfully with technology in front of my daughter. As if.

And what about when she starts asking for a phone of her own? Do I make up some arbitrary age she’s magically old enough to have one? Hopefully not. 

Do I read a bunch of studies about kids and phones and how badly it messes with their brains (or doesn’t)? 

Do I wait until more than 50% of her class has a phone? 

Or do I crumble under my own paranoia and give her a phone the first day she goes somewhere without me? 

Will I download family internet filters and exercise parental control over the app store? 

Of course, I will calmly and logically explain the dangers of the internet to my daughter. She will understand and not be angry at me for ruining her fun. Yeah, right.

I’ve heard colleagues talking about their primary school-aged children who are obsessed with Snapchat and how many likes they get on their Instagram stories. This terrifies me. 

Life as a pre-teen girl had pressures enough without the incredible pull and all-consuming nature of social media. 

I was bullied for my (alleged) monobrow, homemade clothing, zest for school work and general earnestness and, looking back, I can identify cringeworthy moments that contributed to my unwavering lack of popularity. 

How glad am I that those years are a blip in my highly-edited childhood memory rather than cemented in the halls of the internet? 

I desperately don’t want Elsie to get caught up in the hazards of social media and online bullying at an even younger age than I did.

At this point, I take a deep breath, look at my sweet child’s sleeping face, and remind myself that she’s four months old. Not four years. Not fourteen years. Just four little months. 

The way things are going, climate-change dystopia will have swallowed society as we know it. 

By the time she’s old enough for a phone, the heavy metals necessary for its construction will be depleted, the internet will have been destroyed by a fascist world-government, and there will be no animals left to take selfies with.

Jokes aside, the destruction of the natural world as we know it is right up there on my list of child-related worries. 

Reading about the Murray River’s dead fish and the doomed great barrier reef, and Canada’s zombie deer disease fills me with dread. 

What sort of world have we brought this child into? 

The best answer I can come up with is this: it’s the only world. Or, the only one I know of.

A world in which there is joy and kindness and incredible places. Oceans, deserts, waterfalls and fjords. Moose, wolverines, fruit bats and platypus. 

A world of books, music, dance and theatre. Of Bunnings sausage sizzles, homemade filo pastry and pickled herring. 

I mourn the loss of the Tasmanian forests and feel distress at the growing islands of plastic trash swirling in the pacific, but I’m so grateful to exist as witness to this blink of time in human history. I can only hope Elsie will feel the same.

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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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