When I had my first baby in 2016, it was a bit of a shock to say the least. I went from someone who could leave the house whenever we wanted to not being able to go to the toilet when I felt like it. In the evenings I was usually feeding Finley (I’d not heard of cluster feeding until it actually happened to me) so we were looking for a TV series that wasn’t too taxing to follow. We decided to watch SAS: Who Dares Wins. Has anyone seen that? There are a lot of recruits at the beginning who try to get through the process of SAS recruitment. As we were watching it I found myself getting more and annoyed at how much easier it seemed than having a newborn! Here’s why.
1. Sleep deprivation
Ok, let’s get straight to the heart of it: sleep deprivation was one of the two most difficult things about having a baby in my experience (the second one was feeding – more of that in number 2). Now, some people don’t actually have a problem with this: ‘Oh, he just sleeps from 7pm until 7am, in fact some days we have to wake him up!’ Then we both laugh while I secretly hate them but am also genuinely pleased for them and glad that it can be a reality so perhaps one day it could also be possible for us? It’s a very complicated emotion.
Now the narrator on SAS will say in his gravelly voice, ‘The recruits are now being woken up after only two hours of sleep.' Two hours. Do you know how Mark and I felt if we ever got two hours of uninterrupted sleep? We were high-fiving each other and exclaiming, ‘I feel so alive!’
2. Stress positions
When the recruits get towards the end of the process they are usually captured and interrogated (see number 4 for more on that). The recruits that are waiting to be questioned are forced to sit or lie in stress positions and listening to stressful sounds on headphones like screeching noises or, yes, you guessed it, a baby crying.
Parents that have fed a child in the night will know what this is like. Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding you are either sat upright or slumped over. And it doesn’t just last one night like it does for the recruits: it’s every night for months and months, hence the constant pain in my shoulder, back and neck. This could also be attributed to the next point…
3. Carrying a lot of stuff
The recruits carry their Bergens, which are a heavy backpack weighing about 35lb. Ok, I’ll give them that, a child is around two years old before they weigh about 35lb but… when they carry their Bergens are they pulling their hair, trying to eat their earrings or covering their eyes while they’re trying to walk? Didn’t think so. Also you’ll still be doing a lot of lifting at the 2-year-old stage anyway. My son will sometimes ask me to carry him now from time to time, at 6-years-old, when he can’t be bothered to walk somewhere. At the same time, I’ll be carrying his sister, the bags and pushing the pram with one hand because she doesn’t want to go in it.
4. Dealing with people in a bad mood
As mentioned above, the recruits always get captured at the end and then questioned by some very angry individuals who will shout questions into their faces like, who are you really working for? What mission are you on? why are you really here? You don’t actually work for Greenpeace at all, do you? They will sometimes lull them into a false sense of security by appearing to be in a good mood then turning in an instant.
I put it to you that the same can happen with babies and children. They are happy and everything is going well then, all of a sudden there is something wrong. With a baby, you are trying to guess because they can’t tell you, other than to cry, which actually makes answering the interrogators much easier because they can just tell you what they want. With toddlers, it is often because you have said something outrageous like, ‘No, you can’t eat that dog’s food out of its bowl,’ and then they are livid.
5. Being able to VW (Voluntarily Withdraw)
If the recruits are finding the process tough because they’ve only had two hours sleep or had to carry a stationary bag, then they have the option to VW from the show and go and have a little rest. This is not an option with a baby. There are no sick days. There are no lunch breaks.
However, as true as a lot of this all is, and it was all definitely a part of my experience, we would never VW from our children, just some of the difficulties sometimes. When I was pregnant the second time, I decided that I would make sure I would ask for help when things got too tough and VW for a couple of hours to recharge.
When (and if) the recruits complete this process they are rewarded with a ‘pass’ and, I would imagine, a massive feeling of achievement. As parents, we get this feeling all the time. There’s that feeling of pride when I see my son on stage and feeling confident because of the way we made him feel listened to and took care of his needs as a baby, toddler and child. Also, when he does well at school because we’ve read with him every night of his life despite how exhausted we felt. But we also feel proud of him for the way he listens to other people or compliments them if they have done something well. At his sports day a few weeks ago they gave out awards. Finley didn’t get one but when his friend did, he stood up and cheered for him so loudly that all the parents laughed and said, ‘Ahhh,’ and I was prouder of him for that than if he had won an award. Just yesterday he went to soft play with his friend and none of the parents had cash to go on the bumper cars so Finley paid with his pocket money for him and for his friend. All these tiny things add up to such a great feeling all the time that the difficulties that I have described don’t seem small but they feel worth it and they do pass.
So yes, the lows are low and they can be all-consuming when you are struggling but they pass and the highs are much higher than anything else I have experienced. I think it says a lot that we will go through this willingly multiple times for each of our children. It's so hard. But if you're finding it hard, it's probably because you're doing a really good job of it.
How was your experience with a newborn? Was it like this or a different TV programme?!