Seven weeks and four days ago, after 54 and a half hours of contractions, I gave birth to a little girl. We named her Abigail, a name from the very first page of the baby name book, a name we both loved immediately. Abby is a delight. She’s already so funny and inquisitive and loving. I had worked as a nanny for years and so had plenty of experience with babies, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the seismic shift that is becoming a parent.
I’m a baby parent. By that I don’t just mean I am the parent of a baby, but that I am a baby at being a parent. The last seven weeks have been exhausting not just because of the broken sleep, but because the learning curve is so steep. After so little time, I’d never presume to speak with any authority on parenting, but I would love to share some of the things I have been thinking about since October 28.
Parenting Abby is a daily lesson in accepting my imperfections. I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve done wrong in the last seven weeks. The first time I accidentally bumped Abby’s head on her rocking chair as I was putting her down- and I promise, I don’t make a habit of this — and she screamed, I was starkly confronted by my own imperfections. I had hurt my child. Not badly, nothing she wouldn’t forget in a moment, nothing that would cause any damage; but still, I had hurt her.
And despite my best efforts, I will continue to hurt her. There will be times I won’t be available to her as she needs. There will be times when I will brush her hair and hit a knot. There will be times when I say no and mean it and believe it’s best for her, but she will be disappointed in me nonetheless.
The love I feel for Abby, that consuming parental love I had been told about, came with fear. I have so much on the line. My capacity to be hurt, and to hurt, increased exponentially from the moment I first loved her, somewhere between when I found out she existed and when she was born. My failures could cut me deeper than they ever have before.
And so being a parent has not just been a lesson in humility, but also in grace: extending it to myself and to others. There is a degree to which it is self-kindness, but it is more than that. It is learning to live with the fact I am going to fail, while also attempting to address my failures. It is apologising and accepting apology. It is recognising my own imperfections, but also being accepting of the imperfection of others.
This, perhaps more than anything, has been the rupture between my life before and after Abby. The all-consuming worries of before pale in comparison to my concerns about raising her to be a compassionate and good person. And my own past failures and failings to be a compassionate and good person are both clearer and more important. I need to be the sort of person I want her to be.
I have been wrong often. I am sorry to those I’ve hurt, intentionally and unintentionally. I will make more of an attempt to apologise where I can, but I know that’s not always possible. We can’t always make amends.
But at the same time, I am not going to let my failures, past or present, consume me. Because that is the thing about parenting for me: I can’t hide out, I can’t delay trying again. I have to pick the baby up again, I have to do the next night feed, I have to change the next nappy. There is no escaping from the consequences of my mistakes: I have to face them immediately.
The grace of parenting comes from living through that. Being forced to face and work through my failures every time emboldens me to do so in other parts of my life. It has taught me gumption. I will solve the problem. I will figure out how to handle this. I will do things I don’t want to do because they’re best for her.
Being Abby’s Mum means I now live with fears bigger than any I’ve ever known. But for me, the tools that have enables me to face this are grace — towards myself, towards her, towards others — and gumption. Grace is not letting my imperfections consume me. Gumption is not accepting that my imperfections are permanent, and working to do better.