I’m not going to lie: without a doubt Christmas 2017 was by far the worst day I’ve had since my daughter was born. She was 11 weeks old and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We both spent the majority of the day crying. At one point I actually had to leave the house and drive aimlessly in the rain and just sob. The best part of the day was 8pm when she finally went to sleep and I could have a drink.
Let’s be honest here: Christmas with a newborn is not fun. It’s not magical, it’s not picture-perfect (despite what Facebook might lead you to believe), it’s actually just a massive pain in the arse! Far from the Christmases of the past, when you could just lie around eating chocolate, opening presents and drinking wine before midday (to cure the hangover of the day before), no, now it’s all about nappies, boobs and trying to stop your baby from crying, which, at 11 weeks old, is no easy feat.
Fast forward a year and I’m feeling much more optimistic about Christmas. Now that my daughter is in a routine, I can plan my day around her naps and, now that she can actually support her own weight, she might actually entertain herself for five minutes so I can have use of my hands to open a present of my own and eat my body weight in pigs in blankets.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have a newborn this Christmas, here are my top tips for survival.
1. Lower your expectations
Unfortunately, newborn babies don’t give a hoot about the fact that it’s Christmas Day and they’re supposed to be uncharacteristically merry. They don’t give two shits about your Christmas traditions of playing board games and watching Top of the Pops and eating Christmas dinner is peace. No, like every other day for the past however long they’ve been alive, it’s all about them. You may as well accept that Christmas Day is going to be unrecognisable in comparison to Christmas Days of the past. Putting pressure on yourself to have a ‘magical’ day in which certain things happen at certain times will just make you miserable as unfortunately newborn babies are completely unpredictable and completely unreasonable.
2. Plan for where your baby will sleep
The biggest mistake I made last Christmas was not planning for where my baby would nap at my Dad’s house. Up until that point she pretty much just fell asleep anywhere and everywhere and would last about a minute in the pram before drifting off.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really factor in the fact that the Christmas tree, Mariah Carey on repeat, Christmas crackers and party poppers weren’t exactly the ideal environment in which to doze. For some reason I thought my baby would just fall asleep in her pram seconds before lunch so I could eat my meal with two hands, like I’d always done in the past. It did actually seem like my plan was going to work when she started getting the nods ten minutes before lunch was served; that is until the traditional last-minute smoke alarm went off, scared her half to death and sending her into absolute meltdown!
Instead of taking her into a quiet and calm room and soothing her back to sleep, for some reason I thought rocking her in her pram whilst I ate Christmas dinner with the other hand would do the trick, but unfortunately that just made her even more angry and kick-started the eight-hour possession that was about to take hold of my family. There is nothing more terrifying than an overtired baby and, as newborns are supposed to sleep for up to twenty hours a day, they are certainly not meant to be awake for eight hours straight. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time I had absolutely no idea how to make her sleep and no concept of the fact that me getting more and more wound up was only going to make the situation worse.
Thankfully these days I know my baby a little better and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to calm her down when she’s ratty (the advent calendar this year for a start), but in those early days, it can seem impossible and completely overwhelming (especially with an audience).
3. Make people fit in with you
Yes, before you had a baby you might have visited four different houses before midday on Christmas Day, but these days getting you both dressed before midday is an achievement in itself. Do yourself a favour and be the one to host, only not in the traditional sense: this year everyone has to bring the food and then they have to cook it! You’ve got a newborn after all.
4. Avoid social media at all costs
When you’re elbow deep in faeces and you haven’t so much as eaten a chocolate all morning because your hands have been tied up with trying to sooth a crying baby who is being completely unreasonable, do not even think about breaking the monotony by going on Facebook or WhatsApp with a spare finger. The sight you will be confronted with will make you want to throw up your yet-to-be-consumed Christmas dinner.
I remember seeing all of my new mum-friends with their pristine babies smiling in their Christmas outfits, gazing into their partner’s eyes, all with the adjective ‘magical’ in their post. After scrolling mindlessly in despair for a good ten minutes, I messaged my antenatal group saying that my morning had been so stressful that I was about to throw my baby in the bin. Silence. Thankfully, a few minutes later, one of them replied with a picture of her baby (ironically named Joy) in complete meltdown in her bouncer. Suffice to say she’s the only one I’m still in touch with.
I think this one is inevitable. Hormones, sleep deprivation and the end of life as you know it means that the newborn stage is an emotional one. Couple that with family, alcohol, social media and societal pressure to look like the perfect mum and a sob-fest is pretty much guaranteed. I certainly felt much better after my epic, Hollywood-style breakdown in my car last Christmas; sometimes you need that release. Forget sleeping when the baby sleeps: it’s all about crying when the baby cries.
6. Have a break
One thing’s for sure, Christmas is going to include family. And, if your family is anything like mine, that means drama. The difference is though, this year you’re not going to have the energy to get involved in any conflict, so my advice would be to sit on the sofa and stay out of it. The good news is family means all of your potential babysitters in one place. That means one person can hold the baby, whilst another person gets you a second helping of dessert. Play the labour card and have a rest.
7. Don’t waste money on Christmas outfits for your baby
Or, if you do, take a photograph of them in it within one minute, as I can guarantee you that within five minutes it’ll be covered in shit!
8. Don’t waste money on presents for your baby
Even fourteen months in, I’m sure my daughter will be much more interested in the wrapping paper than any presents I wrap for her. Who am I kidding, she’ll be far more interested in any bits of dirt or hair she can find on the floor than wrapping paper. As a newborn baby isn’t even ready for a dangling firefly at this point, do yourself a favour and save your money. You’ll get plenty of fireflies from your relatives anyway! Instead, why not put that money towards a January massage or even a February baby-free weekend away with the girls – trust me, you’re going to need it.
9. Don’t expect the day to be magical
I’m sure, once your baby knows the difference between mud and an actual toy that Christmas will be a bit more ‘magical’. Yes, I’m sure it’s super-cute watching your little four year old leave out carrots for Rudolph and yes, it must be beyond magical to be able to use Santa to bribe your children into good behaviour for 364 days a year, but, for now, Christmas is about survival. My magic trick this year will be the sheer quantity of chocolate I intend to consume.
10. Spoil yourself
Let’s face it: in a couple of years Christmas is going to be all about them, so whilst they’re still in a vegetative state, indulge yourself a little bit. You’ve just given birth and you’re sleep-deprived so it’s the perfect excuse to put your feet up, have a glass of prosecco and let your relatives share the load for a day. Plus, as buying presents for a baby that doesn’t even know where its head is is utterly pointless, with a bit of luck relatives will have still spent some of their hard earned cash on you!
So, it’s not all doom and gloom, Christmas is only one day and, if you accept that it’s going to be a little bit shit then you’ll be fine. With a bit of luck you’ll survive without throwing your baby in the bin and you might even have a little bit of fun.
I’ve certainly learnt a lot from my Christmas from hell, even though I still shudder a little bit when I think about the Ghost (demon) of Christmas Past.
In hindsight, the problem was not my baby, my family or my Facebook friends; the problem was me. I put so much pressure on myself to look like I was nailing it that I ended up completely falling apart. Life with a newborn is incredibly hard and you’re not the same person as you were before; therefore things are going to change, Christmas being one of them. If I could give my former self a piece of advice it would be to take a deep breath and find some humour in the situation. After all, it’s not every day that you get to act like an absolute psychopath and get away with it.