The second nine months

“Look, leave her in the pram. She’ll be fine. You need to stop picking her up all the time. She should be feeding every three hours,” the doctor told me at my eight-week check up with my first daughter.

I felt embarrassed. Actually, I felt humiliated, like I was being told off for doing the thing I felt helpless to stop doing.

I picked newborn Talitha up and breastfed her. I told the doctor that I literally could not hear what she was saying above the baby’s crying.

I couldn’t even look the woman in the eye. I felt like every inch of me was a picture of maternal failure.

I began to blub about how she was not gaining weight, about all the people I was seeing about it and about the fact that I’d been told to breastfeed her as often as possible, not to wait for or schedule feeds.

Even more embarrassingly, I began to cry. I looked up at the doctor. She looked stunned and very uncomfortable.

Looking back now, three and a half years later, I think she meant well.

She didn’t want me to burn out. She knew that parenting is hard.

Though it was not her place to offer the opinion that she did, especially since it was not based in medical fact (the evidence supports breastfeeding on demand), I genuinely believe that she thought she was helping me.

I also believe that her words may have stung with greater force than they were said because I was vulnerable. Anything could hurt me. It’s easy to forget how fragile new mothers are once we’re no longer there ourselves.

The second nine months

But while this one incident is still so clear in my memory of that blurry time, how many times did I hear that message?

Don’t pick up the baby. She’ll get used to it.

It didn’t make sense to me then. And now that I’ve had a second baby, I’m even more baffled by this advice. Babies are already used to being carried constantly. We carry them in our bodies for nine months.

The gentlest birth involves much work, much squeezing out into a world of bright upsetting lights and scarily loud sounds. And yet we expect a sudden transition?

Tada! You’re here. Lie there, will you? The food’s no longer on tap. You better get used to it because one day you’re going to be out in the real world.

My first baby loudly protested being put down. Whether that was her hunger (she was tongue-tied and had trouble accessing milk), her personality or her reaction to a traumatic birth, I’ll never know.

The second nine months-2

My second baby slept so much, we could put her down quite a lot. It was pretty incredible. The moses basket actually got some use.

But as soon as she was alert enough to know what was going on, she let us know that that was not the way things were going to go. It wasn’t what she wanted, what she needed.

Every baby is different but every baby’s needs in those first months are strong, sometimes overwhelmingly so.

And whether it’s a first baby or second or more, it seems from my own experience, from what I’ve read and from conversations with other mothers that adjusting our expectations could go a long way in reframing how we feel about that time of utter dependency.

The second nine months-3

In the very early days with my firstborn, my mind kept going back to what our NCT teacher had called “the fourth trimester”. It helped me view my body as continuing to sustain this helpless being from the outside of me – an extension of pregnancy.

Then four months hit. She went through a classic time of being unsettled and I went through a time of trawling the internet for answers, feeling like I was losing my mind.

Thankfully, I came across talk of sleep regressions. Just knowing that our experience was shared, helped me accept it. I was no less sleep deprived but I was reassured.

Around that time, I also came across the term “the second nine months”. It conceived babies as only gradually growing away from their mothers, as needing much holding, nighttime care, much feeding. And it absolutely made sense to me then.

Ophelia turned nine months on Monday and it still makes sense to me now. I have worn her in slings for most of these months, nursed her at almost every peep, kept her in my bed and tried to see her life the way she sees it, that she has been a part of me and I of her.

The second nine months-5

She is mobile now. This special time of total connectedness is fraying. I can see it alarms her at times.

I can also see she is getting used to it, gradually. That she wants and needs to bumshuffle away from me. More and more.

This time I’ve mostly done what I wanted, what felt right, with mothering a new baby. It’s been hard (at times so hard) but I’ve also reaped the benefits of meeting her needs.

There has been much joy in the mundane and much simplicity despite any frustration (and there has been frustration).

I’m sitting here, typing with her asleep in my arms at 9pm. I look forward to her joining her sister upstairs for this portion of the night.

This time I know it will happen all on its own. She will outgrow her babyhood without any hurrying.

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  • A beautiful blog post. I knew about the second trimester but not the second nine months. But this really makes sense to me. I was unable to ‘put my daughter down’ until she was nine months. My nearly 2 year old still likes to be so close, more so than some of her friends. I wonder like you wrote if this is because of trauma after she was born or if it’s her personality.

  • Beautifully written.
    Baby Girl is 9 months on Sunday & I haven’t heard the term ‘second 9 months’ but it makes complete sense to me. If one more person asks me ‘have you tried controlled crying’ I’ll bop them one!
    I wish all mother’s had the strength, confidence & courage to mother however they see fit for them & their children as you did with Ophelia. Breaks my heart when I hear of moms trying to conform to what’s expected or what the HV or Doc has deemed right.

  • great post…. ‘second 9 months’ really does makes sense. With Lola, I had so many snide comments from my MIL about how I shouldn’t pick her up, feed her on demand, cuddle her all the time etc… I felt like a bad mother until I had Kiki and did some major reading and realised that it was the right thing to do!
    Polly recently posted..Life, Lately

  • aww this is lovely Adele and I remember being told a similar thing and actually I think it was said out of kindness too in an odd way although I didn’t listen to them, I wasn’t in a good way at the start of motherhood. I’d not heard of the second nine months but I love it and it totally makes sense
    Fritha recently posted..What Mama Wore – Yellow

  • As always such a beautifully well written blog post and I cannot believe how time is flying by. I can imagine that first experience being rather traumatic and that the doctor was trying to help but should not have offered opinion as you said and I too believe that on-demand is the way forward – well it was the only way we went about it so I don’t know anything different but you have to do what feels natural at the end of the day. With siblings being so different I do wonder what the next breast-feeding journey for me will be like and I love reading about yours

    Laura x
    Laura recently posted..Our Amsterdam Adventure Part 2

  • I’m surprised how many people all do the thing of making sure they get their babies used to being put down to make their lives easier. I couldn’t ever do it, in fact I didn’t EVER put Tiger down as I didn’t want to miss a single moment of cuddling a baby while I could but I do also feel like transferring him to a bouncer of cot might have been a good idea once he was asleep as I do think he got used to being in my warm arms and I could literally never put him down which wasn’t always fair on Cherry but I would do it exactly the same way next time! At the end of the day I would hate to look back and think I missed out of cuddles etc just to get my baby used to doing something they didn’t really want to do. I hate it when people / doctors give unasked for advice like that though! x

  • Beautiful post and makes far more sense than a lot of “parenting books” I have read. I love hold and cuddling my baby and I sense that she does too as she snuggles back 🙂 Best feeling in the world.
    Danni recently posted..DressingGate 2014

  • Beautiful post (and photos) and it really resonates. I got told so many times with Eliza to put her down, that I was making a rod for my own back, she needs to get used to other people etc etc. So glad we stuck to our guns and didn’t listen. Even with Flo someone told me recently that I held her too much – I do think it was said out of kindness to give me some extra time, but it doesn’t make any sense to me and we hold her as much as possible x

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