Before I had my first child, I was blissfully unaware of what life with a baby had in store for me. I had a vague idea of how it would go, though, and I think in retrospect that I was mostly getting my information from Eastenders. On Eastenders, and I'm guessing other soaps too, things are pretty straightforward. You have the baby, and this appears to be the difficult bit. There is a lot of panic, it happens so fast that you are often 'caught short' and have to give birth in a public setting, and you sweat profusely.
Once this is over, your life returns to normal within moments. You can immediately pop on all your old clothes as your figure has sprung back to a taut size ten. And you will have plenty of time to groom yourself and pick out nice outfits while your baby sleeps soundly in his cot. In fact, you can do pretty much anything you like with all the free time that you have now that you are no longer working, as your baby will be asleep, either in his pram or his cot, for several years.
Imagine my shock when the baby I gave birth to (and incidentally, I did not sweat at all, let alone profusely, and would be keen to hear from anyone that did), this tiny little person, turned out to be so very different from the babies in the Square. From the very beginning, a real baby makes it's presence known in your life in an alarming and vivid way. You cannot take your eyes off them, and you do not wish to. Instead of getting back on with your life, you find that the world as you knew it has melted away overnight, and a whole new life has started, in which you feel lost, unskilled, amazed, exhausted and inspired. Sometimes I hear the expression, 'They just have to fit in', but I have never found this to be the case, nor have I wanted it to be. Pretending that you can have your old life back with the help of a breast pump and a babysitter is fool's gold; everything has changed, nothing is ever going to be the same, get over it.
And as for sleep, well, you have to laugh, if you have the energy. Unlike the wonderful soap babies, real babies seem to have other ideas. I was under the illusion that they might keep you awake a bit for the first few weeks, but that things would 'settle down' after that, into a 'nice routine'. Oh how wrong I was. I haven't had an unbroken night's sleep for over three years now, and there are no signs of let up. If I have a three hour stretch I feel I have been blessed. A four hour stretch is the equivalent of a Spa Weekend, in old money.
My favourite Eastenders parenting moment of all time was when the blonde one who was married to Max, the ginger one, got a touch fed up with his philandering ways, and set off into the night to the woods (you know, those woods just down the road from Walford), and buried him alive in a coffin. She left her baby and a few other children at home while she did this, but don't worry, they were all sleeping soundly. When she got back, she felt a bit guilty about poor old Max, stuck underground in that very deep hole she had just single handedly dug. So she jumped in the car, and popped back to the woods, and dug him back up again. And all this time, her baby stayed asleep. And I'm watching it thinking, I must be doing something wrong here, because my baby wakes up before I get half way through loading the dishwasher. Bloody over-achiever.
Yes, I have been seriously misled by Eastenders. I wonder whether I mightn't write a stern letter to the BBC, or even launch a campaign via mumsnet. I'll just wait until my baby is sleeping soundly in her cot, and then I'll get straight on to it.