The ugliest infant you ever did see

The first three months of a newborn baby’s life are known as the ‘fourth trimester’.  The idea is that the baby is not yet really ready to be born; he or she is delivered early because of the disproportionate size of the human head, which would mean that delivery was impossible if the baby stayed in for any longer.

The practical result of this is that newborn babies are incredibly needy.  Their vision is myopic, their limbs are weak and shaky, and they require intensive, round the clock care.

It is completely overwhelming, as a parent.  You think you’re prepared for the work involved, but you never are, because it’s so much more work than it seems like it conceivably could be.  Newborn babies don’t have a bedtime; you spend all evening in the same grind as the day.  They don’t have a sense of self; if you leave them alone for a moment, they cry.

And something happens to you, mired in the mud of hormones and fatigue; you lose your perspective.  It seems like it is going to go on forever.  You know, logically, that you won’t spend the rest of your life burping and cleaning and feeding and wiping and rocking, but it seems like it.    And you start to think that maybe you should be doing something else with your days, because surely this can’t be it, and should you be achieving more?  It’s only afterwards that you realise that you were doing just what you needed to: surrendering yourself to this tiny baby and its incessant need.  It wasn’t for long, in retrospect.

Of course, this is a metaphor for sobriety, that ugly, squawking, greedy infant.  In those early weeks, it swallows up your life, and you have to find a new way to do everything.  Your social life is abruptly curtailed, because it was based around alcohol and evenings out.  Your relationships are strained.  You are so, so tired.  The fatigue weights you down and no matter how much sleep you get – in the first days you get very little, as your body adjusts to falling asleep without your soporific of choice – you wake up exhausted.  And you protest against it, because if this is your new life, you want the old one back, and quickly.


But it’s not.  It’s just a transition period.  Give in to it.  Yield.  It will pass.

Why was I thinking about this now?  Because I was lying in bed the other day, having trouble getting to sleep, and feeling all sorts of cross about the fact that I can’t drink.  I thought this bit had passed, I grumbled to myself.  I have done the hard bit, and here at nine months things should be easier.  Damn it all, it isn’t fair, I thought to myself.

And then I remembered that I have felt like this before.  With my babies.  Other mothers reading will recognise this: the dreaded nine month sleep regression.

For the uninitiated, the nine month sleep regression – which occurs anywhere between 8 and 11 months old, broadly speaking – is what happens when your darling infant decides that she is going to learn to crawl, attempt to stand up, and usually sprout a few teeth into the bargain.   Quite understandably, these enterprises take a lot of energy (a lot of babies lose weight at this age) and also require a lot of practice.  Which means that sleeping goes out of the window, and any incremental gains you have made towards becoming a semi-functional human being once more are comprehensively lost.


It’s not as bad as the infant phase, in a lot of ways.  But it feels worse, because it feels like you’re right back where you started, and you just can’t go through that again, not yet.

My sobriety is nine months old.  It is learning to crawl.  It is pulling up on objects.  It is starting to want things beyond its grasp, things that aren’t as simple as its mere continued existence.  It is ambitious, and determined.

Both of my children were awful sleepers in that first year.  And both of them are growing up to be incredible people.  When I complained about the colic and the sleeplessness, the strong wills and stubbornness, people said ‘just you wait.  Those characteristics are going to make for great, strong young women one day’.  When I was walking the corridors at night holding a wailing, furious baby, that seemed like scant consolation.

My youngest daughter is about to turn three.  She speaks in full, complex, clear sentences, and interacts with her peers, and has ambitions and dreams about what she wants to be when she grows up.  She picks out her own clothes in the morning and pours her own breakfast at the table.  She is kind and loving, even as she fiercely guards her independence and possessions from well-meaning intervention.  My eldest breaks my heart with her beauty and grace, and her teachers stop me in the corridors to tell me what a pleasure she is to teach.

Some days, the best parent is the one who gets out of the way, stops trying to control things, and has faith that their children will grow and thrive under the sunshine of loving kindness.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is to surrender to the hard bits and have faith that they will pass.

running happy

I got my sobriety through its newborn phase, and now I have to live through a regression, and as long as I don’t get in its way, it will grow and thrive just like my daughters.  Even if it does throw the odd toddler tantrum along the way.


10 thoughts on “The ugliest infant you ever did see

  1. beautiful and oh so true.
    I have often heard in meeting that the 9 month chip is one of the hardest to get…things get a little crazy around then.

    hang in…that baby is gonna be so beautiful!

    • Yeah, it seems really common. I think there must be more to it than just ‘it’s been a while and people get complacent’ which is the only explanation I’ve been given, because the time frame is so consistent. It’s one of the ways in which the blogging community has really helped me, because I know it’s a thing that happens and not just me/a sign that I will Never Be Free.

      • you know..
        for me i think it was a certain dread….almost like i had to recommit to the whole “sober thing” in earnest because I was so close to a year. And a year meant I could really do it, and it also meant , to me, that i really was an alcoholic. Because I actually said on MANY occasions in early sobriety that i was gonna do this thing for a year and if i could do it that meant i was ok and could drink. As the year approached my tune had changed, but i maybe did all the work (and i did AA and the steps) a little half-assedly and so it felt suddenly like i was on a slippery slope and had to either REALLY commit or, what? drink? by this time I knew i didn’t want that but in some ways it felt inevitable. And it scared me , a lot. it could have scared me into giving up, thankfully it didn’t. but it was uncomfortable. I do agree though that it’s a thing, and not just you. Which I imagine is at least some comfort. Hang in, hold on. It did pass and things just keep getting better…

  2. This is so great and a perfect analogy. It seemed at every challenging point I hit in motherhood – and this was both times, mind you – it never occurred to me that my own suffering was temporary and all about perspective anyway. It never occurred to me to surrender, and I wonder now how it would be to mother sober. And then I quickly shove that aside because, dear god, I am so glad those days are behind me! But on to the meat of your post, which was really about sobriety and how hard it is in the beginning. I do still remember and wholeheartedly agree, especially between the 6-9 month mark for me personally. And then it wasn’t easy and still isn’t exactly, but something shifted and the intense longing broke and was replaced by settling into my new life. It definitely took time and I am so very grateful I stuck with it. Lovely post and photo – thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Good analogy.
    I found my early sobriety went in a 3 month cycle… up , up, up then some crises and a crash and start again. But then as I grew to a “sober todler” it settled down the learning became less cyclical and more a gentle upward curve, yes I still get downs on that curve but not as violent or as startling as those early ones were.

    Keep walking the path does seem to get clearer

  4. Pingback: Coming Up On One | Shadow. Ash. Spirit. Flame.

  5. I feel like you just described my second child and you couldnt have done a better job it was sad a time for me because I could not soothe her if my life depended on it it turned my life upside down and hers too to this day our relationship I feel was impacted by those early months of the inconsolable bouts of crying and I did helped her. She eventually grew out of it but I believe it left us both with emotiona

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