You never forget the first time. Well, it takes you so long to work up the courage to do it at all. And then you wonder whether you’ll enjoy it or regret it afterwards. I’m talking, of course, about the sweet sorrow of parting. Leaving your baby for the first time…in the care of someone other than yourself.
It doesn’t matter whether your first exeat is to the cinema or the supermarket or the hairdresser. First time, you’re going to spend the whole time convinced that a message of catastrophe is about to be flashed up on the screen (as it is for people who’ve parked in the projectionist’s space), or announced over the loudspeaker (like lost children and reduced bakery items) or that a masked motorbike messenger is going to roar along the row of hair dryers to bring you the bad news.
The cord may have been cut, but stronger ties are still pulsating
Whoever is looking after your preciousness — however caring or experienced or qualified — you do not trust them to care for yours as conscientiously as you would yourself. The cord may have been cut, but stronger ties are still pulsating. Leave your infant behind and you’ll feel the invisible heartstrings being tweaked across the miles.
It’s the guilt. The inescapable fear that Something Will Happen, followed by How Can I Enjoy Myself In Case Something Happens. Just at the moment when I’m laughing at this funny bit in the film, the house is burning down. Just as I’m having seconds of plum crumble the baby is being Taken Into Care.
After birth, it is suggested that there are certain things you do not attempt until after you’ve had your six-week postnatal check and have been passed clear to proceed. Such activities as sex, aerobics, house-painting. I doubt that you would want to resume sex or serious exercise or DIY before six weeks, anyway. Going out with your partner and without your baby is not one of those forbidden things.
If you don’t do it almost straightaway, you lose the hang of it
In fact I would say that you must do it before six weeks. At one fine maternity hospital in West London, the nurses used to give each new mother a gift — a night out with the baby’s father. They’d mind the baby in hospital while the new parents went out for a twosome spaghetti — possibly the last for many months.
If you don’t do it almost straightaway, you lose the hang of it. I expect you’ve heard the tale of the lady who had gone so long without a grown-up outing that when she did get invited to dinner, she leant across to her husband’s boss’s plate and cut up his meat into tiny, boy-sized bites …
Yes, there are problems. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll have expressed a feed the day before, over-stimulated your milk supply, then missed a feed — and you’ll be sitting in the cinema bursting your blouse and fit to bust. When you get home, desperate to nurse your baby, she’ll be fast asleep.
And bottle-feeding. Of course, you will have prepared the feeds to be given in your absence, but you can still torment yourself worrying whether the minder will warm them up sufficiently, or scald the baby’s mouth, or don’t even think about it. That way lies madness.
If you can settle or sedate the child yourself before you leave
Suppose you’ve made the decision: you will go out. Next problem — how do you get out of the house? If you can settle or sedate the child yourself before you leave, all well and good. But the timing may not be right; you really cannot put them into bed at 4.30 pm and lie about the time. Best, I’ve found, is to let them know you’re going out, and permit an after-we’ve-gone treat. Kerry will read you a last story; you can all share that bowl of grapes; (and when they’re older) you may watch the Murder Mystery and Suspense’ thriller but only if it doesn’t frighten Kerry.
As you go through the front door, you must hold on to the thought: The wails will stop when we have driven round the corner. If you don’t believe this at first, drive round the block. Your house will be silent. The tearful leave-taking performance is mere politeness, exhibited by younger children to allow you to think they will miss you. They soon abandon the pretence and cannot wait to get shot of you. Then it’s time to mark the gin bottle, padlock the telephone and forbid visiting by more than four friends at once.
They get drunk because they’re out of practice
If you’re still psyching yourself up to go out and leave your baby at all, perhaps this seems rather far in the future. But, you’ll soon be joining those advanced mothers who have a social life, who do go out to dinner parties.
Of course, they arrive late because they’ve spent so long briefing the baby-sitter and debriefing the kids. They get drunk because they’re out of practice, fall asleep because they’re rarely up after the News, and phone home between courses. Most of their conversation consists of recounting the amusing things their children have done or, worse, said.
It does improve with practice. If you start with a modest outing to a nearby pub, you can work your way up to a full-blown dinner party. But I have to warn you, your mind will occasionally slip back to a vision of sleeping children (yes, you know they’re asleep really). Hair splashed out on warm pillows; fingers spread like starfish; even, innocent, peaceful breathing. And you’ll still miss them.
You see, partying is such sweet sorrow.