Pre-motherhood it was easy to make confident decisions, to plan what, as a parent, I would and would not do. Now, as I enter the final furlong of my first year as a mother, I have adapted to my ‘new normal’ and many of my old certainties just make me laugh. Here are a few things I have realised over the last all-consuming, confusing, sometimes painful but ultimately joyous nine months.
The things I swore I’d never do versus what actually happened:
I was not going to shout at my husband. It’s a clichéd trap that I was not going to fall into. We have a great marriage, right? Of course we would carry this into parenthood and always ‘be on the same page’…
Hahahahahahahahaha. Whilst I pick myself up from the floor laughing, read on. The first disagreement we had was in the hospital over whether to give our baby girl formula as my milk was delayed in coming in due to a rather interesting labour. My husband had been NCT’d (that’s a whole other blog) and felt that administering Aptamil was tantamount to poisoning her. I, on the other hand, whilst remaining determined to breastfeed, had survived being bottle-fed as a child and just wanted to get some fluid into our girl.
And so it began. Over the next few months we disagreed over many, many things – driven, in the main, by sheer eyeball-weeping tiredness, but also by fear. Fear that our smallest parenting choices would somehow harm this sacred thing we’d been allowed to carry home. Our disagreements usually played out in hushed passive-aggressive hissing over the sleeping infant and in my sleep-deprived, cranky, sore and hormonal state, I thought only I had the capacity to understand and soothe my child. If I found that circling the crib three times, throwing salt over my shoulder and chanting got our girl to sleep then why the hell couldn’t he do it too? Although I have found that a mother’s instinct is to be trusted, my “it’s me or no one” mentality was clearly insane (but I regret to say that sometimes it reappears).
If I had this time again, I would try to listen to my husband more, to let him do more and to not try and conquer this thing alone as he too needed time to evolve his unique and special role in our daughter’s world.
I was not going to give my child a dummy. Why would I need one? Surely they are for mothers who don’t understand their children? Or worse still…are lazy?
Hahahahaha… Sorry, I will stop this. Newborns like to suck and, contrary to popular belief, they aren’t always hungry. After a few weeks, following a suggestion from my Health Visitor, I tried giving E. a dummy. It immediately soothed my crying bundle and gave me (or rather my nipples) much-needed time away from breastfeeding and even the chance to have the odd shower. Dummies may also have a further positive – scientific research suggests that babies who go to sleep with one are potentially less likely to suffer from SIDS. Certainly that made me feel better about my decision, but to use one obviously has to be your own parenting decision. The dummy disappeared from our lives as quickly as it appeared – I realised around four months that it had become a sleep aid so went cold turkey and hey presto, a better sleeping baby! But I’d like to thank the dummy fairy in any case for preventing early insanity. Mothers who don’t resort to one or have babies that don’t need one – I salute you.
I was not going to buy loud, obnoxious, plastic toys. My child would have traditional, educational wooden toys and learn from me and from nature…
I was told by other mum friends I should get a specific all-singing, all-dancing bouncer. I turned my nose up at these helpful people and bought instead a sleek Scandinavian-designed bouncer with a traditional wooden toy bar. My little girl would go to sleep in it if she was tired, but would start to shout quite quickly if not ready for sleepy time. At dinner one night at a fellow new mum’s house, she went into another early-stage inexplicable meltdown and other mum offered her son’s shiny plastic bouncing chair. Little E. was mesmerised and remained so for most of the evening. Suffice to say, Amazon received a ‘buy with one click’ visit that very evening and I’ve subsequently turned my nose back to its usual position on this one.
I was not going to let my personal appearance and standards drop. I remember visiting a new mum just before teatime one day only to find her un-showered and still in her PJs. This was not going to happen to me.
I think I managed to shower and dress most days. But make-up, deodorant and hair-brushing became unfamiliar in the first few months. On one memorable occasion, I managed one eye of make-up but completely forgot the other only to discover this in a mirror a few hours later in a coffee shop loo. I also frequently wore PJ bottoms as legitimate day clothing and continued to wear posset covered tops out after only ‘showing it’ the muslin. I’m better now but things like this don’t matter so much anymore anyway…
Not so much something I swore I’d never do, but rather something I thought I didn’t need…new mum friends. Why would I need new friends? I have friends, most of whom have children and some live near me.
I remember asking a friend with children whether it was worth attending the paid-for parenting classes recommended to all new parents, to which she replied: “not for the information but you need to buy friends”. How right she was. These women were going through exactly the same thing as me, at exactly the same time. I found I could be more honest with them than with some of my closest friends and have formed new and valuable friendships.
Over the last few months I have learned a lot, but there are many things that I now know and do that I wish I had learned much earlier. In no particular order:
As long as my baby is fed, clean and cuddled I am doing a great job. In the early weeks I strived for what I saw as perfection and constantly found myself wanting. I do what feels right for me and my baby but am willing to adapt – I no longer put unnecessary expectations on myself.
I wish I had been kinder to myself just after E. was born – I had just done a monumental thing and had earned the right to eat chocolate and wallow for a while without feeling guilty.
It took some time but physically I do now feel like “me” again. At times, I never thought I would.
Bad times happen but they also pass – the baby will sleep and the phase will end.
Sometimes I felt alone, helpless and confused – sometimes I still do. I don’t know any new parent that hasn’t despite what front they may present. It helped enormously to share my fears.
It’s okay to cry – either through hormones, tiredness, frustration or joy. I let them come, they are cathartic.
I trust my instincts more – friends, midwives and well-meaning women from an older generation will give advice, but they are not bringing up my baby.
I should accept help when it is offered. There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. I thought that accepting help meant that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. With the power of hindsight I can now see that was really silly.
The intensity of love I feel for my child constantly surprises me and the mild-mannered and polite former me will quickly become a tiger to protect her.
It is perfectly acceptable to say no to visitors. I found there were two types – the ones who popped over unannounced to see baby and who sat and expected to be fed tea and cake whilst prodding my sleeping bundle in the hope she would perform like the proverbial monkey. I wish I had found a nice way to put them off, but I didn’t and sat with clenched teeth through many a well-intentioned visit, wishing they would leave us to sleep, panic or just stare into space. The second type of visitor were the ones who checked in advance, brought their own cake and did the dishes or a pile of laundry. They were always welcome.
I need lots of hand cream – I wash my hands so many times I frequently end up looking like the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.
From even a few weeks in I encountered competitive parents. I have learnt to ignore them or better still, bin them. My child will develop at her own pace.
I find that I have hidden vats of energy and patience (although not with my husband) after days of little sleep.
I have experienced every type of emotion possible – sometimes within the space of an hour.
I really should sleep when baby sleeps – sod the hoovering and there really is no need ever to iron anything.
Buying stuff for my baby – even muslins and changing mats – is actually more fun than buying things for myself. Who knew?
All in all, my experience of motherhood so far is that it is one of the hardest, most demanding and least recognised jobs there is, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The only problem is, just when I think I’ve cracked it, something changes and I feel hopelessly confused and lost again. Anyone fancy writing me a guide to the next 18 years?
Guest blogger: Nicky
Currently taking time off from her career in Broadcast Media having had her first baby . Loves her friends, good food, cuddling her cat and annoying her husband.