Motherhood: What I Wish I Had Known Before
During pregnancy I read parenting books and went to classes, but I wasn't overly worried and truly believed that when baby and I was there in the moment I would know what to do.
Baby came and there in the moment it felt like I had been hit by a whirlwind, then again by a tonne of bricks. I knew a lot less than I thought that I did, and a lot of what I did know was wrong. I had lots of ideals that I felt I would strongly hold to as a mother; rules that I would not break, come what may - in a week every one of my rules had been broken!
This is what I have learnt and what I wish I had known at the start.
Embrace the Chaos
'New born babies sleep most of the time, it won't be that bad.'
'Lets have a Lord of the Rings marathon while your on paternity'
How naïve and foolish I must have sounded the weeks leading up to the birth. Yes, babies sleep a lot, but for us at least, on an interment schedule and had a habit of waking up if we had decided to nap too.
Between the crazy sleep schedule, visitors, health appointments, laundry (lots of it) and feeding there was so little time for rest, never mind former luxuries such as food or showers. Our lifes had changed and we were trying to adapt while both physically and emotionally stretched to the max. I felt like we were doing it all wrong because we had fallen into chaos, until I spoke to other mums and realised that this was exactly how it was meant to be, and the mayhem was normal.
Its exhausting, messy and confusing but that's ok. A good friend told me any day that I was up, dressed and baby was fed I could count as a success. Sometimes I even managed to brush my hair and felt like an all out champion. The good news is it does get better so embrace the chaos and don't let it steal any of the fun from this precious time.
Balancing Parenthood and Marriage
If your husband should come first or your child should come first is a highly debated topic, which I think for us was obsolete. Together my partner and I were a team that put our child before us, as we were doing it together and with each others support neither of us felt neglected or like we had taken second place.
Baby Comes First and That's Alright
Being a mum is such an honour but also a huge responsibility. Its very easy to feel pulled in lots of directions balancing motherhood and all the demands of pre-mummy life. There are some mums who seem naturally apt at it...they run young families, work, maintain hobbies and active social life's, all while immaculately dressed, bushy tailed and bright eyed. I am not one of those women. One of the biggest lessons that I had to learn was to prioritise and it is something that I am still figuring out.
There were a handful of good friendships that I held onto and obviously relationships with relatives but there were things that I had to let go off. The people or activities that I kept in my life had to be baby friendly, though I was lucky to be surrounded by some of the loveliest baby friendly people going.
There will be a time soon enough when my boy wants to play without mummy and is too big for cuddles for me to get my own stuff done but for now he changes every day and in the words of Aerosmith 'I don't want to miss a thing'.
There isn't Always a Right Answer
Now I am not of the school of cultural relativism and very much believe that truth is absolute, but with babies I think there is an exception. I found out very quickly that on most baby related topics there were a range of different opinions and if you asked 2 people you would never get the same answer. Each person I spoke to would be more adamant than the last that there's was the right way and even midwives differed in what they told you.
Every baby is so different and each family unique. What is right for one person may not be for the next. There is no science to parenting and each opinion is just some ones own best speculation from personal experience. For me the best method was trial and error in all things. I collected as much advice as I could, listened to the reasons behind them and then did what made sense.
It is worth noting that advice has changed a lot since our parents and in laws were raising us; Some of the new advice makes a lot of sense and is based on lots of science and research while a lot is idealistic and just didn't work for me. Having a different opinion is not disrepectful and when it comes to the crunch its important to do what you feel is best for your child.
Don't Worry What People Think
As we just discussed, opinion on parenting varies greatly. What ever you do there will be someone who thinks that you are doing it wrong (and often they will not be afraid to tell you so). Parenting is a personal thing and something that you are putting all your energy into so it is hard to take criticism but it will come and all you can do is learn to not let it upset you.
There are so many other more important things to give time and energy too, rather than how people view you. It is easy to get caught up with what kind of mother people think that you are, but its better to focus on the kind of mother you are actually being. When it comes down to it you can't control how other people think and its not worth exhausting yourself trying. Often you will find that the people who truly love you will respect your choices.
I have spoken to a lot of mums and there is a general consensus that this is just difficult.
At the beginning there is often a lot of cluster feeding and baby falling asleep on the breast. It feels non stop. I learnt later on that this was a normal albeit frsutrating part of how it works. Milk is made on a supply and demand basis so the more the baby feeds the more milk comes in and as long as you are feeding as baby leads it should settle down between growth spurts.
I think if there is anything I could go back in time and tell myself it would be to use Medela Nipple Shields. I discovered these when I was 4 weeks in and so sore I didn't think I could go on. They took away a lot of the pain and also helped baby to learn to open his mouth wider. I cannot comment on other brands but Medela are designed to still stimulate milk supply and for us they improved the latch greatly.
I could go on for pages about the science of feeding and all the trouble shooting we went through but the last notable thing I shall mention is positioning. When we went to the classes there were 2 positions that they taught us but neither worked for us. I contorted myself in strange ways to try to do one of them and the other didn't work because my little one was too tall. Each baby and each mummy's body is different and its important to find a position that is comfortable for both of you and where the babies mouth is opposite the nipple.
Don't be too Proud to Ask for Help
A few generations back new parents would probably still live in the same town as their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They would be surrounded by help and advice. It is very different now, we live much more independent lifes now but if there is ever a time to break that trend its when you first start parenting.
Although, as we said before, you should follow your gut and other peoples opionion is not gospel, having extra ideas of things to try is priceless. When you are both tired and a tad emotional it is very difficuly to be objective with problems so a fresh and rational perspective should never be underestimated. I held out a few weeks till I called in backup, in the form of my mum (superhero in disguise) but I wish I had earlier because it made such a big difference.
My favourite author and my babies namesake wrote “Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy.” These words are so true to me and why I believe whole heartedly in surrounding yourself with good friends and family throughout the journey.
The Basic Checklist
There is something about the immenence of a babies cry that makes it difficult to be objective. Despite how it feels babies usually cry for a reason, sometimes that reason is obvious and other times its hard to figure out. There are a few things that commonly cause tears which are a very useful mental checklist when you are trying to work out what might be causing upset. My check list was is follows:
- Hungry - When did I last feed? Is baby routing?
- Wet/ Dirty Nappy -This is one of the easiest ones to check
- Wind -Wind/ tummy pains usually cause sudden sharp cries, especially when you change babies position and also gassy babies will pull up their knees
- Too Warm or Cold
- Over Stimulated- Babies have short attention spans and often get overwhelmed when they are playing for too long but don't have the know how to stop, sometimes pulling them away from their toys and giving some cuddle time can help
- Under Stimulated
It is very cliché, but also true, that babies survived hundreds of years ago when they didn't have all the safety advise and gadgets that we have now.
Although being careful, diligent and doing your utmost best are all important, as long as you know that you are giving it your all, try not to worry too much about what you can't control.
It seems like a compulsion that most people have, from the very first day you announce little ones existence to rattle of horror story after horror story, I am sure that sometimes they make them up. Between all of the stories you hear and the way media works today, where when something bad does happen it is broadcast world wide, its natural that our minds wonder and we panic easily.
It's good to remember that 99.99999 times a rash is just a rash, a bump does no harm and any other quirks or abnormalities come and go. You can drive yourself crazy with the what if's. As a rule I check everything I am unsure of with a doctor to be safe but that's all you can do and so far nothing has turned out to be anything worry worthy. I always think that there are parents out there who don't care to put the effort in and most of their children come out alright so if you are one of the mums who really does care then chances are, although you may make a few mistakes along the way, you will do plenty fine.
It is really easy to overfill your days off with little one. Most days I would be out at least a little bit and then when I was home it was not much better because I could see all the house work that needed doing. It struck me recently, when I look back at this first year what will I think. I certainly don't think that I will be wishing the house was neater and the laundry pile smaller or that I had gone to more coffee shops. I will wish I had spend more time cuddling, playing and enjoying every second with my beautiful and ever growing baby. Obviously you can't lock yourself away for the whole year, and a little socialising is good for little one too, as is a hygenic and safe environment. For me its all about balance. I try to cut going out or entertaining to those good friends who I know I want in my babies life for the long run and I enjoy seeing and try to do house work as is necessary so that I can have a few minutes to breathe and make sure I don't miss the beauty of this amazing time.