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So the other night I was watching one of my all-time favourite television shows (Offspring – OMG I love it), when a character came into the hospital not long after giving birth and had a small breakdown because she thought she was failing as a mother. One reason was because her birth did not go to plan (she didn’t want any drugs but succumbed as it got very difficult and painful) and the second was because some people had told her that those first few weeks of motherhood are the “babymoon” and are supposed to be so perfect and blissful, but she didn’t feel her experience was matching up. Even though that was just a small part of the episode, it stuck with me. How many times do “all the people” tell you something is supposed to feel/be a certain way, only it isn’t and you start to think you’re the only one, questioning yourself? Asking if you’ve done something different or wrong?
As my Little Mister starts to close in on 7 months of age, I find myself thinking back to his early days (say the first 6 weeks). I remember him sleeping for 18 hours a day, just feeding and needing cuddles. Even now I look back at that time with rose-coloured glasses. I think, “Wow – all that time he was asleep! I could have gotten so much housework done! I had so much free time to watch TV, shower myself, have a nap, blog, go to the toilet. Why didn’t I appreciate that fully? Blah blah blah.”
Then I wake myself up with a firm (metaphorical) slap to the face (with a big, metaphorical cold fish). Wait a second, I tell myself, it wasn’t that easy at the time! I think back and remember not ever believing that those beautiful moments of sleep would last, rushing through my showers, my meals and anything else I had to do. I remember trying to heal from my C-section, having to move gingerly and be careful what I lifted or how I positioned myself when I sat down. My husband had to help with everything and I found that disempowering. It wasn’t his fault by any means – he was doing a great job. I just felt at odds with the role I was supposed to be relishing as a new full time mummy. I had to learn how to do heaps of things from my husband, when I’d always pictured myself figuring it out first. I remember finding everything so new and daunting. Everything from figuring out how much formula to feed the Little Mister (we had to measure top ups on top of breast milk as my supply was bad – we’d been separated in the first few days and I was stressed and on anti-biotics). Wondering if we were letting him sleep too long at a time or not (he is naturally a great sleeper but all of the damn books and some people acted like he was going to die or waste away if we didn’t wake him up every three hours in the night to feed). Trying to negotiate trips out of the house with him. How did I know if I’d packed too much or not enough? I learnt the hard way a couple of times. Could I make sure that everything revolved around feed times/nap times? Worrying about his sensitive, immature stomach when he was mildly colicky at bedtime. Creeping into bed at night, worried about waking him. Listening out ALL night to hear him breathing. Not knowing whether it was right to do this, or right to do that. Feeling lost when he would cry because it takes a little while to figure out a new language – baby language. It was a while before I figured out what a hungry cry, anxious cry, pained cry were like (sometimes they can be remarkably similar). When his sleep started to decrease a bit, I took a while to figure out how long babies are usually happy to be awake for before they’ll show tired signs and need a nap. Once I mastered that (and a host of other baby quirks), I started to settle into my role as mummy.
Yes, the first few weeks are AMAZING. You want to watch your beautiful baby sleep all the time. You realise in the middle of the night that you still love them (even though you once wondered if it was possible to love ANYONE at 4am – sober). You feel all the love of your family and friends as they gather round, sending gifts, sharing cuddles and giving compliments. If your partner has parental leave or has taken leave for those first few weeks, it can be a godsend as you rest and you’re not expected to get anything done but heal your own body and nurture your baby.
Sleep deprivation can be a nightmare. I’m not gonna lie. And for some babies (who perhaps start off as awesome sleepers), it actually gets worse when they’re older as teething, separation anxiety and the power of movement arrive. Told you I’m not going to lie. However, if you call on your support networks: people who can babysit a couple of hours in the day between feeds so you can sleep, your partner, someone who might even help you cook or clean so there’s less to worry about, you’ll start to adjust. Just don’t feel like you should be a super human. It’s taken me the good part of 6 months to realise that I don’t have to be an all entertaining, all new, all fresh human experience for the Little Mister ALL the time. We can have quiet days in and we can get out and about a bit too – he’s going to be fine if some days I’m not feeling well or need to rest. Babies are working hard all day and all night as they develop, so the occasional “boring” day in probably isn’t as boring for them as we think! Gotta stay human/sane and look after mum so she can look after bub. Overworked zombies are not the best caregivers, apparently 🙂
It’s scary and it’s hard in those early weeks. In the more challenging times I would just pray for the Little Mister to learn how to smile. I would find myself just thinking wistfully, when he can smile perhaps I will feel better about it all. Perhaps the smiles will make each day a little easier. It was difficult when the only way he knew how to communicate was by crying or behaving grumpily. I was just hanging out for that smile. For those new ways to communicate.
They do come. And it is as lovely as they tell you it will be. Although new challenges pop up all the time, you start to know your baby well. You become really in tune with their quirks and their ways of communicating. You learn what time of day doesn’t go well with them. You learn the places/sounds/activities they like and don’t like. You learn the best times to take them out and when it’s time for them to stay in and spend time snuggling or catching up on rest in a comfy, familiar place.You find your own rhythm. Hopefully you get to know other mothers with similarly aged children – my hospital set up a mother’s group and we still meet and we share SO MANY IDEAS/CONCERNS/LEARNINGS/ADVICE on our Facebook page it’s not funny! I thought that stuff wouldn’t suit me (worried I’d be bunched with people I have nothing in common with other than motherhood, or that it could get bitchy or pressured), but it’s been fantastic. I know that if we get out of the house to meet, we all understand the logistics of just leaving the house and negotiating feeds and naps. I also know that we are all learning together and it’s great to know you’re not alone and share resources.
So if an expectant mum asked me what it’s like, I would tell her all of the above. It’s the most special time for sure, but it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It’s hard work, sleeplessness and constant confusion/overthinking/worrying (and kind of will be for a long time). However, if you surrender yourself to it all and embrace it, you will know that your HUGE love will conquer all in the end. I always tell myself, I grew up and don’t have to sleep with my arms swaddled. I can go to sleep all by myself at night without a dummy or someone cuddling me. I can walk around properly and talk and feed myself (and boy do I feed myself – oops). My Little Mister will grow up fine if I just relax a bit and do my best. The challenging times aren’t FOREVER 🙂
Don’t listen to those weirdos who have forgotten the hard parts when they look back on those early days of parenthood. They’ll either tell you it’s all hell on Earth or that it’s all perfect and easy. There is a fantastic happy medium if you let yourself find it.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and I refuse to let myself glorify those times when the present day gets tough. They were real, they were amazing and they were terrifyingly, terrifically overwhelming. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Was your reality different? Please share x