If a friend has previously holidayed somewhere you’ve booked to go to, you’d fully expect them to give you their thoughts on how to make the best of it – places to go, where to eat and what to avoid.
If they’d worked somewhere that recently hired you, you’d get the lowdown on the place and the people – probably the who to avoid. Basically, if someone has experienced something you’re about to go through, it can be useful to hear their thoughts on it and possibly take some learnings from how they found it. You definitely wouldn’t expect them to say an experience was wonderful if in reality they found it pretty grim at times.
After I had my first baby, there was a distinct feeling of ‘Hang about – a lot of the women I know have done this, and NOONE told me how hard it was’. With hindsight, I was too busy in my pre-baby world to hear it. Frankly, the physical joys of pregnancy are enough to take in (the leaking, constipation, sleeplessness, weird skin, the waddle, swollen all sorts… Hell – my moles even got bigger) and we don’t tend to think much beyond the birth. But I think it’s safe to say that once the baby arrives we all feel at least a teensy bit surprised by the severity of emotions and at times it feels unbearably tough. Everyone’s experience is of course unique, but there are definitely some recurring themes that all the women I know have felt in the early days, whether they want to talk openly about it or not. This isn’t baby advice – I’ve said before that I’m no expert, and there’s so much out there it can be overwhelming. I suppose I’m talking more about self-preservation for new mothers. I had some messages and sensible words from friends and family that picked me up when I was in those first weeks of anxiety. Some surprised me – when a best friend reassured me that she’d found breastfeeding hard, I felt better, and wondered how I had no idea that she’d had any problems. I wasn’t ‘tuned in’ to it I guess.
When a friend had her first baby just as I was coming out of the fog with my second, I felt it was my duty to do as other kind ladies had done for me and let her know that if she was feeling less than fantastic, it was ok.
It might read like I’m a little bossy. Truth be told I can be, but I also know that new mums need telling sometimes – I remember my mother doing it with me when I rang her wailing about how tired I was after trekking around a park all morning. She told me I didn’t have to be out and about, and that it was ok to have days with no plans. I’m grateful she did. And man, I wish I’d spent more time lying about after my first as it’s not something you can do when the second comes along – toddlers tend to only enjoy sitting on the sofa with biscuits for a short while.
We put a huge pressure on ourselves because of what we think we’re supposed to feel and do. ‘But look at Gisele! She was back on the runway within weeks, breastfeeding whilst being prepped to earn a fortune and looking fresh-faced, and I can’t get out of my pyjamas…?’. Although most of us can tell the difference between Celebdom and the real world, if no one has been really honest with you about how they found it, you could be forgiven for thinking more of us are catwalk-ready after a few weeks. Plus, you know, when you’re sleep-deprived you can’t always see the wood for the trees.
One of the reasons I started this blog was because I found the honesty from some of those who had gone before me reassuring – and was astounded by how many people said it was all dandy only to reveal months later they’d been in a terrible state. So I sent this email to my friend – I’ve toned down the language as she and I are both potty-mouths, but otherwise it’s pretty much as it was sent. It also turns out I’ve been droning on about the sisterhood for a while as this was written before I started this blog. She has since said the email ‘pretty much saved my life’ and that she used to refer back to it when she was struggling. This may be an exaggeration on her part, but if someone has just had a baby and is sitting in the dark at 3am having a cry and thinking that everyone else found it a breeze, this might help:
Hello gorgeous girl,
Firstly, DO NOT worry about replying to this. All the texts/emails/messages/FB posts are a bit overwhelming, especially if you feel you have to respond. It used to stress me out a lot, so just know I won’t be offended if you don’t respond, and nor will anyone else. I just wanted to say I am still thinking of you and hope the first couple of nights went ok. I don’t profess to be an expert by any stretch, but I have done this shit twice in quick succession, and for me there are a few things that I know myself and all my friends that have had kids have found tough/learnt pretty quickly, and the sisterhood has never been more important than when you’ve had babies. I remember getting a couple of texts when I was sitting in hospital in absolute shock (Buster was born at 36 weeks so think you pipped me!) and I had no idea what was going on/what I was supposed to do and Buster wouldn’t feed. I had to hand express for a week before he eventually latched on – who knew it was so hard? Those NCT videos show the kid frickin’ crawling up the mother’s belly FFS. LIARS. But it just takes a bit of time for you both to learn what to do and then you’ll be flopping them out all over the shop. I reckon it took me 6 weeks with Buster to be passed the sore phase and for my body to produce the right amount at the right times.
Anyways, I had a couple of texts from people saying ‘hang in there’ and ‘this is a bit shit but it’ll get better’ and it did make me feel better as until that point I’d for some reason not noticed the exhausted look in a new mum’s eyes as they say ‘being a mummy is wonderful’ (really? even the cracked nipples/leaking fanny/blancmange belly? Let’s not mention the childbirth bit – it does pretty much return to normal btw…) and clearly not heard them mention being a bit tired…And then you do it and you’ve never felt emotion like it – high or low. So anyway, this is what I wish I’d known, which really isn’t supposed to be patronising, but once I’d been through it, just seeing a new mum reduces me to tears as I can vividly remember being tired and confused and just wanting someone to tell me it’d all be ok. Which it was as I wouldn’t have done it again otherwise.
Pull the drawbridge up. This time is all about you and Pete*, especially whilst he is off work. If you have visitors, make sure they are ones that will bring food and leave after 30 minutes and try not to pack too many in to a day. I found I felt ok when people were there and I wanted to show off the baby, and then they’d leave and I’d sit on the stairs sobbing with exhaustion. It took us about 6 weeks to work that one out, so hopefully you’ll get there before your first couple of months are a blur of feeling you need to look presentable/hold it together and then screaming at Pete when they’ve left. Once we’d worked it out Doug became my ‘protector’, so he booted people out after 45 mins and kept visitors at bay generally in his own unique way (rudely – he wasn’t good at subtle). Protector and feeder. They were good times. I actually got fatter after having Buster as yammed so much food and needed cake for energy. NEEDED it. Which brings me to…
I wore maternity jeans or pyjamas for at least 6 weeks with Buster. I PROMISE your body will return. It’ll be a slightly different version, but seriously, you are young and fit and it’ll happen and for now it isn’t important. It is amazing how your tummy contracts and each day it goes down, so it will happen. And those people that mention they were in their pre-maternity jeans after 2 weeks? Dicks.
EAT AND REST – if you are breastfeeding, or if you’re not actually, you are going to need energy. I’ve watched a lot of friends struggle with the feeding and then say ‘oh, i haven’t eaten today’ – basically it’s fuel and you’re producing food to FEED another being, so it makes sense that you need to eat. It is amazing how much food and rest impact your milk. Again, this took me weeks of charging about and feeling knackered and wondering why the baby was crying with hunger and needing feeding all the time. I know everyone says ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ blah blah blah, but I actually did that with Mabel and it is rather nice having daytime naps and not divving about cleaning/catching up on emails etc. She’s 9 months and I still have them when Buster is in nursery – I love waking up all sweaty and a bit drool-y.
Just be kind to yourself. You have your man and you have your baby and everyone else can and will wait. This is a brand new thing you’ve never done so of course you can’t always know what to do, but having some peace and quiet and your man beside you is all you need and you’ll work all the rest out.
I PROMISE it all gets easier. And hey, it may be that you’re flying and not finding it hard at all and if so this email has nothing to do with underestimating you and everything to do with my own experience of finding this motherhood shit HARD. So sending so much love and sisterhood vibes your way darling girl. Anything I can help with, I’m only an email/phone call away.
Your Stephie xx
*Name has been changed to protect the sleep deprived.
Images: kristenbrockmeyer.blogspot.com; latino.foxnews.com