Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing. I can look back at the time after both my babies were born and rationalise my behaviour, or more like accept that my behaviour was irrational at times.
I can see that I was incredibly hard on myself. In fact I can see that every mother I know is incredibly hard on herself, especially in those early stages.
I felt in a bubble just after I’d had a baby and it could be a lonely one. Where you feel like you’re the only person that has sat staring in to the darkness weeping at 3am. The only person that lay in bed as the baby started crying again and thought ‘I don’t think I can get up’ for a couple of minutes before heaving your exhausted body out of bed. The only one that was mourning her old life while simultaneously telling everyone she was feeling the greatest love of her life, because you genuinely were but man alive it’s confusing. How can you feel like the best thing that’s ever happened to you is happening, while at times feeling so utterly shit?
I recently asked the question ‘What would you go back and tell yourself as a new mum?’ and had comments from hundreds of women. The comments fell in to four main themes.
Appearance: ‘It’s ok to go out with sick on you’ ‘don’t worry about being so chubby’.
I want to get this one out of the way as it’s ridiculous that it’s something a new mum should even think about. However, I can remember standing in front of the mirror wondering what had become of my former shape and feeling disheartened by the doughy one that was left behind. I was tired and I craved sugar. Sure enough, when I was less tired I could go a whole day without snaffling a pack – or tin – of custard creams. (Marks and Spencer did a custard cream-shaped biscuit tin full of custard creams. This was my ‘snack’ of choice after both babies). Nutritionally it’s probably not the best energy boost, but dammit if there’s one time when you should be able to enjoy some guilt-free cake, it’s when you’ve just had a baby. At some point you can emerge butterfly-like, shed the maternity leggings and stop getting to 5pm before realising you haven’t cleaned your teeth. But you don’t need to do all that with a small baby and, contrary to what you might see in the media, most women don’t.
Speak to someone, ask for help: ‘You don’t have to do it alone’ ‘you can say ‘bring food’ – people like to feel helpful’
This whole blog came about because I found it made a huge difference when people told me how they honestly found motherhood. If I started up with ‘I have no idea what I’m doing and I keep crying’ (I am a RIOT when I’ve just had a baby) people would most often join in. If they told me they were loving every minute, we were never going to be lifelong friends. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy many moments, and believe me when I say that my family is the best thing that ever happened to me. But I do remember how I felt at the beginning and often it was lonely, painfully tired and unsure of myself and what I was doing. I needed reassurance that was normal. It is.
This too shall pass: ‘you’ll win some days and be crying on others but neither day is a second longer than 24 hours’
This bit is tough. It’s all new – if it’s your first it’s completely unknown, if it’s not you have an expectation it’ll be easier but you’ve never done this before with a baby and a child (or children) in tow and it’s going to be different with each new addition. I’ve written about the fog I felt after my babies and I promise it does lift. One day you’ll wake up and find that everything has got just a bit easier. Hell, I’ve started a business based on my experience of early motherhood so I don’t think I need to stress the fact I found it quite hard. Realising the majority of other women do too made me feel a whole lot lighter.
You are enough: ‘You will find your own way’ ‘Stop googling’ ‘No one else knows what they’re doing any more than you’
This is the biggie. When we’re doing something we’ve not done before and on little sleep and a bonkers-load of hormones, we might question every single thing we do. That responsibility for a HUMAN BEING is massive. As a result, I felt very anxious. Doug found me weeping on the stairs once; between sniffs he managed to get out of me that it was because Buster had gone down really well for a nap, just lying still and blinking at me before falling asleep. ‘Why is that making you anxious?’ asked Doug. ‘Because…’ snots ‘..because…what if he’s like the kid in the Barnados ad?’. I was worried that my son, all swaddled in his basket about to fall asleep, was like the neglected child in the advert with the voiceover ‘Billy doesn’t cry anymore because he knows no one will come for him’. The extent to which I questioned myself was overwhelming. And, now I can see, a little daft.
The things that women would go back and tell themselves made my heart sing because most were passionate pleas of kindness to ourselves. No one offered advice about routines or dummies or boob vs bottle. All those things that are so massive when you’re in that phase become much less significant when you’re out of it, and you know that you worked all that stuff out. We also know we unnecessarily tortured ourselves about our choices. The comments all suggested our sanity and happiness should take more of a priority; slow down, take the pressure off yourself, learn to say no and ‘go dark’ when you need to.
Putting ourselves first at times is something mums, especially new mums, are pretty terrible at. These ladies were all saying if you’re able to look after and have confidence in yourself, everything will flow from that. They can’t all be wrong.
And they’re definitely right about one thing: you are so enough.
Another comment I want to include is ‘It’s not normal to feel the way you do – go and speak to your GP’. If you’re worried about how you’re feeling, there are people to talk to and there is help available.
We’ve been nominated for Closer Magazine’s Mum Blogger of the Year award – if you like what you’ve read you can vote for us (v easily and quickly – here by clicking on Sisterhood and all that. Thanks!