Pulling up the drawbridge

One afternoon a few weeks after I had Buster, my first baby, I called my mum and cried the second I heard her voice. I wailed ‘I’m just so tiiiiiiiiiiired’.

It had all come as a bit of a shock you see – the lack of sleep, the aching body, the leaking and the wild hormones that made me angry at Doug for breathing incorrectly.

When I told her that I’d had a bad night but had got out to the shops and for a long walk, she said ‘Steph, you don’t need to do anything. Pull up the drawbridge’. I’d had lots of advice and information on pregnancy and birth, but no-one had said anything like this before that point.

My mum (Midwife, mum of six and therefore pretty experienced) was giving me permission to succumb to the tiredness and stay home. I slowed down a bit, but I didn’t really know what was ‘too much’. I didn’t want to let anyone down by cancelling plans if we’d had a bad night. I certainly didn’t recognise that my body had undergone a pretty major thing and needed some time and care. Anyway, by the looks of it, everyone else had their baby and resumed normal life ASAP.

When I had Mabel twenty-one months later, I sprang back in to action pretty quickly – I was a pro, right? On my request, we went out for lunch the day after coming out of hospital. I remember sweating, willing people to order more quickly, fearing she’d wake for a feed when we didn’t really know what we were doing yet and feeling relief when we got home.

How often do you hear ‘You wouldn’t believe she’s just had a baby’, ‘She’s incredible, I don’t know how she does it’? The Wonder Women. We celebrate women ‘bouncing back’ and, in all likelihood, running themselves ragged. When did it happen that being up and about as soon as possible after birth was something to aim for?

I’ve recently had my third baby, took Mum’s advice and pulled up the drawbridge. I spent the first week in bed and the second week on the sofa, as recommended by another midwife, Clemmie. We fended off all visitors except immediate family, and even then their visits were short – my parents were here when we got home from hospital as they’d been looking after the big kids. Mum greeted me with a tearful hug, she’d filled the fridge with meals and they headed back down the motorway forty-five minutes later. She remembers.

A lot of people don’t. Maybe it’s because our parents’ generation spent ten days in hospital after giving birth so the mother could rest and recuperate. TEN DAYS. So when they were home they were probably ready for visitors. Now you can be in for 6 hours and while you waddle and bleed, try to work out how to feed a baby and weep a bit as the hormones kick in, there are people sitting around drinking tea because they want to meet the baby practically as it’s coming out of you. A few weeks in and we’re gagging for company; we’re less leaky, our brains having kicked in enough to string a sentence together and the baby is a bit more predictable, and there’s no-one to be seen.

There’s no way the NHS can return to those glory days, but we can do so much to better look after ourselves and each other.

This time has been very different to my previous experiences of the first weeks after giving birth. You know how people say ‘enjoy this phase’ and you look at them through bloodshot eyes thinking ‘YOU WHAT?!’? By not feeling the need to do anything, it has been enjoyable. I’ve been allowed to fall in love with my baby and get used to being a family of five. Mentally and physically, I feel like I’ve looked after myself better than in years. It’s not about isolating yourself – on the days when I’ve got the energy, I get out and it feels glorious. But by avoiding making too many plans (and being ok with cancelling) I’ve avoided the anxiety I found those plans brought in the early weeks when I had Buster and Mabel.

#napssavelives

It is still a time of ups and downs; murderous thoughts about Doug in the night and sometimes I’ve woken up feeling overwhelmed before the day has even begun. Lack of sleep and wild hormones will do that to you. But I was more prepared for those inevitable moments because I wasn’t having to pretend to anyone it was ok. I wasn’t trying to manage an unpredictable colicky baby on someone else’s schedule of when they could visit. I’ve had time to nap and stare at my boy and focus on the adjustment for my whole little family. I wish it hadn’t taken three babies to get here.

When I posted on Instagram about the idea of pulling up the drawbridge, I was inundated with stories of regret from women that wished they’d taken it more slowly. Some were comical (lying on the kitchen table having stitches checked when male family members walked in), mother in laws turning up with a suitcase and no plans to leave. Women doing the school run the day after having a baby, a ‘big shop’ the day after coming out of hospital from a c-section (her husband found her crying in the frozen aisle). And actually, quite a few women who were readmitted to hospital bleeding or unwell. Not one looked back and wished she’d done more.

The thing is, we can do it – we can get straight back on the school run, we can be rustling up home-cooked treats, we can be ‘just putting that wash on’. Billions of women have done this before us, billions do it in much less favourable circumstances, our mothers did it without iPads. It’s no biggie. Becoming a mother doesn’t have to change anything, right?

Except so much has changed. Motherhood is MONUMENTAL. Slowly but surely it becomes a new normal and you get some of your old self back, but those first months are a foggy all-encompassing physical and mental takeover. Motherhood is the rest of your life, so allowing a few weeks to hole up and no expectations beyond recovery and adapting to your new set up is more than ok. The world can and will wait.

Recommended reading ‘The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother‘ by Heng Ou, based around the Chinese tradition of looking after mothers after birth.  

Door image Howard-SH Flickr 

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40 thoughts on “Pulling up the drawbridge

  1. Lucy At Home says:

    Yes! I am one of the many – I wish I had taken more care of myself. I was desperate to be out of hospital ASAP with my second (I had a horrible ordeal the first time around and I didn’t want to make that mistake again!) so I was 8 hours from delivery to walking through my front door… and I was readmitted 48 hours later because I had done too much. I am fed up of being bombarded by the supermum lie and everyone saying how amazing it is when people are up and doing things straight away, or they get their pre-baby body shape back within weeks. None of this is healthy and it’s time we stopped perpetuating the myths.

    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the BlogCrush Linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush

  2. Pingback: On slowing down - India Woof

  3. Lucy says:

    A friend sent the link to the above this morning. It made me cry. How true. I had an emergency C Sec with my first and tried to get back to business as usual the day after. I am now 38 weeks with second and have had a virus this week. Rather than enjoy some Mat Leave in bed whilst no 1 was at nursery I ran myself ragged with the ever elusive ‘one more job’. I caved in yesterday, spent the whole day in bed and am now typing this from the very same place. Why do we find it hard to be kind to ourselves? I’m determined to learn.

  4. Charlene Hawley says:

    This!!!!

    I fully intend on following this advice completely when our baby boy arrives in March, I have a 21 month old daughter also and I fully intend of making a baby & toddler bubble for the first week or two so we can all bond and get to know each other with minimal stress and interruptions.

    I’ve also told immediate family that if they’d like to visit after the first week then come bearing gifts of food or cleaning services

  5. Georgia says:

    Oh how I wish you had written this 3 years ago!!!
    On our first morning home with our first child my husbands aunt was banging the door at 10am whilst we were all still in bed asleep. We stupidly answered the door and then developed a calendar with time slots for people visiting 🙁
    Unfortunately on my second baba last June he had a planned stay in hospital so we didn’t get the chance to do this – he was in a separate Hosp to me so I didn’t get to rest either 🙁

  6. Joss Dickson says:

    I read this with tears in my eyes as it is so true!! I had twins and I raced around trying to do everything and be superwoman and show everyone that I could ‘handle’ everything. Looking back on that time makes me really sad as I didn’t stop. I didn’t take them in, I didn’t have those fall asleep momentarily on the couch because I was too busy showing I was in control.
    If any soon to be/new mums are reading this, it’s such brilliant advice and please, PLEASE take it as you never get those moments back. None of you will ever look back and say: I wish i’d Cooked more meals when I’d had a baby but you will look back and wish you’d spent more time at home with your baby taking it all in if you don’t x

  7. Sue Howes says:

    Steph, I wish I had read this when I had my baby nearly 27 years ago!! Of course, at that point I had no computer:) I was 37 when my darling one and only son was born. I was in total control of all areas of my life except this, and was plunged into despair as I couldn’t breast feed, I was exhausted, I had no idea how to control this 7lb bundle of joy. I am now a contented mother of a 26 year old wonderful son and Nana to a nearly 5 year old wonderful grandson- I am going to be Nana to a soon to arrive [ I am soooo excited] granddaughter. I will treat my darling daughter-in-law with even more respect and give her space, after reading your blog.

    I also love good gin btw:)

  8. Oonagh Davy says:

    A hint. I think good husbands , partners, In my experience are brilliant during pregnancy. But once we are home and dry (ish…) well (ish…) baby beautiful. There is a tendency to believe all is well and back to normal. I found that this period is far from normal. Hormones pay havoc , sleepless nights and the worries if you have other children if they are feeling neglected . I know one has to ‘man up’ but truly this is a very confusing time for many mothers.we (I did, with each of my 5 children) have spent our pregnancy protecting this little being.
    I had my children in the 80’s and was allowed recuperating time. I didn’t go out to work but did work hard at home bringing up my family.
    Mothers today have a rough deal, unless their husbands are in very good jobs. They work up until they are almost in the labour room. Battle with a series of hurdles, child care ( in London nearly £ 90. Per day ) rent astronomical. A night out, forget it, £ 50.before midnight , plus taxi fare.
    Summing up, when I querie my daughter on her life style, she replied, ‘mum, you encouraged or even bullied me a bit into taking my studies seriously, taking ‘A’ levels. Going to university.
    I have huge respect for young working mothers today. They deserve unobtrusive. care, support, space love and time to recuperate. Oonagh (72)

    • Steph says:

      Oonagh – YOU are bang on. Thank you for commenting and I think this is definitely a bug part of the problem – once we’re home it ‘looks’ like we’re back to normal. And actually it’s quite the opposite!

  9. Louise says:

    This blog post is SO true!!
    My little one is 6 weeks old now and those first few weeks were awful for me. Trying to recover from an emergency c-section whilst still trying to function ‘normally’. We had our little one on the 18th December. We were either out visiting family over Christmas and if they came to us, visitors definitely out-stayed their welcome by not going home!! Endless cups of tea later they all finally left. If you’re going to have visitors – get them to make their own cups of tea/coffee and lunch! The house was a mess and I felt pressure to keep it clean and tidy for visitors. From week 3 I was much better at cancelling visitors as I had just had enough. I was struggling with the lack of sleep and having to come to terms with my labour and delivery. My body is poles apart from it used to be and trying to look ‘nice’ for visitors whilst having nothing that fit got me really down and so upset. My partner recognised this and stopped people coming round during the week when he was at work and rearranged them for the weekend.
    I wish I had been kinder to myself – definitely staying in bed for the first week. I should not having been going up and down the stairs, getting in and out of the car etc.
    I think there should be more information on how important after care is – no one tells you! Magazines and filled with celebs who are ‘out and about’ one day later. It’s just so unrealistic – they probably have extra ‘help’.
    If we have a second child I will be definitely taking my own advice – staying in bed and recovering in my own time.

  10. Susie says:

    You have completely hit the nail on the head with this. I got mastitis twice with my second and I believe this was because I tried to do too much, got run down and didn’t look after myself or listen to what my body was telling me x

  11. Katie Jones says:

    You are so right Steph, it took me to baby 3 (who arrived in October) to finally realise that I did not need or want visitors until I was ready. With out firstborn I said to my husband that I didn’t want his family visiting and expecting to stay at our house when the baby was born. Despite this he felt a sense of duty (and quite frankly a lack of balls) and let his mother come to stay for 2 nights 2 days after our daughter was born. I hated him for it and it was the worst 2 days of my life. I felt I had to share my beautiful new baby who I hadn’t even got to know myself yet, I felt I had to be up and dressed as she was there, that I had to cover up to feed when I was still learning what I was doing with it. She didn’t cook us a meal, clean or iron, my husband ran around doing it all. It was exhausting and utterly miserable. She was just there for the baby cuddles which I hated giving away as I wanted them. I wanted to sit in my pants on the sofa, I wanted to sit in silence, to cry without feeling embarrassed or worried that she thought I wasn’t coping. I remember hissing at my husband, for fear that she would hear me, that I wanted her to f**k off, that this was our time and I didn’t want to share it. It was an awful time. I was horrible. I called my mum in tears and just wished that she would go home. Her visit was followed by other family members and friends which we didn’t dare decline for fear of appearing rude. I know now that they wouldn’t have thought it rude at all and I wish we had said no, they would have waited. I still think back on that time and it makes me feel angry and sad. Things were better with our second born although my husbands family still insisted on visiting in the early days, this time though they entertained our eldest and made a fuss of her which made the inconvenience of them staying more bearable. This time around we’ve had no visitors staying with us, it has been much better. I have made the most of soaking up baby number 3 as she’s our last and I have finally learned to slow down, to stay on the sofa all day if that’s what we both need. So glad you’re feeling better too, reading your posts and watching your stories always makes me laugh as it could actually be me writing about my life! Including the murderous thoughts! Much love and rest to you all x

    • Steph says:

      Oh the murderous thoughts! And yep, I’ve had loads of messages exactly the same, with unwanted visitors. It’s really tricky but so important. So glad you got it with your third too xx

  12. Karynmcgregor says:

    Thank you for this post, expecting my 3rd baby and it’s reassurred me, It’s stopping my Scottish inlaws from showing up the next day with a suitcase that wrecks me I don’t know what to do lol

  13. Deborah says:

    I am 2 weeks away from having baby no 3 and know I need this. I’m seriously trying to figure out how to tell people to wait and give us recovery time. I honestly don’t want to see anyone. Especially my own parents and in laws. I hate the pressure of it all and am totally not going for the bounce back thing this time. It can wait.

    • Steph says:

      Lots of luck – I know people worry about upsetting people, but your physical and mental health has to take priority on this one. And good luck with the baby!! x

  14. Liz says:

    Such an important post and great to link to that book; many cultures have traditions around postpartum rest but like so many other aspects of western culture, we’ve let go of traditions that we found restrictive, only to realise their value later. Interestingly, here in Australia the practice of postpartum confinement is crossing over from the Chinese community into the wider population, with ‘confinement nannies’ becoming a thing.

  15. Amy Jane says:

    Im 9 weeks off having my 4th baby and I tried this with my 3rd but kind of failed. I wrote Facebook updates to try put the point across that I didn’t want visitors or people turning up un invited and touching my baby or getting her out while she was sleeping etc. I’ve always thought that the first week or two after having a baby there are far too many visits too from midwives and health visitors. They always seem to come when you have just got baby to sleep and then your expected to wake baby, strip it to be weighed or examined for some reason or another. This time round (more than likely my last 🙁 not that I can bring myself to say that out loud) I am deffo taking this advice and sticking to it!!! #pullingupthedrawbridge

    • Steph says:

      Doooooo it! And then on the says you feel full of energy (!) you can get out. And yep, always when you’ve just got in a precious bath too… x

  16. Natasha says:

    Absolutely! I didn’t know there was a thing called a fourth trimester until my son was a year old & I was so run down I had just finished my tenth course of antibiotics. Hope this post keeps getting shared far & wide. x

  17. Linzi says:

    I love this! As a first time mum, I was pretty good at saying no to visitors, I listened to my body, I made no plans and I stayed in the house for 10 days, (out once to register the birth) but I was astonished at visitors who “dropped in” stayed and stayed and stayed. They were always the ones who would say “Sleep when baby sleeps”. If I have another baby, there will be a time limit to visits and my husband will be told to get them out after 20mins. No tea or coffee or effin’ cake will be offered!!!!

    And naps do save lives. 4 months in, they are still necessary.

  18. Kay says:

    My baby is three weeks old today, and I’m crying as I read this. It took us such a long time to conceive that I felt daft for feeling anything other than utterly blessed with our new arrival. It took a friend, who is a mum of two, dropping a M&S care package round (meal for two, bunch of daffodils, Jaffa Cakes and some Percy Pigs) for me to just burst in to tears and know that was my breaking point. As a friend and as a mum, she just knew – that trying so hard to hold it all together really meant that I wasn’t doing as well as I would have liked the world to think. I just needed to give myself permission to pull up the drawbridge: to look after myself, bond with my baby and have the time to heal mentally and physically.

    I wish I had read this before my son joined us, but I’m so pleased that you’ve shared it now. I needed this. Thank you.

  19. Anna says:

    I so wish I’d read this in October before Baby 2 came. I’ve really struggled trying (and failing) to be the perfect mummy to both of them. I had my first duvet day this Wednesday and it was bliss not having to even think about getting either of us dressed. 16 weeks too late though!! Congratulations on Baby Frank and thank you for your advice x

  20. Helen Malloy says:

    Amen!!!!
    I’m 6 weeks off having baby number 3, and already off due to sciatica so having to slow down…
    I’ve already told my husband that I want to spend the first week pretty much in bed, and he’s in agreement… that I’m to take it easy, at my own pace and he will do all that needs to be done (he’s a good egg, however I’m sure I will direct some anger towards him post baby at some point! ).
    I’m a completely different person this time round, in that I plan to be selfish and put off those unnecessary meet ups, visitors, shopping trips & those “lets get out” trips, so as to enjoy this time and embrace my last baby!!
    Ps you’re doing amazing and it’s so refreshing to hear you say these things that as mums we all deep down know we should do, but always feel like the show has to go on and we have do that one last thing before sitting down…xxx
    #napssavelives ✌

  21. Rebecca Hurr says:

    This is absolutely brilliant! I’m a mum of six and have bounced back, been on the school run, shopping and visitors waiting when I got home from hospital. But with no 6 I was I’ll afterwards so had no choice but to rest and it has been magical! I had previous time and it has been the most enjoyable post pregnancy, can’t recommend it enough x

  22. Emi says:

    Oh Steph, I so wish I’d read this before having my daughter back in September. My in laws turned up without warning whenever they felt like it during our first week, never offered to help just wanted to cuddle our new baby (who I desperately wanted to cuddle myself!) and posted photos incessantly on Facebook.
    10 days in, I snapped and it’s fair to say I don’t think our relationship will ever be the same again. They still don’t think they did anything wrong – I’m just a crazy hormonal new mum who can’t cope in their eyes. If we ever have another baby, I’m bolting the bloody door for at least a week! X x