The Reality of Being a New Mummy – A letter to my friend
I am so proud of you for everything you have already achieved as a new mummy and your little boy is only 10 weeks old. You coped valiantly with a difficult pregnancy – hyperemesis gravidarum, indigestion, anxiety and a stressful work situation. You kept going bravely through several weeks of on/off contractions; wondering if this time might be the one you get to meet baby only for it to all cease again. You conquered your fear of hospitals by encountering everything you didn’t want in your labour and facing it head on – your induction, your emergency caesarean, your longer than planned hospital stay. I am so proud of what you achieved and yet you can’t see it.
I am so proud of everything you have already achieved and your little boy is only 10 weeks old. You didn’t lose your calm when you had half the family descend on you all at once in the first few days (although you had every right to!). You battled with the sleep deprivation as your little boy cluster fed all through the night. You accepted that breast feeding was painful but did what you needed to do to help it by using nipple shields so that you didn’t have to give up because you didn’t want to. When you were ready you persuaded your tired body to get off the sofa and go to baby classes to interact with new mums and their babies. I am so proud of what you have achieved and yet you can’t see it.
Being a new mummy (and daddy) is tough. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and I thought that I had already been through my fair share of those moments! Every single journey is unique, even if you already have a child the second is a new baby and they are all individuals, so it makes sense that no two new mummy experiences are the same. Of course this makes it hard as I wanted to prepare you, to help you understand what to expect, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I didn’t know what your personal journey into motherhood would be like; I only knew what mine had been like. I wanted to tell you that labour was not as painful as I had expected, but what would that mean to you? I wanted to tell you that the sleep deprivation initially wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be but that the accumulative sleep deprivation is far worse, but what would that mean to you? What if your baby slept through the night from 6 weeks? I wanted to tell you that breastfeeding is hard, but that there is lots of support out there so seek it out and let people help you, but what if you found it easy, or decided not to carry on with it? I didn’t want to force my decisions, or my experience onto you. I didn’t want you to think, why am I not experiencing it like this and think that made your experience wrong because it wouldn’t.
However, now I know that you are having a bad day and I want to reassure you. Parenting is tough. It can also be the best and most wonderful thing that you have ever experienced but at times it is the toughest and that is okay. The most important advice that I want to share with you and with all new parents is something I remember saying to you in my lounge with another recently new mummy when you were still pregnant, but I am sure that you didn’t realise at the time the significance of this advice.
DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHER PARENTS!!!!!!!
It is so easy to do. You arrive at the baby group you have dragged yourself to with matchsticks holding open your eyes, your top on inside out, your shoes on the wrong feet and only 1 nappy in the bag you forgot to repack before you left. Your tired eyes can’t focus but your ears can listen.
“X slept through the night from just 3 weeks old, I feel wonderful! Being a mummy is so easy.”
“Y took to breastfeeding without any problems at all. He latched on immediately and I’ve never had bleeding nipples/mastitis/pain. You must be doing it wrong if you have.”
“Yes little A is already weaning at only 4 months old. I just couldn’t wait to start sharing my home cooked meals from scratch with her.”
“I have been back in my pre-baby jeans since B was only 3 weeks old, haven’t you?”
“Oh well little Z has been in a bedtime routine for weeks now. He feeds and then self soothes and is asleep by 7.”
I am not accusing these parents of lying; all of the above is perfectly possible. However, I am saying that they are not in the majority and they are not YOU! And most importantly… that is okay. Don’t expect you, or your baby, or your journey through parenthood to be a cloned version of everyone else’s. Don’t think that you must be doing something wrong if your baby hasn’t/doesn’t do as their baby does. It is okay to be different. In our teaching profession we know, perhaps better than most, that all children are different and we celebrate their individual journeys and achievements. Celebrate your journey with your boy as you won’t ever take this exact path again; enjoy it for what it is. Parenthood is a sharp learning curve which changes you and your life and your perceptions and choices and this should be celebrated.
Rest; recuperation; support; going at your own pace; learning all about your baby; recognising his hunger cues and sleeping cues; learning what makes him happy and content – these things are far more important that worrying about whether or not you fit back into your old jeans, or worrying about why he isn’t sleeping through the night. He will do that when he is ready to. If you don’t make it to your baby group because you had a long night and you can catch a nap while the baby sleeps – do so. If you need to order a take away pizza for dinner tonight because your cupboards are empty – pick up the phone. If the house is a mess and you have a visitor coming – show them where the hoover is and ask them to help out. Once upon a time, and in most of the world, there is a community that helps to support a mother and raise a baby. We don’t have that in the UK and we are failing new parents as a result.
So what about going forward? Yes, it will get easier because you get to know your new ‘normal. You get to know your baby and your little boy gets to know the world he has been thrust into; you will both settle into your new life together. But it will also get hard again as babies go through phases and regressions and changes as they develop, which is all perfectly normal. I had the complete misconception that the first couple of months would be tough and then J would be sleeping through the night by 6 months and I would be energised and exercised to the point of being thinner than ever before. Neither of these things happened. I thought I would be breastfeeding with ease after a week. This didn’t happen. I thought I would be making home cooked meals from scratch for my little boy to enjoy at 6 months. This didn’t happen. I thought I would never turn the TV on for him to watch. This didn’t happen. Do any of them matter? No. What matters is that we found what worked best for us as a family; that J is happy and thriving. We had to compromise between our preconceived ideas and the reality of parenthood and that is okay. Does it make me a crap mother? No. It is all about survival!
You will find a path that works best for you and your family and you will follow that and find your way. Yes, it takes time; yes, you will need to be flexible and adjust your path from time to time as rocks and bumps appear, but you will find your way through the challenges just as you always do; just as you already have. You are strong, you are determined, you are doing what is best for your little boy. I am so proud of you.