In the run up to my daughter’s first birthday, I thought I’d get blogging again. In a departure from previous topics, the next few posts I intend to write will sum up my reflections on motherhood so far. I thought I’d kick off with several things I wish I’d known when I was pregnant, in the hope that some of these might be useful to anyone who is yet to have their baby. It will also give my friends who aren’t parents an insight into my life over the last year.
I found pregnancy really tough mentally. Physically, I had a pretty textbook pregnancy, but I found sharing my body with another person incredibly odd, and I was extremely apprehensive about what we had let ourselves in for. As a result, I couldn’t even bring myself to think about my newborn baby, because it made me feel even worse. This made me feel guilty: it was a rotten time. Looking back, I put most of it down to the enormous hormonal upheaval that you go through during pregnancy, and I have been in a much happier place since my daughter’s arrival. It meant, though, that I was terrified about reading up on or talking about babies with anyone until suddenly she was here. Then I realised I knew nothing. I think I’d have found it helpful if I’d read something like this blog article, had it been written by someone I knew I could trust. I hope, then, that this will be of use, either because you are expecting a baby yourself, or because you want to know a bit about what having one is like!
Because I am somewhat verbose (and because becoming a mother really is a time of inordinate change and there’s lots to dwell on), the following reflections are only brief. One by one, I hope to ‘flesh them out’ in subsequent blog posts. Some of them might take you out of your comfort zone. If so, just don’t read them! Some you might disagree with. If so, do comment, or alternatively ignore them! The wonderful thing about mothering/parenting is that every family is different, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. This list is by no means intended as the ‘right’ way to mother. They are simply things I wish I’d known before my dear daughter made her entry into this wonderful world we call home. So – here goes!
I wish I’d known…
- That giving birth can be an incredibly positive and (dare I say it) even enjoyable experience, and that my body would do all of the things the midwives said it would do in growing, giving birth to and nourishing a baby. Human biology is amazing!
- That breastfeeding is about much more than just food: it is a way of mothering, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to mother without this tool. To that end, I wish I’d known that there is a huge amount of (professional and free) breastfeeding support to help women at all stages on their breastfeeding journeys, especially here in Oxfordshire. I wish I’d accessed it antenatally so I’d known what to expect.
- That a good sling/baby carrier would be so amazingly useful in almost all situations. I started off by borrowing a high street narrow-based one which a friend of a friend leant me, but I found it hurt my back after a few weeks’ use, and it didn’t look very comfy for my baby. Finding an ergonomical sling that fit both me and my husband was truly a godsend. Carrying a baby doesn’t have to hurt your back – you just need a good sling that suits you, and you can carry your little one until they’re pre-school age. Plus there are many many benefits for the baby, and mine loves being in it! ‘Babywearing’ has become somewhat of a hobby since, and we’ve retired the pram/buggy because it’s so much more faff.
- That sleep deprivation can make you want to kill someone. I wish I was joking. It is truly horrific, and there’s a reason why it is used as a form of torture in many places around the world.
- That sharing a bed with our baby (which I only began to do at 8 months) would not only save my sanity but also be something that my husband and I enjoy, and that pretty much all of the scare-mongering about the dangers of it do not apply to exclusively breastfeeding non-smokers who aren’t drunk and whose babies are put down to sleep on their backs (and I’ve read the research to prove it). We also all sleep better, too, because I can stay horizontal to feed her so there’s less disruption to everyone’s sleep.
- That you totally don’t have to give babies purees when they start weaning. Once they’re ready to eat they can just eat what you’re eating. Simple as. Why did no one ever tell me this? The trendy term for this is baby-led weaning, but it’s not a new concept. It is, however, loads of fun (and sometimes deeply deeply frustrating).
- That Dads are essential (babies’ dads, rather than my dad. Though my dad is wonderful, obviously). I could not have done one day of this mothering business without the unwavering support of my wonderful husband. I have so much respect for those who have to mother alone, whatever their circumstances. It’s hard enough with a partner in crime.
- That going to mum and baby groups is essential for your sanity, not least because it gets you out of the house. I was so sceptical of these groups when I was pregnant. I mean, what are they for? What do you do there? Happily, I have made some great friends locally and the cup of tea and biscuit made FOR us by the organisers each session is monumentally important to my week!
- That babies come programmed to survive, and that the easiest thing to do is to trust your baby. The range of ‘normal’ for babies is huge. Every one of them is different. But that it can also be very hard to trust your baby and not try to wade in and ‘teach’ them something (like sleeping through the night/eating solid foods/going longer between feeds etc etc) before they are ready, especially because it seems (from Facebook) like everyone else’s babies are already doing all of those things brilliantly. ‘Nudging’ them gently in the general direction of what you would like sometimes works for certain babies at certain stages, before they quickly forget it again as soon as the next tooth/developmental leap/cold is on the horizon. It’s really just easiest to not sweat the small stuff and go with the flow.
- That it’s the biological norm for babies to wake frequently in the night throughout the first year and beyond, that it’s the biological norm for babies to want to nurse all the time when they are newborns, that it is the biological norm for babies to want to be held constantly at times, especially in the early weeks, that it is the biological norm for babies to sleep next to their mothers on the same sleep surface, that it is the biological norm for babies to start eating solids when they’re ready and can reach out and grab food. So much of what we think (or at least so much of what I thought) about how babies should behave is based on our own cultural norms (such as solitary sleep, eating pureed foods, sleeping through the night, and so on). And yet I was finding myself frustrated with my daughter when she was behaving ‘biologically normally’. Altering my expectations has helped me deal with the hard times much more easily.
So, those are the things I wish I’d known, and now I hope I (eventually) get round to expanding on each one!