Recently, I settled down with a cuppa during nap time to read this piece about 15 things people are too nice to tell you about new motherhood when you’re pregnant.
I’m not sure what I expected - maybe a bit of a giggle at the indignities of birth which most of us were in the dark about until the moment we realised - mid-labour - that you can’t push as if your life depended on it without other parts of your anatomy also, um, feeling the strain, so to speak. Yeah. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
But what I got was a dispiriting sense that we do expectant mums a disservice when we try to disabuse them of the notion that motherhood is all mother & baby yoga, cutesy little outfits, and coffee dates with other like-minded mums.
Because yes, there are elements of new motherhood that are hard as nails, and there are days when it feels like being home alone with a newborn is going to suck the very life out of you. But if we’re going to lift the lid on the truth of new motherhood, I think we should do it a little more gently.
So click below to read on for my own home truths about new motherhood...
1. Yes, labour and delivery are out of your hands, but I’ve met many mums who felt like failures when their deliveries didn’t go as they hoped, and telling mums not to get too attached to their birth plan doesn’t fix that. You’re not to blame because you dared to dream of the kind of birth you really hoped to have, but if you’re left with difficult emotions as a result of your delivery, you’re not alone and shouldn’t suffer in silence. The Birth Trauma Association is a wonderful resource for help with this.
2. Sleep when the baby sleeps is the single most useless piece of information anyone will ever give you. So forget ‘listening to people’ when they tell you to take it easy - hand them the baby and suggest they come back in an hour instead (ideally with hot coffee and fresh doughnuts) so that you can have a proper nap.
3. When I visited my friend after the birth of her third baby, there was laundry everywhere. Did I counsel her to merely accept that she would never be done with laundry for the foreseeable future? Course I flipping didn’t - I scooped it all up and took it home with me, and returned it clean a few days later. That’s what friends are for. Not to condemn you to a life of laundry overload. Also, those people you live with? They can actually be trained to use the washing machine. Why should mums get lumbered with it all?
4. Yes, it’s true that some ‘problems’ such as how to get your baby to sleep don’t have easy solutions and yes, the misapprehension that you’re in control probably is as frustrating as the ‘problem’ itself. But nobody knows your baby as well as you do, and your instincts do exist and can usually be trusted, plus few things feel quite as good as persevering with getting to know your baby until you finally ‘crack’ the art of settling them to sleep your way. And you can then claim all the glory as your own.
5. It’s also true that not all mums feel an instant bond with their baby. But I absolutely disagree with the idea that your baby ‘is exhausted and has no idea what it is doing, nor does it have the ability to show any real type of love or appreciation’. The world of neuroscience and epigenetics is showing us consistently that babies know a whole lot more than we think they do, and come to us equipped with a spectrum of emotions, and a capacity to communicate that could rival some adults’ communication skills. Taking a warm bath with your baby, having skin-to-skin contact and managing your own stress can all help to build attachment with your baby. But seeing your baby as a clueless automaton that can’t express affection probably won’t help get those loving feelings flowing. There are some helpful pointers for bonding with your baby here.
6. You might wonder if your relationship will ever survive new parenthood, but getting through the early weeks of life with a new baby together can also do wonders for your relationship in the longer term, building a new sense of partnership, and giving the two of you a particular and specific bond that no-one else will ever share. That's pretty sexy.
7. Feeling tired, emotional and overwhelmed is one thing - but 'contemplating just walking forever and never returning' is quite another. Those kind of feelings are your mind’s way of waving a little red ‘help’ flag. Please talk this through with someone, don’t just suck it up as a to-be-expected part of motherhood.
8. Ditto crying alot.
9. I’m not sure my face changed after I gave birth but my bum sagged almost instantly. Turns out that’s not just old-age - it’s a genuine side-effect of pregnancy. Something to do with hormones. I still haven’t worked out what to do about it but at least I can blame it on the babies.
10. It’s vital that we never normalise ‘understanding why people shake their babies’ - yes, we may go to some pretty dark places and sleep deprivation can exacerbate desperate feelings. But maternal depression and psychosis are real and very difficult to spot (especially when you’re in the grip of them) yet recognising them as early as possible is key to getting the right kind of support and treatment. Maternal depression is a taboo and highly stigmatised area of mental health, but the only way we’ll change that is by encouraging one another to speak out and seek help when we experience symptoms of it. An organisation called PANDAS can help. There's no shame in admitting that you're struggling to cope with new motherhood. In fact I think it's just about the bravest and most heroic thing a mum can do.
The Huff Po piece ends on the fact that you will “eventually feel a type of happiness you never felt before and understand all the clichés of parenting”. I absolutely agree with this one. Funnily enough, it happens every single night, just around the same time that the kids finally go sleep…