On surviving early parenthood

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

You can't really know how hard it is to have a newborn until they arrive.

It doesn't matter how much you've looked after children. Doesn't matter how many siblings/nieces/nephews you have. Doesn't matter how much you read in preparation, how many other mothers you beg for coping techniques from, doesn't matter how many dire conversations you hear other mothers having about sleepless nights and terrifying mystery rashes and colic.

You just don't know. Not really. Not until that moment when the midwife saw us out of the hospital and waved as we headed to the car park did I realise, fully, what was in front of us. How much things would change. How much responsibility we had.

Because you can't have a break, you know? No matter how much you want it. If your baby needs you - it needs you. End of story. No matter how little sleep you've had. No matter how bruised and stitched you are. It doesn't matter if your muscles feel like they're on fire and you can't sit down without squealing and you're leaking all sorts of interesting body fluids from different places. (Nice, huh?) Your baby needs you and that's the end of it. You need to get up and go to them. Basic needs - sleeping, showering, eating - are suddenly a challenge. I remember being in the stage of staring at my meals with longing and wondering if it's possible to eat a jacket potato with no cutlery and one hand (it totally is, by the way - just don't attempt it with a potato you just got out of the oven).*

And really, you don't know what kind of coping techniques you'll need to get through it. I firmly believe that no two families are exactly the same, and different things work for different babies. However, having got through those first few months (relatively) intact, I thought I'd share how I coped in case it's helpful for someone in the future.

If anyone wants to write/knows of a blog post that details coping with the weaning/separation when back to work/teething stage, that'd be helpful ;)
  1. Rest when possible. Sounds obvious in theory, but there's this weird pressure to be Back To Normal as quick as possible. I'm not sure where this comes from. Myself? The media? Other mothers?! But to be honest, people's bodies react differently, and (so I've heard) the same person can have entirely different pregnancies/birth experiences with subsequent babies. I think it took a good four weeks for me to feel remotely able to go out without wanting to faint with exhaustion afterwards. And even then for the first few months I had bad days. Need to stay in your pyjamas? Stay in them and snuggle your baba!
  2. Ask for help when you need it! Our family and friends were desperate to come round for a cuddle with a tiny newborn. I appreciated that, when I needed to sleep, there were people I could call on to take her even for half an hour before the next feed. Don't be proud - accept help graciously.
  3. Appreciate the wisdom of those who have gone through it all before. I'll talk about the flip side of this in the next point, but there is definitely a biblical principal in women guiding younger women, helping them navigate new stages of their lives. The most random person might have the genius tip that helps your baby to settle instantly, or a special position to hold them to ease trapped wind. Ask for advice if you want it.
  4. Trust your own instincts. And this is the flip side. I had so much great advice - and, to be honest, a lot of advice that was completely contrary to what I felt was right. You may have people that are quite insistent on the way things should be done. But at the end of the day, no-one knows their babies when they're tiny and fresh quite like their mamas. And that's the way it should be. I remember once when someone was feeding Baby B for me so I could eat a decent dinner. As I looked over at them, the thought occurred to me - she's going to be sick now. She wasn't squirming or coughing or gagging - it just popped into my head. Seconds later, the floor (and our poor guest) was covered in reams of sick. I believe that a mother's instinct is a very real and precious thing. Utilise it!
  5. The emotions will pass. Things will get to you when you have a newborn. Some innocuous comment about how your baby is a bit skinny/bald will cause you to want to slap people (even if your baby is skinny and bald). I used to stew on things people said for ages afterwards in the first few weeks, and unfortunately new babies seem to bring out the weirdest comments in people. And the tears! I must have cried enough to last a lifetime. It's fine - totally normal. You've got hormones all over the place, no sleep, and the sudden realisation that your baby is no longer attached to you but is out in the world where anything can happen to it. It's a lot to deal with, but you'll develop a thicker skin because of it, and at the same time, you'll gain real empathy for others. Also a good moment to practice extending grace and forgiveness to people ;)
  6. Don't be afraid to make decisions. We had to make the decision, for example, to not allow Baby B to be passed around during church, but instead to stay with us as much as possible. Sometimes, after church, we would just go straight home for some quiet time. Why? Because in the evenings after a busy day she screamed and screamed from overstimulation. We knew why we weren't passing her around, and it might not have pleased people, but it was best for us. Be polite and mindful of others, but be decisive - you can change your minds as your baby grows.
  7. Make the most of medical help. I feel utterly blessed by the care I had during birth/in the weeks afterwards - the visits from my midwife and health visitor, the random trips to the children's centre because we were worried about this rash/strange thing on her fingernail/poo problems, the hospital midwives available for in-the-middle-of-the-night panics - these people are trained professionals and it's free to access them. Don't be afraid - they've heard it all before, and no worry is too small when it comes to tiny babies.
  8. Know that God cares about you. It was in the scariest, most overwhelming moments that I felt God's presence the strongest, especially in those first few days at home with Baby B. I prayed in little bursts, words of panic or of praise. I firmly believe God cares about my baby girl, even more than I do. And prayer is so important.
  9. Savour your baby. Enjoy your little baby. Stare at them for hours if you want to. Look at every eyelash. Admire their little curled up feet and hands balled in tiny fists. Look at their lips making cute little sucking movements while they sleep. Take millions of photos of every event - first bath, first cuddles with family and friends, first time in the baby gym. You will love looking at them later.
  10. Cherish this time. It's scary and exhausting and painful - but it's sacred. There's nothing quite like being a mother to a tiny new baby. Enjoy the almost frighteningly strong love you have for this little person. Enjoy the deeper connection you have with your other half as you face tough times together. Appreciate your mother more than ever before! Feel proud of surviving labour - I felt exhilarated by my newly discovered strength for days (before the exhaustion kicked in). Savour it all, the strange beauty of it - because it flies by.
I'm not sure who reads this, but I hope it helps someone. I also know that, no matter how many words I write, no-one can be completely prepared for the arrival of a little one. I guess the best bit of advice I can give is enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

* Bonus advice - if luck is in your favour and you have the magical combination of a) a still-hot meal, b) a baby happily sleeping on your chest and c) a spare hand with which to wield a fork, it's probably best to wait for that food to cool down. Because no matter how hard you try to be careful, you will almost certainly drop food on your baby's head. You're welcome! ;)

2 comments:

  1. hi megs its good to have you back i so enjoy reading your blogs,you are very clever and speak some true words of wisdom.you have the ability to write what most of us have thought at least once,and have a knack of putting things into perspective well for me anyway.If only you could fast forward and gain some insight into the behavours and coping mechanisms of an 8 year old it would be most helpful !!

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  2. Ah thank you! That's so nice of you to say. I just try and be honest, lol. I'm still getting over how emotional it is being a Mum!

    Haha, no time travelling for me, it's going way too quick already! I'll be coming to you for advice when she's eight ;) hope you're all well (I can sense that you're busy!) xx

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