Dear significant pregnant person in my life,
I want to say some things to you, but I don’t want to be “that person”. The “you should” person. So I’m just going to post on here some stuff I wish I knew when I first became a parent. You can read it, or not. You can take it, or not.
For me, as a parent arising after complicated circumstances (bed rest, almost loss, ivf ) the transition was harder and easier. My road possibly had more potholes than normal. I don’t know how much that changes the transition. It must always be hard. So here goes.
No one can prepare you for how you will feel. You will simultaneously feel as though you’ve been skinned alive, every nerve ending standing to attention and raw, like there is no division or filter between you and the world. You will feel open and vulnerable, like a wound. And that’s ok.
To have a small person around 24/7 will feel perfectly right and amazing and completely wrong all at once.
You will also, simultaneously, feel stronger and fiercer than you’ve ever felt. More powerful. When your mumma bear gut kicks in, look out world. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will get between you and your child. Sometimes mumma bear views everyone as a threat. It takes time to get her to settle down. And that’s ok.
You will feel loss. I can remember almost bawling at my first mothers group meeting. I DIDN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT MY BABY. I wanted to hear what people DID, what BANDS THEY LIKED, and they couldn’t seem to see their way above the fog of milk haze and sleep deprivation. I was ANGRY at the loss of self. I was hurt that I’d never realise I’d lose myself, the me I knew. I was so upset no one ever warned me. They probably tried, but it’s a lived experience thing. And that’s ok.
You will dream some weird shit. Night 1 I was hallucinating I was giving evidence at a coronial inquest into my baby’s death. That shit went on for WEEKS. It made me feel like I was losing MY MARBLES. You will wake up SOAKED in sweat. Its probably the hormones combined with a bit of hypervigilance. It’s horrible. But its ok.
You will feel the walls closing in, like someone is holding their hand around your throat. You look ahead and visualise what is happening now, ad infinitum. And you want to explode. EVERY night with this little person? EVERY day? Every HOUR? How. Breastfeeding feels like a death sentence.
But in a few weeks, it isn’t the same. And in a few more weeks, it isn’t the same. And in a few months you won’t WANT to be anywhere else. So don’t look too far ahead. Its ok.
You will feel terrified. You will have more than one instance of “what have we done” or “there’s been a terrible mistake that they let me look after this on my own”. Heart in mouth pulse racing terror. It ain’t just you.
I want to tell you there comes a time when you realise you’re back. You’ve been forged in fire and re moulded, but old you is still there. For me, it was the day I could wear dangly earrings again, without fear of having my ear lobes ripped off. It happens. I put them on and thought “I’m BACK”. Try baby steps towards being back, early. Little bursts of “you” time fill up your mummy tank. Put on your own oxygen mask before putting on a child’s.
I’ll repeat that: in an emergency: put on YOUR OWN oxygen before putting on your childs. Top up your tank. Look after yourself. Give yourself time out. Simply because you matter. Additionally because having a full tank makes you a BETTER mum.
I want to tell you to ditch western cultural control ideals, put Gina Ford in the bin or preferably the shredder. Look at your baby. This is not a manipulative schemer who wants to lie in your bed awake 24/7. This is someone who was in a warm muffled balloon and whose brain is now literally melting trying to figure out WTF is going on. You are their tour guide, so try to learn their language. This someone will try to tell you what they need. And this someone will be happier if you try to read those signals, and soothe and respond to those needs. You will be better at this than anyone else.
If you control all the things now, you might feel better. But control is an illusion, and the cost can be an unhappy toddler, an insecure bond, or a stressed child.
I want to tell you some people love blobs. I do not love blobs. I love people. Blobs are boring. Thankfully, your mother told me about this. She didn’t love blobs either. Instant bonding isn’t always instant. Sometimes we bond much more when the blob becomes an interacting interesting person. Sometimes a bond grows very slowly. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a bond.
Speaking of bonds, we have boobs. This makes us pretty loveable to hungry small blobs. Having something physically attached to you 10 hours a day is pretty bond-i-fying. Not so easy for the dads. No boobs there. So first, give dad a job. Bathing was definitely my first choice. Swaddling to a degree of mental-patient –in-a-strait-jacket was my second choice. Hate that slippery little sucker.
Second, step back so he can step up. They aren’t a dad until bub is screaming down the house having pooed a kilo of slime up someone’s arm and you are nowhere to be found.
Step back so he can step up.
Every single week, designate a time, and walk out and don’t look back. EVEN if at first it is for 20 minutes. Make it sacred. Stick to it.
There will come a time when you look in the mirror and you see the weird little mummy paunch mummies get (it takes a while to show up) and you will think “hideous”. And your child will come up and grab a giant handful of squishy bits and say “I love squishy mummy”. And you’ll realise for at least one person in the world, you are amazingly perfect. You are everything. You are the North star, and to some extent for the rest of their lives they will navigate by what you put inside them, in these first short years. And that is more powerful than any size label or skinny jeans. It is a source of strength, and pride. And value.
On that note, read some parenting books. Read good ones. Things about baby led routines, about developmental stages, about the brain neuroscience of a developing child. You are a parent for a lot longer than you are pregnant. So read up now while you have some time and brain space. Get lots of tools in your parenting tool kit. Pinky McKay, Andrea mcNair, John Medina’s Brain rules for baby, I loved ‘how not to fuck them up’ Oliver James, Peaceful Parent Happy Kid Laura Markham would be a few for starters.
You will feel complete opposites at once. Often. You will feel the most amazing rage you have ever felt, and three minutes later when there are little baby snores and drool on your chest you will be transported to Kairos time. It is infuriating. You will think it impossible. You will loathe-love. You will impatient-stoic. You will bond-run away. You will feel power-powerless. You will feel motherhood is everything-nothing. That probably means you’re doing it right, not wrong. This article here BLEW MY MIND with how right it was. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glennon-melton/dont-carpe-diem_b_1206346.html?ir=Australia
You can name it. You can say out loud when it sucks. You don’t have to love every moment to be an amazing mother. Sometimes, you can be a good-enough mother. You can go off your nana and still have a wonderful bond and an unstressed happy bub. Research says get it right about 64% of the time and you’re looking good. That will never seem enough. But it probably is, so cut yourself some slack.
Feeling loss and freak out at new parenthood is not post natal depression. Your world just went into the tumble dryer. It is normal to feel really thrown and unsure and nervous and a bit sad at the change. But there is such a thing as post natal depression, and post natal anxiety. And If you even vaguely suspect you have it, or just feel very wrong, disconnected, or the hypervigilance doesn’t settle, or you simply can’t feel or you struggle to make decisions about even small things, see someone. If they don’t help, see someone else. And keep asking til it happens.
You will almost weep trying to leave the house. It will take 3 attempts and 2.5 hours at first. It will improve around 1 year old and decline again at 2.5 years old. At first, you will watch the clock ticking as your bub feeds and you’re going to miss the paediatrician appointment and fantasise about walking out of the house with only your keys and phone.
You will fantasise about walking out and checking into a 5 star hotel without anyone touching you. If things get really bad, do it and send me the bill. I. Completely. Understand. Agree in advance which hotel it would be so we all know where to look.
It will change your relationship with your partner. Sometimes, the love for your child seems to eclipse everything so there is no room for three. That can be weird. Then, you will see your partner being an amazing parent, and it is a like a turbo boost for the love you had for him before. A supercharger. Prioritise keeping that relationship on track. Happy supported parents are better parents. And there’s enough room for all of you.
Here’s my guide to the first few months:
Weeks 1-2 Swinging between hallucinating from lack of sleep and thinking “I have this sorted” cooking over complicated meals because bub is entirely nocturnal
Weeks 3-4 Crap, bub is waking up. A lot. What the hell am I meant to do with it? “Can someone google clusterfeeding?”
Weeks 5-6 will this never end. What is with the screaming ? Why is it from 4pm -9pm? What is going on? My ears! My ears!
Weeks 7-12 How long does this parenting gig last for? Do I have to do that needle crap AGAIN? How will I ever…? Oh look at that, bub can…..! Oh, is bub trying to talk? So cute! Stupid baby has still not figured out they are on the outside.
3-4 months – I’m sort of getting this. Bub is starting to seem like a person. A 5 hour stretch of sleep makes you feel drunk and hungover all at once. This is kind of amazing.
4 months + – personhood. It just gets more amazing every day. You don’t want to deal with solids.
5-6 months – you deal with solids. It’s kinda fun.
7-8 months – oh my god you left the room therefore you don’t exist, I’m alone! I’m Alone! And I am going to send you MENTAL with waking up 65 times a night.
8-9 months – I crawl, therefore I sleep. Mostly.
Babies are the world’s property. Every man and his dog (pot? kettle?) feels they are entitled to a comment, a helpful suggestion, advice, questions you’d never ask any other stranger but a new mother. It is ludicrous. But babies are the world’s property. I think it’s a survival of the species instinct thing. Try not to take it to heart. Sometimes it makes the world seem wonderful and fun and friendly. Sometimes its just downright annoying and intrusive. Sip your coffee and see if they’ll burp the little bugger. “Have you only got the one? Gee he’s chubby! Oh isn’t he tiny? What you should do is….”
There will come a time, and it’s a ways down the track, I’d say at 18 months? When you wouldn’t take it back for the world. When you feel as though you were never not this child’s parent. When you feel you couldn’t be anyone if you were not this mother, to this child. You will be reforged, knitted together again. Pre baby and post baby self will become a whole that is so much stronger than the sum of its parts.
Welcome to parenthood. It’s a stupid ridiculous annoying wonderful miraculous joyous ride. You’re going to love it. Maybe not at first. Maybe not every day. Maybe not even every hour. But when you add up the whole, trust me. It is worth it.