It’s different to what you imagine
Put most of your preconceived ideas about what parenthood is like aside. Reality will hit like nothing you’ve ever experienced!
OK, not to scare anyone, but holy shit! How do families all over town, the country, the world do this on a day-to-day basis?! I found the first six months particularly challenging. I think there needs to be a huge celebration at that point – because if you can get through that, you can get through anything!! What we hear about the most when we’re going to become a new parent, is the moments of pride, joy and of unconditional love. People say things like “get all the sleep you can now, because you won’t get any soon!” And I was like “hahaha…” (you have no idea how resilient I am). Also it doesn’t work like that – you can’t bank it in advance!
You’ll also have ideas about how you’ll parent. Keep an open mind on this too, because if you haven’t met your child yet, they might have different ideas about what they’ll need.
Pre-baby Steph: Oh I won’t be using a dummy
Mum Steph: OK, maybe it will help with her reflux
Pre-baby Steph: I’m going to breastfeed for a year (takes breastfeeding classes, purchases all the breastfeeding tops and dresses).
Mum Steph: OK, that’s not going to work. Where’s all the info about formula at?
You get the idea…
Feeding: Informed is best, Supported is best
Maybe you plan to breastfeed. Or maybe you currently do. This is great!
Or maybe you tried and you encountered issues. Like me. So you needed to supplement or formula feed. This is great too!
It’s personal, and it’s a sore point for me. We had it so drummed into us at antenatal class that breast is best (which is a good message). There is all the info you could possibly want to support your breastfeeding journey and I encourage you to get amongst. Because it’s hard. Even when it’s successful it’s really hard to begin with. But there are some excellent resources and support groups. I found the Facebook group Breastfeedingnz particularly helpful.
We were also told at antenatal class that it’s so rare to have issues with your supply (4%), that the insinuation was, parents who chose to give formula weren’t trying hard enough. I sorely wanted to breastfeed for at least a year. So imagine how I felt when I couldn’t manage it. I felt like a failure. But I had set myself up for failure, because I tied my own value as a mother to my ability to feed my child from me. And there are people who will read this and place judgement on me for not persevering. But everyone’s journey is their own. And my skin has grown thick enough now that I want to share my experience to help anyone who is left as demoralised and bewildered as I was. Can’t we just be kind to each other? I found great support through other mums who were in a similar position. I also found the Facebook group Bottle and formula feeding in NZ very helpful.
If you want to read more about my feeding journey, you can here: (Breast/Bottle) Feeding
You can and should take a break. Trust me, your baby won’t mind if you step out for 30 mins or a couple of hours. I was so overwhelmed with my duty as mother to a newborn, that I wasn’t very good at self care at all. If you’re not very good at giving yourself a break, then think about what advice you would give to another frazzled mum in your position. You might be a bit kinder to them that you are to you! Your baby needs you to be refreshed, rejuvenated or even slightly more relaxed. Having a shower by yourself is the absolute minimum, but find something else to do just for you.
If someone offers you a break, but you have no idea what you’d do, don’t turn them down like I did! Go for a walk around the block. Or go for a drive and sit and stare at something. Or go in the other room and lie still and quiet. Or go and listen to loud music. Do something to get in touch with the “old you”.
It’s hell on earth. If you’re reading this and you’re going through it, please know that it will get better. You *will* get to bed eventually. It won’t be for long enough. But it will happen!
Sleep deprivation made me feel like I’d lost the plot. But more than that, I was anxious, stressed, on edge, hyper vigilant, tearful. I did look into whether I had Post Natal Depression (and everyone should consider this), but decided that maybe I was under sustained and unbaiting stress. Which of course probably leads to depression. This was how I was feeling at the peak of our sleep deprivation: Survival Mode
When you finally get back to bed, maybe after being woken up 9 minutes into your previous nap, avoid the smartphone so that you’re not even more wound up when you chase that precious sleep.
If you’re co-parenting (or this even relates to a support person), this is a huge relationship tester. If either or both of you snap, take a breath, give yourself some space and remind yourself you’re both doing the best you can.
“So-and-so’s baby sleeps through/recites the alphabet – why can’t mine?”
Every child is different, so I’m told. And for the most part, you have no idea what goes on in other households. But if you’re going through it, lots of other parents are too. We’ve had many phases with Jessica – unsettled, settling well, clingy, independent, teething (oh my goodness!), happy…it’s all part of growing up.
“Oh my gosh – look at her spotless house! And she’s done her hair! Mine looks like a birds nest.” This is what you don’t get on my social media! Each picture is but a snapshot. Perhaps a fleeting moment of perfection, staged or not. And from my experience I was posting the most when I was struggling the most. It was the desire to reach out, and to connect.
Trust your gut
As a first time mum, I struggled with building confidence as a mother. This was the one thing I cared about most and I didn’t want to fuck it up! So it’s hard to know when to seek help, what’s normal, and what to do. Even in seeking help from health professionals, there were times my gut told me to question the advice. Our egg allergy experiences here: Adventures of Egg and Us
I found it very frustrating in trying to get help for many of Jessica’s issues when she was under 4 months, as GPs like to take a wait-and-see approach to rule out colic (which by the way, lots of people have problems articulating exactly what it is, so it seems to be treated like a syndrome). For us, it is NOT normal for our child to go more than 4 days without a bowel movement. Especially if it so obviously bothers her.
It’s free to see the GP here, so if your child doesn’t seem themselves then do go and get them checked. I’ve also found Healthline (0800 611 116) valuable for coming up with a plan (whether to seek further advice or not) by asking you a series of questions.
You are the best parent there is for your child. Isn’t that powerful? Just think about that! Don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself. You are doing your best, I know you are. The dishes, washing, etc. etc. can wait. Have a rest from all the chatter in your brain if you get a chance.
This goes for the decisions you make for your family. You came to the decision for a reason, usually lots of reasons with hours of research. Whether you’re starting sleep training, or not; starting solids “early”, or not; going back to work, or not planning to ever going back to work. Your child and your family is unique. Trust yourself to make the right decisions. Goodness knows a lot of us waste precious time worrying about the decisions we make for our child(ren).
And if any agency (not to mention any names) tells you that your baby is too big, too small, or suggests that you’re not doing anything right – take it with a grain of salt. They can be a fantastic support, but it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. By all means hear the advice, but place it in the context of your household.
Social Media – A lifeline and a curse
This can be a great way to find your community. People who understand about a lot of the stuff I’ve talked about. I’ve found some of the best support often by accident through FB groups. However beware: there are some very judgy people out there. I’ve thought about this quite a bit – what motivates some people to get up on their high horse? My conclusion is, basically, we’re all trying the best we can to keep our heads above water. It makes some people feel better about the decisions they make to categorise alternative decisions as incorrect. So find your team or build your team and try not to take other people’s opinions to heart.
And take photos, get your partner to take photos of you and your baby and offer to take photos of other mums. I often worry I’ll forget what my wee girl is like at different stages and it takes my breath away looking at “old” photos and remembering days and moments.
It can be bloody lonely
It’s hard, mainly solo work being at home with a newborn. There are some aspects that even your partner can’t understand. I think they especially couldn’t understand what it’s like to be “it” 24/7 for months and months. It’s tiring. On the flipside, I don’t understand what it’s like to not be the #1 parent my baby relies on. I can imagine it’s tough, but I don’t know what that feels like (maybe I will soon when I go back to work).
Non-parent friends possibly don’t want to intrude and they have amazing lives to get on with. And if you’re not used to it, it’s a bit overwhelming being around a newborn. I remember. I probably should have been more proactive and invited people around, but I had lost quite a bit of confidence in myself – I didn’t really know who I was anymore.
So make new friends, get out and about and get amongst. There are so many places to go and connect with other parents. The Library, Plunket, Playgroup, Playcentre, Space programmes and also antenatal class – create a coffee group if there is one. Or go for a walk. Fresh air and nature is so underrated and you find everything beautiful when you’ve been cooped up for weeks or months.
The c section wound/scar wasn’t so bad
I thought this would be a big deal, but in hindsight it was the least of my worries. Stay on top of your pain relief and give yourself time to get going and you’ll be fine. I had staples done and was pretty concerned about getting them removed (and wouldn’t look at the wound), but it was painless. I didn’t realise that you experience numbness an inch or two above and below the wound. I still have numbness. If a C-section wasn’t part of your birth plan, don’t waste precious time begrudging the procedure. I’m sure there are aspects of recovery from natural birth that I’ve been spared. It just is what it is.
As a final note, I’ve realised perfection doesn’t exist. Except in the moments of joy, love or maybe relief. Even then poos, spews and wees aren’t too far away.
Additional advice from the first blog I wrote: Getting Support and saying YES