I’d like to say that like (seemingly many) other women I know, that I was cartwheeling in and out of coffee shops a week after the birth of my first child by c-section, swinging the car seat off my arm like I’d finally got to the front of the queue for a Birkin bag, and could fit back into jeans usually only reserved for pre-pubescent gymnasts. I’d like to say that, but that’s not what happened at all…
|The small human who changed my life forever|
Instead, I left hospital a few days after the overdue birth of my long-awaited and adored son, having narrowly avoided a blood transfusion and still absolutely tripping my tits off from all the medication. My first night at home was like the opening scenes of Apocalypse Now – cold sweats, night terrors, and massive physical discomfort punctuated by me screaming the house down convinced that I’d had my arms amputated after what was essentially a really heavy five day bender. The blissfully unaware baby slept through the night, and I woke up in the morning genuinely surprised to see a little pink thing in a Moses basket next to my bed.
I was lucky enough to have family to look after me and help loads, and that accounts for a huge amount of how I survived the early days with a new baby. And survive is – sadly, I suppose – the most apt word I can think of. Because I didn’t truly enjoy them, I couldn’t really treasure them. I was just dying to know when I’d feel normal. In my case, of course, the answer was ‘never’! And once I realised that life really had changed for good, the less pressure I felt and the more I began to settle into my new role.
|Martin Sheen the original Yummy Mummy|
I’m fortunate to come from a family who will drop everything and come to your rescue if you need them – and sometimes even when you don’t! It’s heartwarming, it’s welcome, but their unsurpassable thoughtfulness and generosity can also highlight shortcomings in other people: partners, friends, professionals. The women in my family rallied round: they cooked me iron-rich teas, they bought every breastfeeding aid on the market as I struggled with trying to breastfeed my big hungry new baby, they googled furiously, they did my washing, they blow dried my hair, they played with my son and showed his dad how to bath him as I was too unwell to lean over and do it. In fact, they bossed him around a bit and showed him how we do things in our family – and as unfair as that steamroller approach might be, it was for my benefit and it made my life easier. They knew I was going through a bit more than just the baby blues and they knew that I needed some TLC, at the same time as keeping the day to day things ticking over. It wasn’t even as if he was a ‘difficult’ baby. He only cried when hungry, went to bed easily, and was in good health. It wasn’t the baby that was giving me a hard time, I was just having a hard time.
One of the most difficult things in life can be to recognise when you’re not having a great time of it, and to relinquish some control and admit when you need a bit of emotional or practical help. I didn’t need help caring for the baby – and thankfully didn’t have any upsetting difficulties bonding with him – but I was grateful for help identifying what would make my life easier: doing the Big Shop online and having it delivered instead of traipsing round a supermarket with a car seat, letting family members look after the baby while I had a bath or finally got round to washing my hair, or asking to go round to my mum’s when I was too tired to cook.
When I first started to write this post I was going to list all the things that helped me and suggest them as tips for others, but of course they’re all very personal and what helps one person mightn’t be any use to the next (besides, I really believe there’s such a thing as information overload – especially for expectant mothers). It really does take a clear head and some creative thinking to see how you can make life easier for yourself or benefit from other people’s willingness to help in some way.
Some of it was very difficult for me: the baby slept well but I had never predicted the effect that waking once or twice in the night would have on me, let alone the insomnia caused by my anxiety. Every snuffle and whimper made me spring out of bed, but worse still: the absence of any noise petrified me and I’d lie awake filled with dread but too scared to look in his Moses basket. In the end I accepted my Mum’s suggestion that I go to bed at 8pm with earplugs in while the baby slept downstairs with his dad until 11pm when he would bring him up for a late feed (or dream feed) and then I’d at least get a few hours head start on my sleep, and was better prepared to deal with the 3am and 7am feeds.
It’s understandable when you have a new baby to want to do things your own way, to not want other people’s interference and to want to prove to yourself and everyone around you that you know best. But I’m not ashamed to say I was too tired to think straight, I was physically exhausted from anaemia and recovering slowly from my C-section, as well as coping with what was clearly PND but I hadn’t quite acknowledged at the time.
There are no prizes for being a martyr in this world, and delegating or accepting offers of help don’t make you a poor parent, or weak, or any less of a person than someone who turns down opportunities to make life that little bit easier here and there. In fact, it takes a considerable amount of strength to accept help and not beat yourself up over it.
I get that not everyone has family around them. Some people have a partner permanently at home and others don’t. Some people have a child that sleeps. Some have twins or older children. Some people can get into a routine, others can’t, and other still might not want to. But while some age-old aspects of parenting are celebrated – breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing – what about the old adage ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? There’s no shame in taking advantage of other people’s good will. You don’t get extra mummy points for doing everything yourself – so why try to?
A few weeks passed and all around me were pictures of other people’s shiny fat babies laid out in circles on handmade quilts with their “friends” from NCT groups. That means that someone somewhere was not only inviting ONE other mother and baby into their home but sometimes 6, 8, or even 10. Meanwhile I’d only spoken to the postman once or twice, walked to the chippy and back, and had a wrong number on the house phone from someone who was expecting to speak to “Derek” and was disappointed that all he got was me and on the end of the line, out of breath from a rousing chorus of Wind the Bobbin Up.
It was at this point that I realised I had to stop giving a shit what other people were doing. I had to stop giving a shit about what I thought other people thought I should be doing. I had to stop giving a shit about losing weight, being seen to be getting out and about, cute outfits for the baby, and pretending that everything was perfect. So I deleted Facebook, got those few hours extra sleep, and started being easier on myself.
Two years on and I still accept all the help I can get. Offers to take Primo for a walk, to get his hair cut, to take him to the zoo while I go to an appointment or out with friends. And what’s more; I ASK for help. It doesn’t make me a bad mum or a failure. In fact it makes me a good one. Because the easier I am on myself – the happier and better functioning I am – the better I can be for my child.
The only difference between now and the early days is that instead of going to sleep at 8pm, now I just get into bed, watch boxsets and eat chocolate until 11pm, so it’s swings and roundabouts really. Even now, it seems the best way to survive is to cut myself some slack. I so wish every new mum would do the same.