It's baby season! Around a dozen of my friends are pregnant - most of them with their first child. It got me to thinking about the things I wish I'd known before giving birth...the little bits of wisdom that perhaps would have made me realise my emotions and experiences were normal. That's Olivia and I above shortly after her birth in 2006 - still riding the wave of adrenalin (and probably some morphine, too...thanks emergency caesar!)
So, I want to share just a few of these things in the hope that they might reassure others venturing into motherhood for the first time...and encourage you to share your thoughts, too.
1. Having children is the best thing you will ever do. It's also one of the hardest. When you give birth to your first child you wave goodbye to life as you once knew it, and it's really quite shocking. The toughest thing is realising you cannot control the uncontrollable - babies will do what they want when they want to do it and you pretty much need to ride the wave as well as you can! Reassure yourself that in a few months this will be situation normal - everything is temporary.
2. Labour is just the beginning. So much to-do is made about the actual pregnancy and birth that you don't actually realise that there's an "after". Truth is, you launch straight from the birth and into caring for a newborn...there is no respite. You are exhausted, emotional, and now you are about to become very well acquainted with the hell of sleep deprivation. Don't beat yourself up if you feel overwhelmed and teary - it's completely normal for mums (and some dads) to shed a few tears in those first few days...or weeks! It's ok to be anxious and to feel like you have no idea what you're doing - just remember, every parent of a new baby has felt exactly the same way.
3. Rest while you're in hospital. You'll need energy for when you get home and it's just you and the baby. Most hospitals encourage "rooming in", which I absolutely agree with, but if you're an absolute zombie by home time you're not going to do anyone any good. If you really need a sleep, talk to the midwives and ask them to take the baby in the nursery for the night (bringing bub to you for feeds) - it's amazing what a difference a few uninterrupted hours' rest makes.
4. Even though you're now a mum, you're still you. I reckon the thing I struggled with most after having Olivia, our first, was losing my sense of identity. I went from working 12 hours days and being a well-respected manager, to being "just a mum". I didn't realise how much of myself was tied up in my career until I didn't have it anymore. So, do things that keep you in touch with "who you are" - whether that be writing, studying, hanging out with friends, etc. because your baby will only be a baby for a little while - you'll be you for the rest of your life, and being mum to a newborn is only one part of that long journey.
5. Take time our by yourself occasionally. Particularly if you're breastfeeding, it may seem like you and your newborn are tied together 24 hours a day...the reality is that you can't really bugger off for an entire day of pampering unless your bub takes a bottle. But unless you give yourself some time alone every once in a while - even if it's to go for a wander around the shops for an hour "between feeds" - you'll quickly go a bit barmy. It's important to look after yourself and not try to be superwoman - a baby has two parents for a reason - give Dad and bub some alone time occasionally and you'll all be a lot better off.
6. Babies aren't born knowing how to breastfeed. When it comes to breastfeeding I'm one of the lucky ones. I have lots of milk, gave birth to two boob fans, and have (so far) avoided mastitis or any other horrible side-effects. But getting it sorted in the early days took persistence...talk to most women and you'll hear the same story. So don't be disheartened if bub doesn't instantly latch on; if you're really keen to breastfeed and can't seem to get the hang of it, call in a lactation consultant sooner rather than later - several friends describe it as the best money they've ever spent. And if it doesn't work out, don't beat yourself up...Olivia's best friend has been on formula since she was two weeks old and I dare anyone to be able to pick the breastfed child from the two of them.
I want to conclude this post by acknowledging that it does dwell more on the negative...but there are so many wonderful, positive things about having a baby that I would need an entire library to document them all. Oh, and I'm not an expert by any means, so please read this in the spirit it is intended - as one mum's perspective.
What's your essential advice for mums-to-be?