Friday, March 20, 2009

6 things I wish I'd known before I gave birth

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 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?


Anonymous said...

Trust your instinct. You may think its all hogwash or you may reckon you dont have a clue, but you actually do know a lot more than you think.

Aneets said...

I think the biggest thing is asking for help when you need it. Also DO NOT leave the hospital until you think you have gotten as many pointers as you can from the midwives re breastfeeding. After that make sure you have the ABA number on your speed dial and call if you need to. They saved my life (and my sanity) many times.

Also if people offer to give you a hand in some way, be it cook a meal or give you some much needed time away from baby (hard when you're breastfeeding I know, but an hour can feel like ages in those early days) take them up on it!

Mel said...

The tip about losing your identity really struck a chord. Although I didn't feel like that right away, after giving birth to my second boy I started to feel as though people only every saw me as a mum. Even my hubby, who I've been with for 6 years, has forgotten what I was like before being a mum!

My tip for expectant mums is to not expect anything, or to expect the worse. Expect your baby to cry for hours for no reason. Expect to get no sleep at all. Be as flexible and adaptable as you can be. Nothing is "normal" or "abnormal" about what babies do and don't do. Some sleep all day, some may cry all day, others are somewhere in between. Just take it as it rolls. I find the more relaxed you are, the easier it can become.

Reality Raver said...

Great post, and I can certainly relate to it. The that gets me is the boredom and mundanity that motherhood can sometimes be.

Somedays are just like Groundhog Day. I swear I am constantly in the kitchen preparing meals.

But having said that give them lots of cuddles and kisses when they are babies as it goes so fast. And I always get a good belly laugh with my 4 year old once a day. That keeps me going.

Poppy Letterpress said...

Great post, glad there are mums out there willing to share! I for one can't wait till this bub graces us with it's presence, but I'm sure it'll be a time full of ups and downs.

Barb Fisher said...

I agree with all of the above, and although I probably shouldn't be commenting right now after an action packed trip to the shops with my 2 year old (total count of throw-on-the-ground tanties: THREE), I'm putting in my 2 cents worth:

In a movie I can't now remember, one of the characters said: 'This too will pass'. It has always stuck in my mind and is particularly applicable to babies and small children. With a newborn, I found myself thinking OH GOD, this is my life now - forever! I will never sleep again, eat properly again, go to a movie again, get fully dressed again. But everything is finite and all phases pass, and just when you think that this is how it is, everything changes (this can be good and bad!).

Secondly, don't compare yourself too much to others. I always found myself thinking that everyone was doing it better than me somehow. Really, we all achieve things in our own way and the best way to be a great parent is to do what feels right and comfortable for you - not like your mother-in-law or your friend down the street or the 15 other mothers in your mothers group.

I'm off to watch some crappy reality TV while my little monkey sleeps. I think I've earned it this morning!

Anonymous said...

As a mad (young)mum of five (eldest nearly 17 and youngest 7) all I can say is to try to enjoy every moment, because it goes so fast. Create relationships with your children from day dot, talk to them about everything, laugh with them, cry with them.

Don't expect to be Supermum, nobody is!, and remember to write down every little funny thing that they do - because you will forget!!!

shon said...

I wish I had believed the grandmothers when they said 'slow down and enjoy because it goes so fast'. Now my baby is almost 10 and I feel sad at times that I felt compelled to rush back to work and that I missed alot of the early years because of my own identity crisis. To be thought of as a mum is one of the highest accolades of my life and I agree with anon, its all about the relationship you create with them that makes life so rewarding later on.

Karla said...

Mandy, if I could say things as eloquently as you, this is what I would hope to say. Motherhood, is simply like nothing else, and certainly not something you can ever be really prepared for .... well first time around anyway.

Although I was never diagnosed, I suspect I suffered from post natal depression when my little man arrived. When he turned one (and by which time I was feeling sooooo much better) I found myself simply gutted to think that I could not remember a lot of those early weeks and really slumped. I was under such a black cloud and so sleep deprived when he was born, I think I had blocked it all out. I felt tremendously guilty and really sad. Anyway I ended up seeing a therapist and it really helped to talk about it. I feel like I have been able to let the guilt go along with realising I had so many expectations of what having my own child would be like. I am adopted and think that perhaps having never been bothered by that, found that having my own baby unearthed a whole heap of issues that I have never consciously addressed.

It hasn't been an easy road, but my god I think my son is just the most precious thing in the world and I adore being his mum. Heaven knows when I am referred to as a 'mummy', I feel all warm and goey.

Should we get to have another child, I am hopeful that I won't be so hard on myself and allow things to come naturally. At the very least I know that the really hard part will pass so to just roll with it.