Nothing prepared me for it. It was, as Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire describes, all at once and much, much too completely, like suddenly turned a blinding on something that had always been half in shadow. That is how motherhood struck for me. In the last few months of my pregnancy, I was anxious, as you may expect most new mums are. Of course, we had done all the grown up things. We had a new house and new life insurance and a new crib. I had a stack of neutral bodysuits and neutral muslins. I worried that I would not know how to hold him, that I would make mistakes, that he would feel like a stranger’s baby. I worried that life would never be the same again.
And, of course, it wasn’t. But not in the way I expected.
Having a new baby is one of the most life-altering experiences that people can go through. It changes the texture of everything. The focus of your life forever shifts towards that tiny, mewling bundle – whether you want it to or not. That is something I did not realise. I did not realise that motherhood would take the parts of me that I thought I knew, the unchangeable core that I recognised as my essence, and mix it around, rearrange and reorder me. I did not know I would have to learn who I was again.
When you are preparing for a new baby, there is a lot of advice around. There are new baby checklists and gift lists and hospital bag guides. There are definitely items that can help with the practicalities, definitely products that will help you, or hinder you, through those painful, transitional months.
When my son was born, he would not be put down for the first few weeks – the famous fourth trimester. We took turns, staying up to hold him while he slept – and by the time he was a month old we were like zombies. Second time round, a co-sleeping cot meant we were able to snatch a few hours together and it made the world of difference for us.
Don’t buy lots of fancy outfits – sleepsuits are a mother’s best friend.
You will definitely need maternity pads and a car seat.
Don’t buy cot bumpers – they are not considered safe and are not necessary.
There are also things to learn, and think about. Some people will give great advice:
- Prepare to have your mind and preconceptions changed (or thrown out of the window). When your baby comes you might not be the parent you thought you’d be. It’s easy to say you are definitely going to breastfeed/implement a routine/co-sleep etc but until baby is here you genuinely can’t tell. Each baby is individual and with all the best laid plans in the world, a baby will have its own agenda so be flexible in your parenting and approach.
- Have confidence in you, your ability and the things you want/don’t want to happen. Don’t let other people’s comments, thoughts or projections knock your confidence.
- Talk to your Other Half about your expectations of parenthood in the first few weeks. Cuddle lots and be there for each other. There will never again just be the two of you.
- Educate yourself – on labour and birth, and breastfeeding. Knowledge is power. The more you prepare, the more likely you are to get what you want.
- Get fit and healthy as it can sustain you well throughout pregnancy and beyond.
- Make meals for the freezer in the weeks leading up to the birth.
- Make yourself and your little one a priority. Don’t feel you have to see people straight away.
- Do your pelvic floor exercises.
- Go out with your partner and friends before the baby arrives. Go to the cinema. Eat dinner out. You will not be as free to go wherever you please, whenever you want in quite the same way for a very long time.
Ultimately, though, learning to look after your baby, learning to find what works for you – some parts will be much easier than you imagined. And some will be much, much harder. For me, the hardest part was adjusting to the change in the emotional landscape. The way I think and feel about so many things has changed forever. That is the biggest challenge, not whether you are up to the task. You got this. But part of being up to the challenge means changing in ways you never thought you would.
It is painful. It is difficult. It is rewarding and awe-inspiring and terrifying.
How can anyone ever truly prepare for that?
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Many thanks to the following blogs for advice for new mums: