When I decided I wanted to have a baby I knew nothing about babies. Despite being almost 30, none of my close friends had babies and there were no babies in my family. In hindsight I think that was probably for the best. Had I known what I was letting myself in for I’d have been researching vasectomies instead of fertility. I don’t think I ever really thought about what life with a baby would be like but if I had I suspect it might have involved the baby sleeping all the time and me doing a lot of baking. As you can imagine, my experience of becoming a mum wasn’t quite like that.
What I Wish I’d Known About Becoming a First Time Mum
There are some things that t would have been really useful to know in advance, things that would have made being a first time mum that bit easier.
That Not Everyone Bonds with their baby Straightaway
While I knew all about postnatal depression and I had heard that some mums didn’t feel that big rush of love straight away I really wasn’t prepared for the possibility of not bonding with my baby for months or how that would effect my mental health. If you don’t fall madly in love with your baby early on, that makes all of the hardships of new motherhood even more shocking and that can be hard on your mental health. It isn’t your fault and there isn’t anything wrong with you. the love will come with time and things will start to get easier.
You can read more about bonding in my post on not loving your baby.
That Not Everyone Has Parenting Instincts
Social media (to me at least) seems to be full of people saying things like “ignore other people, you know your baby best, follow your instincts”. The trouble was, I had no instincts. I had no idea what my baby needed and, having discussed this with other mums over the years, I’ve discovered I wasn’t the only one.
That I should Have Stayed in Bed
Not instead of having a baby, but once I’d had it. Paternity leave is short and I wish I had confided myself to bed with the baby for that time and focussed on nothing but letting my body recover. I didn’t understand the huge physical toll 9 months of pregnancy, followed by labour and birth had taken and I feel like if I had taken more time to rest in those first weeks I’d have recovered more quickly.
The Things I’m Glad No One Told Me About Becoming a Mum
While knowledge is power, there are somethings I’m glad I’d didn’t know about motherhood in advance, essentially because if I’d known them, I might have run a mile!
About (the lack of) Sleep
Needless to say, the reality of living with a baby came as something of a shock. My illusions about sleep were quickly shattered on the first night when, 10 minutes after I went to bed following my 72 hour labour, I was awoken by the first of many demands for milk.
I couldn’t for the life of me understand how I was expected to keep getting up and feeding this child after what I had just been through. How could nature not have come up with a better system? Perhaps laying an egg?
Then you could just sit in the egg while you recovered, before you had to start feeding a live human (who incidentally had a tongue tie so required being on my breast at least 23 hours a day to get enough milk to sustain his 9lb 7 birth weight).
About the (lack of) Routine
Now I am a creature of habit. I like a routine. I like to stick to that routine. Boy Child unfortunately did not. When I was pregnant someone (who clearly hates me) recommended “The Contented Little Baby Book”. Sounds harmless doesn’t it? Just the sort of thing a first time Mum is looking for.
If you’ve never heard of Gina Ford, look her up. She’s obviously the devil. Not because she advocates sleep training, but for quotes like “put your baby to bed sleepy but awake”. How!!! If you’ve had a baby and achieved this, do tell me how?
My babies were either asleep in my arms or crying at pretty much all times. When I read the book pre baby it reassured me that I would soon have him in a routine, he would feed when it was time and sleep when it was time, becoming a mum would be easy. Er, no. He did what he liked, when he liked and I just had to fall in to line. That also made getting out of the house difficult, which didn’t help.
About the (Endless) Crying
Speaking of all the crying, colic. Both my children had it and it was hell, from 5pm to 10pm every night, they screamed non stop. Nothing we did would help. Boy Child would at least attempt to feed for a few minutes from time to time but Girl Child was totally inconsolable and would often not eat for the entire 5 hours (and neither would we).
The poor neighbours must have thought we were performing ritual torture, particularly as the nursery window was covered in foil to try and help them sleep better (more useful advice from Gina there).
At the time, I kind of just assumed it was normal. It was only when a friend who had children was staying and saw the state of Girl Child we realised not everyone goes through it.
About the (also Endless) Bodily Fluids
I was to some degree expecting the bodily fluids involved in parenthood. At least some of them. I knew there would be nappies, I knew there would be poo and wee. I knew there would be sick however I didn’t know how much sick or where it would end up. Boy Child was a sicky baby, he smelt of sour milk at all times and you never held him without a muslin.
When you were carrying him, he liked to vomit over your shoulder so you wouldn’t know he’d done until you stood in it a bit later (or worse, a visitor stood in it).
He also liked to projectile vomit up entire feeds. When it’s 3am and you’ve just spent an hour feeding, only for it to go flying across the room, there really are no words.
About the (Nonexistent) Me Time
The biggest shock of all for me was that you’re never really alone. I’m an introvert and I require a certain amount of time alone to function. Again, I hadn’t considered how a baby would impact on this. Want to read your book? Baby needs a nappy change. Want to eat your dinner? Baby wants theirs. Want to go to the toilet? Baby wants a cuddle (we’ve all gone to the toilet with baby on our laps, right?). I’m eternally grateful to my mum, a fellow introvert, for taking Boy Child out for a walk most days to give me time to regain my hanging from a thread sanity.
How Becoming a Mum Feels
For me, becoming a mum felt like a massive shock. I know that for some mums, it’s the greatest time of their life but for me, it really wasn’t like that.
Not loving my baby was a shock. How much hard work it took to care for a baby was a shock. The huge sense of responsibility was a shock.
Over time, becoming a mum gradually became a more positive thing. Adapting to being a mum took time but little by little I came to feel like a mum. Experiencing my baby responding to me as he got older did bring me the joy I’d heard other mums talk about. While I found all of the early years hard, I started to find some parts I could enjoy and I held on to those.
Why Becoming a New Mum is Hard
While society may act like motherhood is the most natural thing in the world, I think most women would agree that becoming a mum hard to one degree or another. Here are the reasons I think that is.
- We give up our freedom and take on responsibility – Most of us come to motherhood from a place of great freedom, having had a great deal of independence and financial freedom. Motherhood usually leaves us with less financial freedom and with another human being wholly dependent on us, getting out and about with a baby is hard so we often feel trapped.
- The learning curve is huge – Even if you’ve got lots of experience with children, learning to take care of your own baby 24 hours a day is a whole new ball game
- We start the journey from a place of exhaustion – Pregnancy is tiring, labour is tiring, babies don’t sleep. We’re trying to learn all of this new stuff while exhausted
- We no longer have a village – Our families are spread out across the country or even the world so the support available to us is more limited than nature ever intended
Becoming a Mum – Ten Years On
I’ve been a mum for ten years now and I am still grateful everyday that the early years are over and done with. When I look back at how hard those early months were I am amazed that I went on to have a second. I look back on old photos of my children when they were babies and toddlers and while I’d love to pop back in time and given them a quick squeeze, I wouldn’t turn the clock back for anything.
All in all, I was pretty naive when I started my parenthood journey. I suspect we all are to some extent (otherwise the human race would have died out long ago) but I think I may have been more naive than most, for which my children are very grateful.
If you’re looking for some support to help you with becoming a mum, I suggest checking out your local NCT*.