Now that I’ve finally started to be able to talk and think clearly about the birth, I’ve been reflecting a lot about those hazy, early days of motherhood. Looking at the above picture makes me quite sad – it was the day we finally left hospital and I had no idea what was coming. In that moment I was scared but I was excited about going home with our precious baby. I didn’t know that the minute I stepped outside the hospital room I would feel lost and scared, and I thought I might have bypassed the baby blues. I didn’t know they would hit me in a big way as soon as we got home and I had no idea it would get a hell of a lot worse before it got better. I just want to give that girl in the picture a big hug and give her this advice.
Take all the time you need as a family
I was in such a confused, emotional state in the days after having Joseph that I just went along with agreeing that people could come to the house to meet Joseph. On reflection, it was not the best idea, and although it may sound selfish, what I really needed in that time was just the three of us at home. It was completely overwhelming, and this was at a time when I still could barely walk, let alone talk to people. I understand people wanted to see Joseph, especially as we’d been in hospital for so long, but the reality is that I got out of hospital on a Thursday, we had visitors Friday and Saturday, and Nick was back to work on the Monday. So we only had Sunday alone together. Suddenly then the visitors dried up at a time when I needed them the most, and I was left alone with a baby, only just over a week after having him. In hospital Nick did a lot of Joseph’s care as it took me so long to get round to his cot due to the pain, so when we got home I was completely clueless.
So if we have another baby, I would like to take as long as we need to bond as a family before letting everyone else in. You do not get that time back again, so use it wisely!
I shared this picture (from The Post Partum Stress Center) on Instagram recently and it seems to have struck a cord with a lot of mums. So many times, especially in the early days I wouldn’t let anyone help me. I’m not sure why this was, but it could be a combination of me being the kind of person who always does their own thing, and me not wanting people to think I don’t know what I’m doing. I suppose I probably felt it was a sign of weakness letting someone step in and help, or have a chat with me about things, so I never took anyone up on it, which I’m sorry for. I also was well aware of how I was feeling about the birth, so I often couldn’t be around anyone who spoke about their own births or reminded me of being pregnant. I felt I had changed so much as a person, but couldn’t talk about what I’d been through without crying, so it was just easier to shut people out. I felt like I was depressing everyone around me and I couldn’t keep a lid on my tears at times so it was easier to deal with it alone. This has meant that I have lost some friends unfortunately, and haven’t ended up in a ‘mum-group’ (whatever that is), which is sad but do I want friends who didn’t recognise that I was going through a hard time?
I often read some things online like ‘What new parents really need visitors to do’ and they almost always say ‘Offer to make them a cup of tea/do the dishes’ etc. When I read this I think ‘no one did that for us’, but then even if they had offered, would I have accepted their help? Probably not. I’m my own worst enemy at times and I need to learn to let people in and allow them to help in those moments.
Don’t rush in to going to baby groups/classes
Or don’t go to any at all if you don’t want to! Very early on I was asked by a few people when I was going to “get out” and go to baby groups or classes. It’s also one of the first questions a mum asks you when you start speaking to her – ‘what classes are you doing?’ I felt an enormous pressure to get out and do things with Joseph that I took him to his first class when he was 7 weeks old, which I think is pretty early. Of course, he had no idea what was going on and was not interested in the slightest. I didn’t enjoy it either, as the mums there had established their own cliques and were not interested in my attempts to talk to them. It really put me off going to any more, but I have done a few different ones since then and I’m glad I have, as Joseph is really starting to get a lot out of the classes and I have met some lovely mums (still encountering cliques though). But I wouldn’t take a baby that early again unless I was absolutely desperate for adult company. I remember my Health Visitor once asking me if I ever just sat gazing at Joseph for the day at home. At first I thought “that’s odd, why would I just sit staring at him”, but then I realised I was so focused on getting out of the house every day that I wasn’t savouring just sitting at home with him doing nothing. Now I make sure we have some days where we don’t even leave the house and we sit playing for ages.
Leave the mum guilt behind
We all do this, but I gave myself such a hard time in the beginning. I felt guilty about how the birth went, and guilty that I couldn’t breastfeed Joseph. As a result I felt the need to explain why I was formula feeding to everyone I met and whenever another woman looked at me I assumed she was judging me for not breastfeeding. It really wasn’t a good state of mind to be in and I’m glad I just don’t care as much anymore.
Although it was always my intention to give breastfeeding a good try, the pressure from people to do exactly that was quite intense. If we have another baby, I will remind myself that I’m under no obligation to even attempt breastfeeding if I don’t want to, and if I want to go straight to formula feeding I will. I’ll be ready this time for the constant barrage of ‘how are you feeding your baby?’ I know what’s best for me and my baby, it’s my body after all, and only I know what it’s like to have gone through what I have. And I’ll remind myself I’m under no obligation to explain any of this to anyone!
Remember that it will get better!
When you’re in the thick of it, not knowing what you’re supposed to do with this tiny little baby, you really can’t see a way out and how it possibly will ever get better. I’m sure if we have another baby I won’t believe people constantly telling us that ‘it will get better’ (I’m guilty of telling new parents this too), but it really did get better for us. Once we were past the first few months and I was starting to feel better in myself, things did get easier. We understood Joseph more and were able to handle things a lot better. That’s not to say we don’t still have really difficult days, but it is 100 times better than those newborn days!
Look after yourself
It’s ironic I can’t find a single picture of myself that suits this title!
I do take time for myself occasionally, even if it’s just a quick trip to the shops or actually drying my hair properly and taking time with my make up (a luxury!) when Nick is at home. However, I don’t do this often enough and as a result I do struggle at times with feeling overwhelmed. I know it is so important to do these things to recharge yourself. I wish I had done more of it in the newborn days as I was so lost in the sea of trying to be a good mum that I didn’t realise that in order to be one you have to also look after yourself.
I don’t think you ever fully switch off as a mum, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have been blessed with these wonderful little babies to look after and I am grateful every day for the chance to be Joseph’s mum.