We are conditioned (through our culture and media) to presume what to expect from a newborn baby.
We go and buy 'hospital outfits' because they are sooooo cute and we can't wait to dress our sweet little baby in these tiny doll-like clothes. We buy nursery furniture because our babies will be blissfully and contentedly sleeping in a lovely soft bed (which we were so excited to have ready before they were born) and we can gaze lovingly into their sweet face as they sleep 'like a baby'.
But what if that's not the reality? What if you suffer through a prolonged birth, experience stress, anxiety, fear, depression, or anything other than 'newborn bliss'? What if your baby doesn't latch on? What if your baby refuses to feed? What if your baby refuses to be put down at all and you end up completely strung out after 48 hours wondering what the hell you have done to your life?
So, the first thing is DON'T PANIC. All of that is normal. You might experience bliss one moment and sheer terror the next. Again NORMAL. Why? It’s hard. Also hormones. Yup. Your body is pumping your brain full of wacky hormones to
a) go into labour and
Without those hormones you couldn't do anything for your baby.
The trick is - forget everything you think you know. Forget everything your culture has unwittingly conditioned you to believe (which is actually going to make this whole thing harder).
So, for Mental Health Week, we’re bringing you a real life story from a really amazing mum who has really been there.
Loneliness and the Loss of Personal Identity
I’m a project manager. I’m very organised. I thought I could do the whole baby thing with one hand, balancing on a tight rope. Ah, the arrogance of the pre-child parent. The reality was balancing on a tightrope, and we all know that we are lucky if we have a hand free.
I was lucky. I felt an immediate love and connection with my beautiful baby with the huge personality from the start. I wanted to and could breastfeed, my partner was very supportive and loving, I couldn’t stop cuddling my baby. I also had a whole bunch of grapes hanging out of my bum but hey-ho. We had lots of visitors which felt very lovely but a bit overwhelming.
Then real life starts. The other parent goes back to work and reverts to normal life. They don’t know what’s going on at home other than you have loads of time, right? So, you should be able to get it all done – baby brain training session, house stuff, dinner, and a few admin tasks…
My memories of my time at home alone with my first child…Getting up after the long night of the short sleep. The sense of the lonely silence screaming at you behind the constant pull of the needs of your baby, crying or not. Trying to make sure you get into a baby group or at least some sort of company before you go crazy. Making sure you are following all the correct recommendations. The very slowly evolving understanding of your partner that things had to change for them too in order to support you and actively become a parent.
I live in a town that is defined by extreme leftism: not inflicting routine on your child, being very environmentally friendly and martyring the mother to the child. When faced with the huge challenges of becoming a parent, these are extra layers you don’t need.
Our household has a good income level, but we can’t afford ‘luxury’ childminding. We live far from our extended family networks, some of whom we wouldn’t want to rely on anyway. The chance for a break is limited. I felt that other parents made parent friendship groups easily, that I wasn’t wanted, and that they managed to get to places on time and with snacks.
This all sent me mad. Anti depressants were the only way out. Who has time or money for therapy? Who has time to make sure it works before you have a long term effect on your child?
I’m now pretty sure everyone feels a bit like this at some point during that post first child period.
Here are my suggestions:
- Children’s Centres – lifesavers
- Homestart charity – I had a wonderful lady, Chloe, rescue me for a couple of hours a week for extra sleep or a bath on my own.
- Anti depressants – they aren’t that bad, find the right one and the right dose for you at the different times
- Go with your instincts - Don’t listen to all the recommendations against your common sense or sanity.
- Look after yourself - Sanity of the parents is likely to be the main impact on your child’s future. The rest are only much smaller parts that make up the whole.
- Give yourself a break – Cbeebies is amazing. This is one way to get your break. I found some of the programs quite soothing myself! I can recommend Waybuloo and Baby Jake. It's hard to manage to take time for yourself, but carve it out. You need it.
- Flexibility in your approach on managing your baby. You might need to have a bit more routine, or you might need to let the routine go a bit. Find your way.
So ladies, this can get really real. Just remember that everything is a phase, even childhood, and make sure that you look after yourselves.
Lots of love to the amazing women hustling everyday and doing our best, as best we can. And don’t forget to be nice to each other (as if we need to tell you that)!