Summer is most definitely upon us, and summer in our house means birthday season. With two days between my boys’ birthdays, we have a lot of birthday celebrations to look forward to next month. For me, birthday season is also a time I find myself looking back – looking back to this time nearly 5 years ago when, 36 weeks pregnant and at a wedding, someone told me I didn’t look as though I was about to have a baby. I hoped I still had a few weeks to go, but two days later I was in labour.
And looking back to this time nearly 3 years ago when, 33 weeks pregnant, I was planning my first boy’s 2nd birthday party and desperately hoping that the new babies would at least let me give him a good birthday before they arrived and changed his whole world.
I think now about the things that used to worry me as a first time mum. The things which I now advise friends not to spend any time worrying about used to consume all my thoughts. But now I have these walking, talking real little people in my world, I realise that very few of the things I spent so much time and energy fretting over actually mattered. Nearly 5 years later I am able to put things into perspective in a way that I just couldn’t as a new mum.
If I could go back to Baby #1, would I bother with a birth plan? I might do, but I would add a caveat (in capitals and underlined) saying something like this:
‘In an ideal world, this is what I would like to happen. But I recognise that I’ve never done anything remotely like this before so I have no idea how I will cope with the pain. I also have no idea whether there will be any complications that require medical intervention. With this in mind, I will not blame myself if things do not quite go to plan.’
I am pretty sure that in, say, 15 years time, if you inform your child that you had an epidural, s/he will not say ‘wow mum, what a cop out. I can’t believe you needed some pain relief to push a whole human out.’
Similarly, if you inform him/her that, you had to be rushed to theatre for an emergency c-section, I doubt s/he will say ‘So you took the easy option of being cut open did you mum? I really can’t believe you didn’t just press on with a natural delivery’.
No, they won’t say that. Because as long as you and baby (or babies) are healthy then it really doesn’t matter.
Nor does it really matter how you choose to feed your baby. I am all for supporting breastfeeding mums (I was one too), but the ‘breast is best’ message is being hammered home very heavily at the moment, leading to far too many stories of despairing mums feeling like they’re failing because breastfeeding isn’t working so well. I was one of them.
I loved this recent Guardian column by Sophie Heawood, and this line in particular:
So brainwashed had I been by “Breast is Best” that I would now like all British medics to add a caveat to that campaign: “But Starving Is Much, Much Worse”.
Thank you Sophie – so true.
And I look back now and think yes, if breastfeeding works for you then what a lovely way to feed your baby. But is it worth it if it’s resulting in a teary, anxious mum who feels like a failure? Probably not. Because this is what happens: eventually you emerge from the haze that is the first few months with a new baby and before you know it your baby is 1. S/he is on the move, laughing, chuckling and babbling. And you look at your baby and at all the other 1 year olds and realise that by this stage, no-one really cares how you fed your baby. Feeding takes up most of your thoughts in the first few months because your baby does little else, but now there are a whole host of other things to think about. And whether you decided to bottle feed or breastfeed, there is very little difference between your 1 year old and all the other 1 year olds you know. You are no less proud of your baby just because s/he has had some milk from a bottle.
But I had no sense of perspective back then, just as I had no idea that there were no set answers to most of my questions. We are the generation that wants all the answers as quickly as possible, and we will scour books and online forums to find them. Like all the other first time mums I knew, I was desperate to do everything by the book for my first child, but then found it difficult to accept that there wasn’t necessarily a right way to do things.
I remember being on the post-natal ward with boy #1 – he’d had a feed but wouldn’t settle. ‘He needs a new nappy’ the midwife told me. Suddenly my eyes filled with tears. ‘But the other midwife said to change his nappy before his milk. So am I supposed to do it before or after?’ I blubbed, unable to understand why two midwives had told me different things. The reality was that my baby was free to fill his nappy whenever he chose – no-one could tell me exactly when I’d need to change it, just as no-one could give me set answers to any of the countless other questions I had.
I would get frustrated with health visitors – why was one saying one thing only for another to tell me something totally different the following week? Why didn’t anyone seem to be able to tell me exactly how to go about this looking after a baby business?
By the time the twins arrived I had realised a crucial thing: there were no right answers. This realisation made everything much easier the second time around, but for new-mum-me it came as a shock. I had to work it all out on the job. And yes, the job was keeping a little human alive so it was easily the hardest job I’d ever had; but it was still a case of trial and error to find out what suited me and my new baby. I wasn’t very good at trial and error. Especially the error part.
And if I could pass a message onto new-mum-me, it would be this:
In five years time your home will have been turned upside down by three little boys who run, chase, jump and wrestle. They will make you laugh every day and also drive you to the brink of madness. You will have a lot of grey hairs.
Whatever decisions you make over the next few months – natural delivery or pain relief, breast or bottle, weaning at 5 months or weaning at 6 months – you will eventually get to this point. Boys will be turning your house upside down and, unfortunately, you will have a lot more grey hairs than you’ve got now. And those days of fretting over milk, weaning and all those other new baby worries will seem like a whole world away.