For the new mummy

Hello new mummy, and congratulations.

Perhaps you have bounced straight back from an uncomplicated birth, or you might be feeling a bit like you’ve been hit by a bus. You probably had your ideas about how you wanted the birth to go; but however many books we read, none of us really has any clue what to expect…..either during labour or afterwards.

Everyone talks to you about labour, don’t they. Everyone has an opinion and advice to share. But no-one talks to you about afterwards. Well, they talk to you about changing nappies and sleepless nights and feeding – people love to talk to you about those things. They talk to you about the baby; but no-one talks to you about you.

I’m not sure why that is…..probably because we are worried about frightening mums-to-be. But when we don’t talk about it, well some of the things that happen in those early days are frightening. They frightened me, because I had no idea whether they were normal. No-one had told me about those bits.

You might be thinking that your body doesn’t look like your own any more…..and it probably doesn’t feel like your own either. The first time you attempted to stand up after giving birth your legs probably felt all shaky and wobbly, like they were about to give way. No-one told you that just standing up on your own two feet might be a struggle. No-one told you that, for a little while after having your baby, you might genuinely worry that your legs no longer worked properly.

They told you about the bleeding, though. You read about that; so you got prepared and packed all the things the books told you to pack in your hospital bag.

You just weren’t expecting the bleeding to be quite like this……you weren’t expecting there to be so much of it. So much bleeding when your legs are all wobbly and shaky and you just don’t feel able to deal with it. So you’re searching through your bag for everything you need…that bag you carefully packed before this life and body-changing event happened; but you almost feel like it was a different person who packed that bag.

It feels strange searching through this bag of things that are familiar but also feel like they belong in a previous life.

It is strange, being in this body that doesn’t quite feel like your own.

And now you need the toilet and you even feel frightened about that – no-one told you that going to the loo would be scary. Your legs are still shaky and you’re bleeding and now you’re worrying about what’s going to happen when you sit down on the loo.

You wonder whether your body will ever feel normal again.

But now here we are a few days later, and you think you’re starting to recover – everyone says you’re doing really well. So you go for a walk and then realise you no longer seem to have control of your bladder. And you cry, because you remember being advised to do your pelvic floor exercises, but you never really knew what that actually meant or whether you were doing them properly. You never really understood how much you took your bladder for granted.

And now you’d really like it back.

Your body feels like it belongs to someone else, and your hormones are all over the place and you’re sore and swollen, and you’re not sure what day or time it is AND you’ve just produced a tiny human that you now need to care for. So it’s not surprising that baby blues is an actual thing. There it is on Day 3.

Bang.

You’ve got everything you wanted but you JUST CAN’T STOP SOBBING.

But in between the crying and the bleeding and the feeling a bit shaky, you’ve got this brand new little human to keep alive. And suddenly you feel unsure about everything. Are you supposed to change the nappy before you feed or after you feed? Should your baby be in a vest and sleepsuit or just a vest? Or just a sleepsuit? In your old life you were a reasonably competent human being, you knew what you were doing; but now you need everything to be validated, confirmed by someone who knows. Where is your manager in all of this?

But there is no-one to give you all the answers…….there are just lots of other people with opinions. And all the opinions are different.

And the feeding, well that’s supposed to just happen, isn’t it? Apparently, the baby will just crawl up your chest and latch on. You’ve bought one of those nice covers to take out with you so you can ‘feed discreetly’ in a cafe. Except no-one told you about the fighting and grappling and struggling that would happen every time your baby needs some milk. No-one told you that you would have midwives clamping your baby’s head onto your breast as you struggle to get the hang of this thing that is so natural but so difficult for many.

And they said it wouldn’t hurt. But it really hurts.

New mum – you probably expect a lot of yourself. You expect your body to work as it did before, despite the fact that you have just produced an actual person and now you are using all your remaining stores of energy to keep him/her alive. Your body will heal, but not straight away. Remember what it has been through.

Don’t judge yourself by how other people are getting on – some things are hard for some and easier for others. That is parenting.

It is easy to forget yourself in all of this; but don’t forget yourself, new mum. Make time in your life for people who make you smile, who ask how you are, and who help to make this an easier job.

People like to tell new mums to ‘enjoy every moment’, but don’t worry if you’re not. Just do your best, and eat some cake. Right now, you don’t need to expect any more of yourself than that.

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On going properly OUT, when going out just isn’t really what you do anymore

You gain many things when you become a mum, but you lose some things too. For many of us, one of these things is confidence.

Confidence to do all sorts of things……like lunchtime networking at a work conference (AGGGGHHHHHH….. I hate it).

Like meeting new people, and trying to find an interesting version of yourself that has actual things to talk about. Things which aren’t related to children.

Like going out. I don’t mean going out to the pub or going out to eat….. I can do both of these things pretty well. But going out somewhere that is full of people and music and dancing. You know…..going OUT.

Out out.

Properly out.

I used to do it a lot, because that’s what you do in your teens and twenties; but these days…..well no, I don’t. Because I like sitting down, and wearing comfortable clothes, and being able to hear what people are saying to me. So until last Saturday night, I probably hadn’t been out out for about 5 years.

5 whole years.

But on Saturday I did it. With a group of lovely ladies….most of whom I had never met before. The thought of it made me oh-so-nervous, but I did it.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few tips to help you along:

What to wear:

If, like me, your clothes fall broadly into the following categories: 1) mum clothes 2) work clothes 3) wedding outfits; then you might feel you need to buy something new to wear. You probably don’t have time to go to the actual shops, but don’t worry…..the supermarket is a perfectly acceptable place to locate your new outfit. It is altogether less daunting than Top Shop, and you can pick up some tinned tomatoes and a loaf of bread at the same time.

If you’re wondering about suitable footwear, let me recommend wedges. I love a heel, but these days the combination of wearing heels plus staying up way past my bedtime is not a good one. I found wedges to be an excellent compromise – more likely than heels to get you through a whole night without crippling your feet, but you feel less like you’re on the school run than you might do wearing flats.

Other people:

As you look around, you may feel surprised at the number of very young people that appear to be out very late at night. Seriously, they look like children. And then you remember that many of these youngsters could quite feasibly be 20 years younger than you. This is alarming……try not to show it.

If you want to seek out people who are at a similar life-stage to you, look for the cross-body bag. Nothing says proper-grown-up-on-a-night-out like a cross-body bag.

Music:

You probably won’t recognise a large number of the songs, and you may feel mildly shocked at some of the language that is blasting out of the speakers. Do your best not to show your shock, and remember that your children aren’t present so you don’t need to cover anyone’s ears.

A wave of relief will sweep over you when you hear songs from 15 or 20 years ago. In your mind these songs are, and will always be, current.

Keeping going when it is VERY LATE:

Let’s face it, at the time you are venturing out (in our case, 11pm on Saturday night…..11PM!) you would probably usually be tucked up in bed. Keeping going when you have felt tired since the day you became a mum can be a challenge, and at regular intervals you will wonder whether you can keep your eyes open any longer…… 12.30am, 1am, 2am, and definitely by 3am.

When you are hit by the I’m-not-sure-I-can-stand-up-any-longer feeling, just think about all the things you have done and possibly still do that have been so much more challenging than this. Think of the night feeds and the nappy changes. Think of rocking a crying baby and wondering whether you’ll ever be able to sleep again. Think of changing wet sheets in the middle of the night; or of lying on the floor next to your baby hoping that you might, within the next hour, be able to creep back to your own bed again. Think about all the caring and cuddling and feeding and cleaning and changing that you have done at 12.30am, at 1am, at 2am and at 3am.

Think of all the 5am starts.

Think of all of that, and then you’ll realise that this – standing up in your wedges wearing your new Sainsbury’s dress – perhaps isn’t so difficult after all.

wedges

Thank you Tesco sensitive sole wedges.

 

 

When mums meet mums

Some mornings feel hard…… Proper, I-don’t-know-how-we’re-going-to-get-out-of-the-house hard.

You get used to hard mornings when you become a mum. And hard evenings. And hard days too.

But once I open the front door, somehow the hard morning feels more manageable. Because with the sight of other mums comes the realisation that it is probably not just me who has had a battle to get out this morning….. Or who has driven themselves mad asking their children to put on their socks or do up their coat….. Or has been resolving arguments and wiping up spillages and drying tears for at least two hours. It may not just be me who is feeling like a lousy mum because on some days this most basic of tasks – getting ready in the morning – feels beyond us without the whole house ending up in tears.

There are probably other mums who would also like to write off the whole morning and start again.

I always feel better at the sight of these lovely people, many of whom I see day in, day out. There is the mum who understands every bit of what a hard morning feels like. Who knows if I’m close to tears, will pop an arm around my shoulder and will probably message me later to tell me she understands and that she’s had a hard week too. There are the mums I know I could call on if I needed help with a pick up or drop off. Mums I can stand chatting to outside the school gates and not even realise that 20 minutes have passed. There are the mums who know that my eldest boy loves soup and maps and train timetables; and are thoughtful enough to pass on things they know he’ll love. There are the mums with whom I can happily while away an evening drinking wine, eating cheese, and discussing everything and nothing. Our husbands ask what we spend so long talking about……little do they know that we could easily have spent much longer if we weren’t so aware of needing to get some precious sleep. There are mums who make me laugh, mums who make me think and mums who make me feel better. Mums who reassure me that just because you sometimes find motherhood hard doesn’t mean that you’re not a good mum. It just means that it IS hard sometimes. Amazing mums who juggle demanding jobs and busy homes and are still there for each other.

When you have a baby, everyone tells you to get out and meet other mums. So that’s what you do. You try baby groups and baby yoga and baby music. You feel your way through the crowds and gradually find your group.

You force yourself out on no sleep, because you know this is the way to stay sane. You scout out the baby friendly cafes and sit with coffee and cake and a tiny baby in a pram. You talk, you listen, you laugh, and sometimes you have a good cry. Crying is ok, because there is always a shoulder and no-one thinks you’ve gone crackers…..everyone gets it.

You talk about routines, naps, dropping feeds, weaning, babies’ bowel movements; and whether your pelvic floor will ever recover. You never envisaged that this would be how you would make new friends; but it seems that when your bodies have been through childbirth, nothing is too big or small a topic.

You go to the park with big mats and toys and plenty of snacks. You walk the streets with pushchairs trying to get tired babies to sleep.

You delight in milestones and do the rounds of birthday parties.

As big things change, so your group changes too. Mums go back to work, children start school, people move house. Your network of mums will shuffle around and maybe change entirely. But what doesn’t change is the need for a strong and supportive group around you. The need for reassurance, for laughs, and for a cup of tea or glass of wine with people who understand the everyday ups and downs and reassure you that yes, your little worries are relevant and important.

So here is a pretty sunflower for all the wonderful mums who help each other to navigate their way through this oh-so-confusing parenting jungle. It would be a much harder journey if we didn’t all have each other. x

Sunflower

The benefit of hindsight

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.

And only 2 days passed before they were with us. New twins

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 aged 1baby 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.

new mum

Perfectly normal behaviour for parents

  1. The constant need to eat – anything loaded with sugar is particularly appealing. You expect this when you’re pregnant or when you’ve got a new baby to feed; but you think it will have calmed down by the time you have 4 and 2 year olds.
    iced buns

    Yes please I would like an iced bun

    It doesn’t – as your children get more demanding, you just get hungrier. I am lucky enough to get a free hot lunch at work – a major perk that I enjoy a bit too much. I sit with colleagues who tell me they won’t be eating an evening meal that night – apparently their lunch will see them through. Excuse me? I arrive home desperate for some sugar, after which I polish off any leftovers from the boys’ tea and then eat my own (hot) meal when they’re in bed. Sometimes followed by half a pack of crackers.

  2. Finding yourself at 11pm in a sitting room that resembles a ransacked supermarket, staring at a television screen which messy houseis telling you that CBeebies has now gone to bed and will be back at 6am, because you’re too tired to a) tidy up b) see if there is anything more meaningful to watch than the CBeebies memo c) get ready for bed, which is the most exhausting job of all.
  3. Taking a few moments to process any questions that aren’t about your children. You will probably find yourself staring blankly at the person who has asked you the question, before realising you’re supposed to say something. By which time they’ve probably walked off.
  4. Quite enjoying a trip to the doctor’s – it’s a change of scene, the children’s waiting area is not dissimilar to being at a playgroup, and there’s a whole new room for them to explore / destroy when you get in the consulting room. When you’ve got several small people to get out the door, anything counts as a family outing.
  5. Pulling boys’ pants out of your handbag when you’re at the hairdresser’s (without your children).
  6. Laundry being a permanent feature of your home – there are laundry baskets in most rooms, racks of shirts hanging over the doors and piles of clothes on any available surfaces. You are beyond caring that you have guests coming and your underwear is on display in the kitchen.
  7. Attempting to drape a scarf strategically over both shoulders because, having arrived at work thinking you look quite presentable, you’ve realised you have a combination of sick, drool and Weetabix on both shoulders.

I would say my standards have definitely slipped in the last five years.