Dear Maggie

Becoming a parent for the first time has been quite a traumatic experience at times and whilst it is also filled with wonderful, wonderful moments, I wish I had been a little better prepared for what was about to come. They say that nothing can prepare you for Motherhood and that is undoubtedly true but there are some things I wish I'd known a little more about so I decided to write a letter. I decided to write a letter to a pregnant first-time Mum and tell her some of the things I wish someone had told me. I'll call her Maggie - just because I feel like it.

Dear Maggie

So, you're pregnant! Congratulations. What you are about to embark on is probably the most significant and life-changing thing that will ever happen to you in your whole life.

I wanted to write to share some things with you that I wish people had shared with me - particularly some of those things that people just don't talk about until you open your heart to them thinking you are the only person in the world feeling it and pretty much every other mum says to you, 'Oh God, yeah, I felt exactly the same way / I experienced the same thing'. Because you see, the thing is, having a baby is probably the most wonderfully amazing thing you will ever do and there will be so many moments full of joy and happiness but it will also be the most challenging and difficult thing you will ever do at times, particularly in the early days and weeks. So, the things I wanted to share with you are the things that I found particularly difficult and also stress that every baby and every person is very different so you may feel none of these things but I'd be surprised if you didn't feel some of these things and I want you to know that if you do, you won't be alone. I know I felt very alone at times. And I want to tell you about these things so that if and when you do experience them, they don't come as much of a shock to you as they did to me.

BEING IN CONTROL

I realise now that the kind of person I am meant I was always going to find Motherhood incredibly challenging. The people I know to have really struggled, particularly emotionally, with it have been pretty much identical characters to me - 30 something career women who are used to being completely in control of their lives and are uncompromising perfectionists. They are the kind of people who are never late, always reply to texts and e-mails in a timely manner and always seem to be completely on top of things. Well, I was one of those. I use the word 'was' quite deliberately as I honestly don't think I will ever be that person again. 

The thing with these little people is that they are completely and utterly unpredictable. You can read all the books in the world about babies - what they should do at what age, what you should do to help them do that thing - but there will never be a book about your baby and your baby will be like absolutely no other in the world. There are very few textbook babies out there that do what one might expect them to when one might expect them to do it and the chances are, your baby will be just as unpredictable as any other. And right as you think, 'Ah, I've cracked it', the very next time 'it' comes to pass, your baby reacts in a completely different way to how they did when you last experienced 'it'. So, that's OK. That's OK if you fully expect that and if you are completely OK with the unpredictability. I know some people who genuinely find it thoroughly enjoyable trying to figure out what to do at every hurdle to help their baby do 'X' and I have lost count of the amount of people who have urged me to 'just go with the flow' but if you're like me, and you've spent 35 years becoming a control-freak perfectionist, it isn't something you are about to let go of in a few months.

Not being in control is hard. I will always find this hard and never be completely at ease with it but I wish I had understood just quite how little control I would come to have over my life, at the very least so that I didn't feel so desperately low and depressed when it started happening.

GETTING STUFF DONE

I have found this one of the toughest parts of Motherhood. As I said, I was a person who was always on top of things and I naively imagined myself at home with a baby napping in his moses basket / cot while I chilled out and caught up with the daily chores or maybe even watched some daytime TV but no Sirree! I have been astonished at the extraordinary amount of tasks having a baby creates from bottle preparation to laundry to researching how to deal with the next new issue, to buying all the many things you need to buy for a baby to, well, the list goes on. I manage to just about keep on top of the household chores every day but it is exhausting and is often at a cost, like me eating lunch, for example. I have been shocked at how incredibly time and energy consuming babies are and hadn't realised that from the minute they wake up in the morning to the minute they finally settle down for the night, they pretty much demand 100% of your attention and it is physically and emotionally very draining. Now, me knowing this before hand wouldn't have made it any less exhausting but particularly in the early days I would have enlisted more help when Ron went back to work and I would have worked out practical ways to get help with getting things done earlier (e.g. creating a rota of who is doing what, when, hiring a cleaner) and most of all, I would have researched an awful lot more about the stages babies go through when I was pregnant rather than spending weeks and weeks and weeks thinking about the birth, learning about all the different pain relievers etc. as, frankly, that was all a complete waste of time. When it comes down to it, you go in to labour (or in my case, your baby turns breech at the last minute and you end up having a planned caesarean) and a bunch of people who really know what they are doing look after you and see to it that your baby is delivered safely. That's really all you need to know about the birth but blimey, the stuff you need to know about afterwards is far greater, far more complicated and comes right at a time when you've got no spare time to research it.

BREASTFEEDING

This was a huge source of confusion to me when I was pregnant. A number of people warned me that breastfeeding was really hard and I was aware of the many support groups out there for people struggling with breastfeeding and I just could not get my head round what the big deal was. I thought, goodness, people have been breastfeeding for many years without issues and animals in the wild do it all the time and they don't even have a support group to attend. I thought baby's mouth, boob, suck, what could go wrong? Everyone said it was hard but no one really said why it was hard, I thought they just meant it was really exhausting or something so it was an enormous shock to me when first of all in the hospital I couldn't get the little guy to latch on at all and then once we got home and mastered that, I found out for myself why it was so hard! It is hard because it hurts. It hurt me like hell actually and as pains go, I'd say it is right up there with injection type sharp pain but not so brief. Now, if I had known more about how painful it can be in the early days and how important it is to get that latch on, it wouldn't have stopped it hurting necessarily but it wouldn't have made me feel so desperately, desperately sad when I seemingly couldn't do what should be the most natural thing in the world for my son. Thanks to blogging about it, I was inundated with messages from people who had been through the same thing and when I realised how common it was to struggle at first, it made me feel SO much better. So, I want to say that if you do struggle (and many people don't, so don't panic), you are absolutely not alone at all and I can confirm that it stops hurting a little bit more every day until it stops hurting at all and becomes a lovely experience. I can also confirm that if it doesn't work out and you choose the formula option as so many people do, you will not be burnt at the stake and your little one will not die of a terrible disease - he or she will be just fine!

RELATIONSHIPS

This is probably the thing that I found the most unexpected and the hardest to deal with and was absolutely not prepared for at all. This is definitely one of those hush-hush things that no one talks about but almost universally, when you open up and tell another Mum how you are feeling, they tell you they went through exactly the same thing. So, your relationships with pretty much everyone in your life change. And they change quite dramatically. And some of them take quite a severe battering.

Firstly, there is the relationship with your partner. I consider my relationship with Ron to be one of the best there is and I couldn't imagine a time when it would ever be anything other than pretty awesome actually but I was mortified to discover a few weeks in when the sleep deprivation really hit home and I was at an all time low physically and emotionally that it seemed to just be going wrong. Neither of us could put our finger on what was happening but it just wasn't going well and the more I tried to fix things, the more broke they got and the more down I got. I can talk about this now as we are completely out the other side but at one point I was petrified about becoming a single mother. There are a few reasons why things got the way they did. There was the fact that the things that Ron and I did together were now completely different. We used to go out for a drink or for dinner two or three times a week. We used to go for evening walks if the weather was nice. We used to go swimming together. We used to go running together. In the early days, you really don't do anything together other than survive and I found this incredibly, incredibly tough. I also felt somehow bitter that I had been through such a physical and emotional trauma giving birth and that it was me who could never just go off and do something - something simple like getting my hair cut. I resented him for that if I am honest and with all of this and the enormously impactful sleep deprivation, it got tough. At the time, I remember feeling quite hopeless and reaching out to a few of my friends who, on the surface had seemed to sail through motherhood with their relationships perfectly in tact but it turned out that each and every one of them had gone through the same thing and found that it passed after a few weeks when the sleep deprivation lessens and as they got their heads round being a parent and the fact that they needed to do it as a team and that you, as a couple, will still do things together, you will just do different things together. Now, of course, occasionally, couples don't make it through the tough bit but if you do, my belief is that you become even stronger than you were before and I know that's where I am now but I can't emphasise enough what a shock it was at the time and how relieved I was when I discovered that what I was going through was completely normal.

Then, there is the relationship with your immediate family. If you're lucky enough to have family members close enough who can come and help you, you may find that for the first time in years you have to ask for help, rely on people to do things for you that you hadn't done for years. Some people might find that easy but if you're an independent person like me, you're going to find that difficult. It takes time to get the balance right with family members and I certainly struggled with that in the early days but again, it passes and you get there in the end so, like with so many baby-related things , you just need to hang in there.

Then, there is the relationship with your friends. Again, this has been quite a shock. I have found that friendships that were based around socialising, drinking and generally going out and about with non-mummies and daddies seem to have almost disappeared all together. I've been really quite upset at the lack of interest some of my non-parent friends have shown in getting in touch since the munchkin has been born and how little I have seen and heard from some of them and yet, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many friendships have developed with other Mummy and Daddy friends and how many people I have known for years but not really had much in common with, probably because they were busy being a parent and I was out getting pissed, that I now suddenly find myself very close to. It's been both terribly sad and very lovely the changes in friendship relationships but they invariably happen and again, knowing this before hand wouldn't have stopped this happening but it would have made it less upsetting and surprising when it did.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION

Well, people warned me about this one and I ignorantly thought, yes, I don't sleep well already so I know what it is to be tired but I have to stress, the sleep deprivation is on a whole new level to one you have ever experienced (unless you are one of the lucky few that has a baby who sleeps through the night early on and naps pleasantly through the day). Sleep deprivation is a form of torture and at my lowest moments, I honestly felt like I was being tortured. The thing about baby sleep deprivation is that it is relentless and you simply can't see an end to it. It's not like you can think, OK, no sleep last night but that's OK, I'll just have a sleep in at the weekend, it just goes on and on and builds up over time. I still find this the most challenging thing of all but it's important to know that this really does get better. At my darkest moments, I couldn't see a way out of the extreme exhaustion and felt really quite desperate but if I had known then as I do now that it really does get easier and less exhausting little by little every day, I would have found it much easier to deal with at the time.

THE ONE-WAY STREET DAYS

There is no doubt at all that the first 6 - 8 weeks are entirely a one way street. I wasn't prepared for this at all but really, until your little bundle of joy starts smiling and interacting with you, it is entirely a give, give, give relationship. I'll be completely honest, around the 6 week mark, I remember admitting to one of my very close friends that not only was I not enjoying Motherhood, I was hating every single minute of it and wished I had never had a baby. Obviously, I didn't really mean that but that's how I felt at the time. I felt like I had sacrificed my entire life for what? An energy-sapping screaming little person that just cried, ate and shit everywhere. When you're a first time mum, it's often hard to see the light and to know for sure that things will change but it does and I wish I had known to pretty much write off the first 2 - 3 months and just accept that they weren't going to be that much fun but that things would get a whole lot more fun soon.

POST-NATAL DEPRESSION

Now, I think everyone suffers with this to some degree. I honestly thought I wouldn't because I was so excited about being a Mum and thought, hey, this is what I have been waiting for all my life and now it's here, there's no way I'm going to let anything stop me from enjoying every single minute of it. But then, when I didn't and, as mentioned, actually found it all rather distinctly un-enjoyable, I sunk in to quite a deep depression. I remember feeling like I would never come out of the depression and feel happy again but I am very happy to let you know that it does pass. For some people it takes longer and for some people, it probably just seems like a short bout of the baby blues but it's completely normal to feel utterly rubbish when you think you should be feeling the happiest you have ever felt. I wish I had know that too!

I now truly understand the meaning behind the phrase 'this too shall pass' and the depression, like so many other things, really does pass and sometimes the only thing you can do is just grin and bear it and know for sure that 'this too shall pass'.

THE LOSS OF IDENTITY

I am no longer Natalie. From 5th January 2012, I became Dalton's Mum! I still find it strange when people call me that but that, first and foremost, is what I now am and possibly forever will be. People don't really ask me about me anymore, they ask about my little soldier and I remember at the hardest times almost resenting my little boy a bit for making me not me anymore. Of course at that time, I wasn't very happy to be his mum but what you need to know is that this passes too and that very soon you will be very proud to be X's Mum and you get over the bereavement of the loss of your former self and start to embrace the new you.

THE PHYSICAL CHANGES

I remember when I was pregnant people saying to me that my body would never ever be the same again and thinking, ssssh, don't be silly. Only people who eat too many cakes whilst pregnant and then continue to go on and eat far too many after giving birth find their bodies not the same but I'm afraid, again, I was very naive. Your body really will never be the same again. That's not to say it's all bad, mind, for example, my boobs have never looked so good but some of the other changes are not so good. Your pelvis actually widens to accommodate a little munchkin and it never restores to its former glory so forever, no matter how much weight you lose, trousers that used to fit, just won't anymore and this may get you down. You may find that some things down below don't work quite as well as they used to and that you need to be a little mindful when you sneeze or laugh. If you're finding 'You Time' as hard to come by as I do and used to rely on make-up as heavily as I did, you may feel very low at the fact that there is no time to apply it anymore or keep on top of other general grooming activities that used to get done without you even noticing you were doing them. I hate that since becoming pregnant I haven't been able to wear contact lenses and can now only wear glasses and that it hasn't changed since giving birth. Frankly, on the whole, I feel utterly unattractive but I know there will be more time in the future as the little one grows up to get back to some of the old grooming activities so for now, I have had to learn to try to embrace my more 'earthy look' and hope that people now notice my 'lovely personality' instead! Knowing this ahead of time wouldn't have made me feel any more attractive now but, once again, it wouldn't have hit me so hard when it inevitably happened.

THE GOOD BITS

I remember at my absolute lowest point pleading with my own mother to tell me if there were any sodding good bits about being a Mummy as I didn't feel like there were at the time and she wrote me a letter that made me cry a lot about the tough bits and the good bits and as the days go by, more and more good bits happen and I realise that it is worth every single dark moment I went through and still do at times to experience the utterly unique heart-bursting feeling of being a Mummy. It's something I could never possibly put in to words and that only another Mummy would understand but something that you absolutely have to look forward to and I promise you that the fluffiness of your little one beaming up at you, chuckling for the first time, picking something up for the first time and so on and so forth makes every single bad moment just fade away. 

The good bits truly do immeasurably outweigh the bad bits and I want you to know that you have some amazing times ahead.

So, Maggie, I want to wish you the very best of luck with the amazing journey you are about to go on. I want you to know that at no point will you be alone in how you are feeling or in what you are going through even if you feel that way and that things are about to get really interesting.

Enjoy the ride!

xxx


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