I watch you crawl around, eagerly pulling up on furniture and exploring every inch of a new environment that previously eluded you. I reflect on how much you – and I – have changed in the past year.
You have grown beyond compare, developed a high energy and cheeky personality that I know will keep me on my toes. Yet nothing is easier than to make you giggle with joy, and a glimpse of grass and sunshine and a breath of fresh air are the perfect antidote to tears and grumpiness. You are your mother’s (and father’s) son after all.
But perhaps the biggest change has been to me – or to us I should say. And I’m OK with that.
Our days are slower, our evenings drowsy. Where once I would speed through my days in a blur of writing, running, cooking and socialising, now I nurse a book for weeks on end, dipping in and out for a few minutes each day while you nap. I walk instead of run, and my yoga practice is streamlined and simpler. Even our food has become simpler. Fresher. More basic. It’s lovely.
However, I wasn’t always accepting of these changes. I was frustrated with the change of pace and how it would take days to do something that used to take a few hours. Hours spent on the couch grated on me and, despite the reassurances of my fellow mums, I struggled to accept my new life. But we got there in the end, didn’t we? Here are a few other things I’ve noticed in the past year. Call them a brief intro to “mumlyfe”.
Nothing is stronger or more resilient than a new mum. Beyond the physical endurance of labour, new mothers are true superheroes. The ability to function to some kind of capacity nearing normal on (maybe) a total of six hours of broken sleep? Yeah it’s possible, although it may not be pleasant, and a large part of that may be attributed to the fumes of a million coffees that have been consumed since 5am, but it is possible.
You appreciate your own mum, and grandmother, so much more. When the baby cries for what feels like the thousandth time between midnight and dawn and you drag your exhausted bones together to pace the floor while interspersing that day’s preferred song and shushing sounds, wondering if it’s possible to sleep while being mobile you can’t help but reflect that your mum did this for you. Many times and possibly while one (or two or three) other children slept in the house. And come daylight she would be in demand by a horde of little people and she’d pull herself together and somehow find the energy and smiles to do just that, and probably even hold down a day job too. And then she’d do it all again the next day. And again the next.
The first four months of motherhood saw me almost revert back to a little girl who just wanted her mummy. Mum would come and help me cook, clean, do a sneaky load of dishes or just hold the baby while I snuck in a nap. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is absolutely true, and there’s something especially beautiful about watching your child and mum play together.
But it’s also the sage advice that keeps you sane. I can remember relating advice a lactation consultant had given me about not needing to burp a breastfed baby to my grandmother. I should note this advice saw me covered in vomit regularly and led to a very unhappy, very gassy baby until we learned to ignore it. My grandmother quipped “hmmm that’s something that’s been done since the dawn of time. I don’t know why you wouldn’t do it now”. Gold
Boobs become boobs. Pre baby nothing could have made me get my breasts out in public. Now I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had a boob out while carrying on with daily life.
And on that note, if you find yourself parenting a velcro baby, as Pinky McKay calls them, life goes on a whole lot more easily for both parties when the baby is strapped to your chest. They get the contact they need and you get to keep your hands free, and if you can manage a boob out at the same time, everyone wins.
Everyone will feel they can – and should – offer you parenting advice. From the checkout person at Coles to a man I walked past on the street, to family and friends, everyone will offer you parenting advice. Or, even better, feel they are entitled to critique your choices. I found it best to roll with it, despite the anger that was often quick to rise. Use what helps, ignore what doesn’t and always always trust your gut first. Mama instinct (and daddy instinct as well for that matter) is strong. A good vent to your partner also helps!
The fog will lift. After about six months the mental fog began to lift for me. I began to be able to think beyond the next two-hour cycle of feed, sleep, change nappy, attempt to feed self, rinse and repeat. Ambitions resurfaced and I began to feel more like my old self. So I took the advice my sister-in-law gave me at my baby shower: don’t forget who you are, and spend time every day finding that person. Very sage.
Get a good podcast, find a decent blog or lose yourself in a TV series: This was an aspect I never prepared for. In the movies you see babies sleep in their bassinet all day while mum flits around and it’s pretty much life as usual. There’s barely a ripple in the day-to-day life happenings. Even stories of my own childhood reflected this. But let me tell you now, in case it wasn’t totally obvious, that this image is not real life in most instances. I spent untold hours every day parked on the couch under a sleeping or feeding baby, with my frustration levels rising. It was hard to cook a meal, let alone run a brush through my hair. But then I was told to embrace it – “this too shall pass” is the mantra of most mothers I know. But it’s true. Find a good book or a great TV series and simply enjoy these days because they do end.
Find your tribe. Personally, there was nothing more terrifying in those early months than being responsible for a tiny human when I still felt like a child myself. As a result Dr Google and I became great friends during the pre-dawn feed. But the best thing I ever did was to strengthen my relationships with other mums. The ones I could send a message to at that hour and know they’d talk me down from whatever panic attack I was currently having. Plus, coffee companions are always nice. I also joined a local mothers group so I had access to a healthcare nurse on a regular basis.
Expect to desperately want your body back for even a small amount of time. This was another aspect I never prepared for and couldn’t put into words until my best friend perfectly summed it up for me: touched out. You’re constantly attached to a small dependent being, carrying them, feeding them, possibly even cosleeping with them. Your body isn’t your own. I had a baby who just wanted to be held all the time, and 90 per cent of the time it had to be by me. But want to know the even weirder aspect? The day you do get some space, even if it’s just for an hour, you will be so anxious and worried about the baby that you can’t fully relax. Separation anxiety goes both ways!
Finally, fill up your cup as much as you can. Self care isn’t selfish. In fact when you’re giving as much as you can to a tiny human self care is vital so you don’t turn into an empty husk of a human being. It doesn’t have to be a big night out or a weekly massage. Simply hand bubba over to dad (they also get quality time, which is a bonus) and walk around the block, jump in a bath or sit alone with a book and a tea and recharge for a few minutes. You’ll feel so much better for it and that will flow on into every other aspect of your day. Realistically, this may be only for 10 minutes, but it’s better than nothing.