A few friends of mine are due with their first babies VERY soon (or in the case of one, have just popped one out). This raises all sorts of conflicted feelings for me. I want to share with them the dark collective secret of motherhood, the one that was kept from me until after I gave birth, that those first few weeks, for most, are hell. One compassionate friend had tried to warn me, but I dismissed her comments as ‘negativity because of her own experiences’. Boy was I wrong.
I want to tell them all the things I wish I’d known, but I don’t want to scare them. Or worse, I don’t want to be wrong. My worst fear fear is that I warn them of the shitstorm that’s to come; the horror of birth, the Sisyphean task that is breastfeeding, wondering when you’re bouncing the baby at 4am whether you’ve ruined your life. My fear is that I tell them all of that, and not to worry because it’s normal, and then it never happens to them. Their birth is a breeze, breastfeeding is easy, they love every minute of being a new mum. Because that means it’s just me. I’m just someone who can’t hack motherhood. And the implications of that for someone who’s pregnant again…yikes.
So, here’s all the things I wish I could say.
Wow, so you’re about to pop! That’s really exciting, but I remember how terrifying it is too. You’re not sure if your body can do it, does it really hurt that much? What if it all goes wrong? Well, you know what, it might. And that is NOT your fault. You’ve probably been to some lovely fluffy birthing classes, where they’ve talked to you about birthing postitions, and a positive mental attitude, and pelvic floor exercises, and a load of things that might make a little difference, if you’re lucky enough to have a straightforward birth in the first place. But if your body, like mine, has decided it just isn’t going to do things the easy way, then none of that will mean shit. And I hope you can feel liberated rather than scared by that, that you can let go of the responsibility for how your birth turns out, because it turns out a heck of a lot of it is just biology. You’re a marathon runner? Great, I think it’s wonderful that you take care of your body and make sure you’re fit and healthy. But don’t be disappointed if your body decides that doesn’t matter, and turns your baby round, or holds on to it for dear life, or decides to drop your heart rate dangerously low. It’s. Not. Your. Fault.
I also hope you are able to let go of what you think you know about babies already. It’s great that you’re a devoted aunt. Fantastic that you’ve got a degree in education and early years development. All those years experience in childcare, wow! You know what all that is good for? Beating yourself up with when you STILL don’t know what the hell you’re doing. And you won’t, for a long time. Remember how hands on you were when your sister had a baby? That’s all great experience, but at some point you got to shut the door, go home and sleep. Don’t worry if you freak when you realise there is no going back from this. Your sister did too, she just waited til you weren’t there, and buried it under an Instagram photo of the baby in the cute onesie you bought. None of us has a frickin CLUE in those first weeks.
You think you know how you’re going to handle it all now. You’ve done your reading, your research, made your choices, made your plans. But believe me, if you can even follow through on half of them half the time you’ll be doing well. You can’t plan for something you have absolutely no experience of. It’s a different world on the other side. You will change your mind, you will compromise, you will be so tired sometimes you will just think f*** it and do whatever’s easiest. It’s OK.
Terrified the baby will stop breathing if you look away and go to sleep? Yep, we’ve all been there. Motherhood is like having a film peeled back from your eyes where you can suddenly see danger EVERYWHERE. At some point you will probably become completely overwhelmed by the terrifying sole responsibility that is keeping your tiny human alive. You might even react by handing it to someone else and going AWOL for a few hours just so you can breathe. Yep, still normal, don’t sweat it.
And never, EVER, for a second, think you can’t tell anyone how you’re really feeling. It’s only when you do that you realise, this is just how it is. And it will get better. When you need to tell someone, I’ll be waiting. Good luck, kid x