This is my first ever non-food post. I hope you will indulge me in going rather off-piste. We have been meeting up with lots of pregnant friends recently. Some friends on their first pregnancy are all buoyed up with the excitement of their first child. Others are on their second pregnancy, they are similarly excited, but quickly mention the anticipated challenges of having two children. The large bumps on show left me thinking back to my pregnancy and the first months of JP’s life. What advice would I give myself as that new Mum?
First of all, in case you haven’t had the joy of experiencing advice on parenting, let me tell you it’s a mixed bag. Everyone has thoughts and ideas on the best way of doing things, and if only every child were the same it would be easy. But where would the fun be in that? Far better to offer up extreme views and watch as the parents struggle to respond. For example here are two bits of seriously useful advice that I have been given
“Whatever you do don’t use a dummy/pacifier, it will ruin your child’s mouth and s/he won’t be able to speak properly.”
“What! You haven’t given your child a dummy, no wonder he’s are clinging to your breast for hours on end. Give him a dummy and that will end instantly.”
Offering advice to pregnant friends is therefore something I try hard not to do, however tempting it can be! But what advice would I give myself if I was expecting again?
1. It’s OK to think about throwing the baby out of the window, just don’t do it.
This is a bit of a cheat because it was the best piece of advice I was given while pregnant with JP. It’s brilliant because it tells you so much. It tells you it’s going to be tough and you’re going to feel like doing crazy stuff as a new parent. It also tells you that it’s completely normal to think about doing ridiculous things, you just have to stop yourself doing them. Most importantly though it tells you that you aren’t the only one who is having horrendous thoughts, it’s completely normal.
The day after we got home from hospital a midwife came to see us. We hadn’t met her before, but in the hour that she was with us she gave us so much confidence and knowledge that it was going to be OK. She told us if you feel yourself losing it, if you can’t stop the baby crying for instance, leave the baby in a safe place, their cot for example, close the door and going and give yourself a break. Go and make a cup of tea, have a biscuit, go to the loo, or do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better and then go back to your baby and you’ll be able to help them, or at least try to help them more effectively because you yourself feel better. To hear that from a trained professional and a Mum to boot on the first full day at home from hospital, was just brilliant.
2. If it’s a choice between house work and sleep, then sleep.
I think it was the woman in our antenatal classes who told us this. In those early days with JP I used this one liberally. I changed the word ‘sleep’ to anything that would make me feel good, – eating, showering, chatting, reading and sometimes sleeping. When JP slept it was my super precious time. I would do anything that left me feeling better. This was never going to be housework. Though it might have involved some tidying when the house felt like a complete bombsite.
I wasn’t very good at catching up on sleep, I would choose instead to do something that was more enjoyable, that I couldn’t do with JP. But then near the end of the week, when I was trying not to cry at even the slightest provocation, I would turn to sleeping while JP slept. The joy of waking up even if I had only slept for 20 minutes and feeling so much better than before was immense.
It was a shock to me though when JP started sleeping more, perhaps going through most of the night and I was getting so much more sleep than I previously I felt much more tired than I had before. It was like my body suddenly remembered how good sleep was and how much I had missed over the preceding months and it suddenly decided it was super tired all over again.
3. Remember on an airplane who gets the oxygen mask first.
When you are on an airplane and the air hostess does the safety run through before you take off; s/he tells you that if the oxygen masks appear you should put your own on first and then help your child to put on theirs.
This was something that I used to remember when I was figuring out what we were going to do each day. I knew that I needed to meet my own needs in order to be able to be a good Mum to JP. This blog was part of meeting my needs. It gave me some mental stimulation while on maternity leave.
The oxygen mask analogy was helpful when an invite came through from a friend or relative, was it going to meet my needs and or JP’s? Were we going to enjoy it together? If yes, brilliant we are there, if not, if it’s going to stress me out, then I’d just go back saying we weren’t free but thanks for the invitation. Being on maternity leave is hard work and by prioritizing my needs and JP’s needs, it was more bearable, than when I was trying to meet everyone else’s needs, to the extent that my own got forgotten.
4. Get out the flat everyday.
It’s wet and cold for the fourth day in a row and it feels like so much effort to get out of the flat. Particularly when it’s warm and cosy inside and the biscuits and coffee are near to hand. But staying inside day after day was dangerous for me. There is something magical about fresh air in my face, even if it’s very cold fresh air.
The fresh air left me feeling so much better and less trapped. On the bad days getting out of the flat also took up time. There were days when I was just waiting for 5.30, waiting for Dave to come home, so that he could help out and I could have a break. Staying inside on a bad day is tempting, it feels like the easiest thing to do. But it makes a day far longer than if you have spent event thirty minutes outside.
Getting out of the flat would without a doubt improve my mood. JP was a star too once we got outside, I think he would get bored inside and the moment we were out he would be fascinated by what was around him and I could zone out a little bit and just enough the fresh air as I pushed or carried him along.
5. He doesn’t have it so easy either!
When JP was seven months we met some friends for brunch in a café. One of the waitresses was being sweet to JP and so we got talking. It turned out she had two little ones at home and had just come back to work after her second period of maternity leave. She told me ‘coming to work feels like going on holiday, compared with being at home.’ I smiled back at her, but in my head I was screaming I KNEW IT!! I KNEW IT, all these months, Dave has been having a holiday at work, while day in day out I have been doing the hard job of caring for our son. I knew he had been having it easier and now I have the hard evidence.
Now reading this, while not having woken up three times during the night to feed JP, I can see how crazy this sounds. Dave was a complete trooper. In the early days we both got little sleep each night. All I had to do during the day was feed, entertain and change JP. Dave had to function properly in an adult environment, with people demanding complex stuff of him. Dave would come home for 5.30 and normally there would be a happy JP waiting to see his Daddy. Me, though, that was a far more mixed bag, did I start crying the moment he walked in the door, or was I raging about how unfair things were feeling? At 5.30 I had the relief that there were now two of us to do what needed to be done. Dave was probably looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea and some food and just recoup after a full on day at work after little sleep the night before. No chance!
I could distract JP from something that was frustrating him, by a song, or a different toy, or a cracker. Dave’s boss wasn’t so easily placated. Now being back at work I find a joy in being part of the adult world that work provides but it definitely has its own stresses and frustrations that are just as tough as being on maternity leave.
6. It’s get better and better.
At a recent wedding in a stunning set of tipis, JP was charging around. I couldn’t really concentrate on the speeches because he wanted to run to the hedge at the bottom of the field. Joe was entranced by the gorgeous 4 month old daughter of some friends. A friend asked which I had preferred JP at 4 months or JP now at 22 months?
Without a second thought, I told her that now was much better. This makes it sound like it was awful when he was younger and it wasn’t. I loved the closeness I felt when feeding him, the joy of his first smiles, of seeing him discover new toys, and his first sounds that now have become words.
But with every passing day things have become more exciting and interesting for me. I love the conversations that we have now, I still do most of the talking, but his comprehension is awesome. I love the cuddles I now get. I love seeing his delight in new foods. Most of all I love the interaction and yes of course I love the fact that sleep is no longer the issue it once was. I can’t wait until he can teach me new things. I look forward to the adventures we will have as a family and the joy that I know he will continue to bring us.
So even in the darkest days of no sleep and all the other issues a tiny baby can bring I would remind myself that it just gets better and better. It won’t always be like this, the future will bring new challenges of course, but it will also bring new happiness and fun.