Motherhood changes you. It changed me – in ways I did not see coming.
Before giving birth:
- I was sure I was going to have a beautiful homebirth
- I thought breastfeeding was easy and happened naturally
- I was clear that Post Partum Anxiety was something that only happened to other women
- I saw how much my friends who had children seemed to age suddenly compared to their pre-baby selves… but ‘knew’ that would never happen to me as I take my omega 3s and omega 6s. I’ll be fine, right?
- I thought my baby would effortlessly start sleeping through the night from about 3 months or so, no?
- I was planning to just strap my baby to me and go, to continue leading a life of travel and adventure – only, plus baby
- I imagined my life with baby would be all bliss and butterflies, all the time
- I expected I’d get so much done. It would be so easy staying at home: the baby would sleep for so much of the day that I could do some writing, some photography, get some chores done…
- I felt moms who let their babies ‘cry it out’ were cruel
- I imagined motherhood would be challenging but fulfilling
After giving birth and having a baby:
- I discovered you have the birth you have. You can plan for the best, visualise the fairies and rainbows that are going to be present for your water birth… and then let go and let God take care of it. What will be will be and you are not in charge of it. That doesn’t mean let the medical establishment do what they will with your body and that of your unborn child – learn, prepare, take breathing and pain management classes and whatever else you can do to look this experience, this humongous life trial that only women can go through in the eye; don’t go into denial or pretend it will be easy (as ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’, as they say), do everything you can to have the birth you want… but know that ultimately you will have the birth you need as part of your own life journey.
- It became clear that breastfeeding though it is completely natural is a skill that must be acquired. There is lots of information and knowledge that can really help you overcome all the barriers, fears and apparent pitfalls that will most likely come up for you. Arm yourself with this knowledge, it will serve you well. Read this. No, really, if you are pregnant or a new mom and have never breastfed before, READ THIS! It is too easy in this society (where formula feeding is so ‘normal’) to mis-read the signals, give into the fear that your child ‘isn’t getting enough to eat’ or that your kid is in some way suffering because your milk production or the balance of your foremilk and hindmilk are not ‘perfect’ and before you know it you are supplementing or even full time formula feeding even though that wasn’t your plan (if it was your plan from the start, that is your right and your choice and then this does not apply to you). I got through it but I had a few scares along the way and lots of awesome support from La Leche League and some pretty clued up, nursing-loving lactation consultants.
- One in Three mothers have post partum disorders – one in three! I have mentioned before that I have Post Partum Anxiety. This is not easy to talk about for two reasons: it is taboo, we don’t talk about these things in polite conversation, right?; I hate being self-pitied and don’t want people to take this as a cue to treat me like a ‘poor little’ anything. I am strong, I am healthy. I LOVE my daughter and this is just a challenge along the way. I welcome support and love but say ‘no, thank you’ to people suddenly viewing me like I am different than they thought of me yesterday when they didn’t know. Ahh, well. I can’t control other people’s thoughts about me, right?! Anyway, the point is, before pregnancy I remember seeing sections about post-partum mood disorders in books and I literally skipped over them thinking, well this will never apply to me. Hah!
- I saw photos of me and realised I look like I have aged 10 years since before I had a baby. My daughter is only 1.5 years old!
- If you don’t sleep train them, many if not most babies do not magically start sleeping through the night by themselves. My baby is, as I say, 18 months old and still wakes up to feed during the night. I never thought I’d have her in my bed, either. I thought she’d sleep in our room, sure, but in her own cot or side-car. She was having none of it, though… so here we are, still co-sleeping and more than accepting of the fact that she is probably not going to sleep through the night until she is three!!
- I learned. It turns out babies – especially the little ones – need attention 24 hours a day. No exaggeration. I realised what every mama knows, that we are lucky enough in those early months to do a pee on our own… and having a shower all by ourselves is pure luxury. As for travel and adventure, I found my priorities just shifted, completely unexpectedly. Suddenly risking even a mild bout of diarrhea for travel to some exotic corner didn’t seem something I was willing to put my tiny, sweet little baby through (I favour third world/wild country destinations, you see). She can travel when she is a bit older. Plus it turned out she didn’t like being strapped in a car and isolated. She is surprisingly fine in airplanes on my lap but road travel was out, therefore not only exotic but also close by destinations were out. So, here I am having shifted gear completely from a life of exuberant freedom (as it now looks to me) to the life of a suburban housewife… uh, what?!
- I realised that though there is a lot of bliss (and some butterflies) but there are a lot of other emotions mixed in there, too. And now, 18 months into it, I welcome them all – but it was not always easy letting go of who I was and the feelings that came with struggling with what is now. (see points 3 and 6)
- I assumed when I wasn’t out being the change I wanted to see in the world (hahaha) that I’d be at home writing about it, or the like… and then the baby came and slowed me right down. Now, the only change in my day is to my daughter’s dirty diaper.
- I still don’t want to let my baby cry-it-out… but I have a lot of empathy for those who do. The same goes for all kinds of parenting choices that I used to judge, oh, so flippantly. Now I take a minute, pause, and think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. I am blessed with having an incredible AP support network (including all of you readers and fellow mama-bloggers) and some outstanding role models (starting with my mom who raised me AP before there was a name for it, it was just what felt right to her). Because of this, I hold certainty in my heart that even though it is hard – VERY HARD – I can do it. If my mom can do it, I can dig deeper in myself and find the energy, the stamina, the self-care to put my child first for just a little bit longer. Yes, I can keep on nursing even though it takes so much out of me, it almost literally drains me some days. Yes, I can keep on co-sleeping and being responsive to my child’s needs including through the night, even though that means I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in nearly two years – me who LOVES sleep and really does not function well without good rest. These things are not easy and I have, I confess, looked over the fence at those babies in their cribs peacefully sleeping through the night with more than a little envy on many a day. So I know, I know how easy it could have been for me to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I need help. I need rest. I need to sleep train my baby’. I haven’t done that… but I no longer think ‘evil’ mommies do it. Now I think tired mommies do it. Mommies lacking in support do it. Normal, loving mommies who would do anything for their kids AND need to be able to function through the day do it. I didn’t do it but I am no better, just luckier.
- I have come to see motherhood is challenging – so much more so than I imagined. I often said, in the early months of mothering, that this is by far the hardest job I have ever done and I have done some pretty demanding and stressful ones. This is way harder than those of us that don’t live in extended families and haven’t had much contact with real babies (as opposed to the ones Hollywood puts on my screen, all cuddles and cute burps) often imagine. It does test you in ways you never saw coming. And it is also rewarding, far more deeply but also, frankly, in more prosaic ways than I would have guessed. It is some times the simplest little things that hold us enraptured – that she can hold a cup by herself, that she can say the word ‘sofa’, that she can pick out the sound of a guitar on a tune on the radio – crazy little things that would never have held any magic for me are now so beautiful they could make me cry. It is like I see life, this journey, our bodies, this planet in a whole new light and hold so much awe for each creature that is able to do anything. I see the cost and investment that goes into each life and then into each movement that new life makes… and I like it. I feel it. I breathe it in and everything above is just a blur of words from the mind of one dwelling in the heart, in love with her daughter.