A good friend once asked me to think about something that changed my whole outlook on being a first-time mother. He said to me ‘what secrets are people not telling you, and what secrets is nature not telling you?’
Through this post, I resolve to change the way moms-to-be and new moms perceive life postpartum. I realize that over time, we collect a lot of unwanted data (related to childbirth and newborn care) from different sources (books, people, google). How do we create substantial, workable knowledge from it all? How do we keep the value and discard the waste? Essentially, how do we prioritize and practice self-love over self-harm? How do we know that we are really ‘prepared’? And how do we cope with situations that nothing can prepare us for?
This is going to be a long one. Get comfortable with a blankie and some coffee.
Facts over fiction
When I thought about what my friend had asked me, I realized that most of my stress, hopelessness and loss of confidence sprouted from assumptions I had made about being a mother. Assumptions that were powered by people’s opinions, lies, half-baked stories and misconceptions about postpartum life. I will tell you today (and you will thank me one day for my brutal honesty), that the first 3-6 months of being a new mom suck. It is thoroughly gruelling and one-sided in the sense that the baby is too young to show any responsive behaviour or affection. It is all about giving and getting nothing in return. There are moments of unconditional love and happy tears but they are few and rare.
I don’t want to tread on the safe territory of diplomacy. Gushing about little baby toes isn’t compensation for the demanding times that are to follow. So if you need to hear the mollycoddled version, stop reading. I understand that the hard truth is painful, but it is this truth which will help us prepare for what’s coming. Every mother I spoke to before childbirth told me wonderful things, stories of priceless moments and joyful milestones. Nobody prepared me for the ugly days, the confusing situations, the demanding nights. After all the stories I had heard, I was still clueless.
Research over remorse
My failure to cope with these circumstances made the joyful moments seem too small or too short-lived. You may ask me here: Did you do your reading? Your research? Yes, more than enough. Not just on pregnancy, but on parenting, child psychology and dealing with postpartum stress. Honestly, no what-to-expect book can really tell you what to expect in reality, just like no book can really prepare you for walking head-on into the epicentre of a storm.
Every baby is different and so is every mother, but what remains common is that 6-month postpartum period of extreme stress, sleep deprivation, PPD, the inability to develop instant attachment with your baby, 10 hours of breast-feeding (in the first few weeks), a non-existent sex life or strained relationships with friends and family. Every one of us will face at least 2 or more of these situations. Shouldn’t it be imperative that we prepare ourselves for these times? There are simple solutions to all these problems, but during a period of such chaos, our judgement is clouded. We are vulnerable, impressionable and consumed by our baby’s demands. Our decisions are based on the preachings of other mothers or the elders of the family. We allow them to govern our thoughts, inadvertently nurturing mothers’ guilt or feeling pressured to do the supposed right thing, often at the cost of our health, inconvenience or discomfort.
Acceptance over defensiveness
Is there a way to avoid being dragged along this maternity current? Are mothers even willing to accept that they faced similar challenges? Or are we going to continue raving about the rewards of being a mother, defensively pushing aside any negativity that surrounds it. When can we start accepting that it is ok to feel overwhelmed, disappointed, unwanted, unmotivated, dispassionate or disillusioned? It is time to start associating these negative feelings with motherhood; it is time to start tackling these emotions presumptively. There is nothing shameful about being an unhappy mother sometimes and talking about it in order to change/improve that state of mind. Positivity can get you places, but only when you know you lack it, can you harness it. Happy, healthy mothers raise happy, healthy babies. A healthy mind is the absolute key to raising children who will understand the importance of self-love.
Mindspace over mothers’ guilt
Mother’s guilt, the obsessive belief that everything that is going wrong with regard to the baby is your fault or that you aren’t doing something right, and that being selfish is unacceptable. When my son was born, friends and family flocked to see him; he was the attraction, the attention seeker. My cousin, who has twins, said to me “everyone will pay attention to the baby, you must pay attention to yourself”. I didn’t understand it then but I do now.
Making time for yourself is not going to be possible for a while, but making mindspace for yourself a few minutes everyday is a good place to start. Reading a book, chatting with a friend, listening to some music, meditating or just taking a short walk alone is sufficient to begin with. I wouldn’t recommend browsing your phone or watching TV as these don’t really help you connect with yourself, in addition to being counter effective for sleep deprived mothers. Take 10 minutes off from the baby and the world. Trust me, they won’t notice.
Sleep over slog
The most under-rated postpartum stress factor is loss of sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause serious health issues including depression and weight gain. Mothers will tell you it’s common, it’s no big deal. Sleep when the baby sleeps. But, what if you can’t? What if the untimely sleep pattern has skewed your circadian rhythm? What if you have constant headaches or simply feel like an insomniac? What if knowing that you need to wake up in 2 hours for the next feed keeps you wide awake? And what if you need to complete your home chores when the baby is sleeping?
I’m sorry to report that the first few weeks will be hell to the power of n. Once the baby begins to correct its biological clock, you will reach the dreadful fork at the end of the road. Co-sleep or crib? Breast or bottle? Slow progression into removing night feeds or the one-time cry it out? Decisions, decisions. I can recommend books that will help you make informed decisions (see end of blog), but finally please remember – YOU NEED SLEEP. You have not slept for weeks (probably months); you need to put yourself first. Babies who sleep with their moms, have formula from a bottle or are cuddled to sleep when they wake up at night, finally turn out to be as weird as those who never co-sleep, are exclusively breast feed and are left to self-soothe. In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you keep your sanity through this whole process, that you feel fit, healthy, happy and well-rested. Stop feeling guilty, do what it takes to start sleeping. Use whatever method you like to stop night feeds. The baby doesn’t need it after a point. Babies feed at night for comfort not for food (after they start on solids). If breast-feeding is the attraction, stop it. Give her a bottle. Do your research for alternatives. She will hate it and stop waking up at night. It is important to understand that babies, just like adults, have optimum digestion when their stomachs get 10-12 hours of rest in a 24-hour time period. It is also a scientific fact that babies that sleep through the night take longer and stronger day naps. So it is a win-win. Trust me, it will be the best thing you ever do for yourself.
Zen mode over judgemental mode
You prepared yourself for an all-natural childbirth but at the very last-minute, you were forced to go in for a C-sec (for medical causes). Or, you decided you wanted an epidural. Or, your body didn’t produce enough food for your baby so you gave her formula in a bottle. Then, you were disturbingly judged. Even when you didn’t have a choice. Yes, a vaginal birth means faster recovery for the mother. But, you and your baby are safe and that’s all that matters. Yes, you couldn’t bear it so you took an epidural. No two women have the same pain threshold nor do they experience labour in the same way. You got rid of the pain and saved your energy for the last mile. Good girl. Yes, breast milk is perfectly suited to fulfil your newborn’s needs. But, formula isn’t poison. It is formulated to mimic breast milk as far as possible. Your baby is not sleeping hungry, it’s all good . The point is, no matter what you do, people will judge. They will judge you for the choices nature made for you and the choices you make for your/your baby’s well-being. These nincompoops speak from theoretical knowledge, not experience. Do whatever works best for you and your baby.
If another mother judges you, then feel sorry for her. She has no compassion for herself and therefore, none that she can offer you.
Faith over fear
You are not a bad mother because you allowed your baby to cry while you took 10 seconds to compose yourself. The biggest lesson of motherhood is to know which battles to fight and when to silently walk away. Have unwavering faith in yourself – in your judgements, in the principles you want your baby to imbibe. It’s going to be a whole lot of tough love and the absolute test of patience. But have faith in the power of educating your baby rather than disciplining her through bribing, pleading or threatening. Lastly, have faith in your baby. She can and will understand you; it will take a whole lot of repetition and hard work. There is no fast lane. Be present with her in every single moment – a rewarding attribute of motherhood that nobody ever talks about. You are/will be a supermom and you know it. Remember that you must choose your battles wisely. On a bad day, walk away and count to 10. On a really bad day, hand her over to hubby and meet a girlfriend for coffee and gossip. But always, always remember to kiss your baby (and your husband) goodnight. Tomorrow will be a better day (oh well, one can always dream!).
Gratitude over grievance
The simple act of giving gratitude for everything life has blessed you with will help you see the light even on the darkest of days. It is easier said than done. But the next time you feel overwhelmed, take a notebook and jot down 10 things you feel grateful for. Around number 6, you will see your mood lift. It will not solve your problems, but it will remind you that this too will pass.
Communication over distress
However, if you feel the need to let out the fumes, talk to your hubby, your mum, a bestie perhaps? Communicating is the only way you are going to get through this without going cray-cray. If it is help you need, ask for it. When you are offered help, put that ego aside and accept it graciously. Even if it’s just a small gesture like someone sending you pie for dinner, or a friend offering to babysit while you wash your greasy hair.
If it is emotional support you need, speak to other empathetic moms who get you. If it’s really bad and nothing works, take professional help. PPD is a real thing. It is unhealthy for you and your family, so don’t think twice if you need to seek help. If it is domestic support that you need, hire it. Pay them a tonne of money to do everything for you. Take those five MAC lipsticks out of your e-cart, move them to your wish list for another time. There is nothing that can’t be solved if you communicate with the right people at the right time. Be open to open your heart to those who want to help you get through this. Your loved ones can’t read your mind, especially when you laugh and cry at the same time. So help them help you. Speak up.
Needs over wants
I wanted to address this one right at the end because this is a controversial one. You must keep in mind that having a baby is a 48-hour job on a 24-hour timeline. Conclusively, there is no time for socializing, watching Netflix, taking a long shower, online shopping, traveling, night-outs, going to the gym, baking, pursuing other hobbies or simply doing nothing. Yes, that’s a thing. Doing nothing will never be what you say when you pick up the phone. But, don’t lose heart. This is a temporary feature. After the first 3 months, you can do some of these things some of the time. But mind you, it’s not going to be like the old times. Expecting things to be the same is to set yourself up for failure.
So be realistic in your visualisation of a perfect vacation. It may be a long sequence of tantrums or your baby may be her angelic best. It’s a risk you should be willing to take every single time you want to do any of the aforementioned recreational activities. If that is too much for you to cope with – you could stay in your comfort zone, cutting down on travel and social commitments, hence allowing your baby to stay rooted to her routine. I’m not saying this is what you should do. I’m saying you always have an option. Promotion at work, friends, travel can wait a few months. Your baby will not depend on you so deeply once she grows up a little. Doing ‘things’ with babies is not for everyone. You and your baby need to be able to handle it, and enjoy it. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Moreover, babies are creatures of habit. They can’t read the clock or see the sunset. Their only clues lie in the everyday patterns you set for them. Routines make them feel like they are in control, imparting a sense of familiarity and security. If someone asks you to put your social needs over your baby’s comfort, then you will need to find a new friend. Because, moderation is the only solution. A little of everything, enough to keep you going (but never at the cost of your baby’s discomfort). Honestly, are you really going to enjoy that movie if your baby is yelling her guts out? Take a step back and change your perspective. Put baby to bed at 8pm. Plan dinner and movie night with hubby. Much easier. Stress busted. Do what you can, when you can without adding any more unnecessary stress to your already super crazy life.
That’s all I have for today. Thank you for sticking with me till the end. You can slowly ruminate over this overload of information. Comment down below if there is anything more I can help you with. I hope this is something you can carry with you in your journey through pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood.
See you back again very soon. Until next time, stay gorgeous. XOXO.
Books, apps and people that inspired me
First time mommy: Mimi Ikonn (follow her on You Tube and IG for a daily dose of positivity and self-love)
App: Headspace for on-the-go meditation
Books: Bringing up bébé by Pamela Druckerman; The Good Sleeper by Janet Krone Kennedy; The Wonder Weeks by Reasons Mommy Drinks by Lyranda Martin-Evans and Fiona Stevenson; No Bad Kids by Janet Lansbury; Your Self Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson; and The Five Minute Journal by Intelligent Change