Motherhood: The Early Days

Lately I’ve been thinking that I want a space to explore my feelings and thoughts on the experience of motherhood. I also want to explore them as I go through them, not as an afterthought years down the line when friends or other family members ask me about it and I’m so far removed from it, I can’t even remember what I felt. Thankfully, I’ve got this (highly neglected — sorry) blog wherein I can do things like this – spout out my thoughts on whatever. So, here’s my experience of motherhood so far:

  1. Birthing was easy; breastfeeding was hard. I recognise that this might not be true for everyone out there, but personally, my birth experience was phenomenal. Life-changing? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. Bloody? Of course. Went the way we expected? Hell to the no. Quite literally, we were prepared for every type of birth except the one we got! Maybe one day, I’ll blog about it. Thankfully, I’ll have the opportunity to remember every second of the final minutes of labour since it was recorded on the emergency phone call we made, and we’ve got the audio copy! So in the end, birthing was an intense experience that got to be most challenging in the closing minutes (ha, surprise!). I’d spent months agonising over it, worrying about how hard it’d be, wondering if I was strong enough to endure it – but birth didn’t break me. Breastfeeding nearly did. No one told me that it might suck. I’d expected it to be this magical, amazing, proud moment. I’d also expected it to be easy. Natural. That’s what people say about breastfeeding, right? So you grit your teeth and try to tough it out – the sore, aching nipples that may or may not bleed. The painful swelling of engorgement. The bouts of mastitis that came on as a rapid wave of flu-like symptoms accompanying a hot, hard lump in my boob. But people told me that it’d pass. That it wouldn’t suck forever. In those early weeks, I’m not sure if I believed them.

I cried more than I ever cried before during that time when the feeding was near constant and sleep – that thing everyone told you to enjoy before you had a kid – was definitely not happening. There was something like resentment building up in me whenever my baby would start crying 20 minutes after I’d just winced and clenched my teeth and endured a feeding on one breast, only to have to put her back on the other. I had moments of considering strangling my amazing, beloved husband whenever he’d hold her screaming form out to me with big, sympathetic eyes and say, “I think she’s still hungry.” I also envisioned clocking the midwife who was analysing my baby’s latch when she said, “Breastfeeding is supposed to be a pleasurable experience.” And I called my sweet little girl “vampire baby” for weeks because she terrified me whenever she uncontrollably launched her whole face, mouth open, towards my breast, desperate to clamp on and chow down. I’ll probably never forget the late night cluster feed she had when she was crying because she was hungry and I was crying because I was in such pain and feeling guilty for hating breastfeeding. But, like all my friends told me, these negative feelings did eventually pass. I had to hold onto the what the pros told me, that breastfeeding is a skill my baby and I would figure out together. It took some time – weeks, in fact – but it did get better. I still wouldn’t say that I love breastfeeding, but I certainly don’t hate it anymore.

2. Mistakes will be made. Luckily, she won’t remember these early ones. Being a new mom is tough. I’m still trying to figure everything out four months down the line! I’ve had to learn to cut myself some slack and remind myself that things like the washing can wait, that I don’t need to be supermom right out of the gate. I moaned about my wrecked house, the mountain of laundry I had yet to do, the fact that I had such difficulty working out how to get a meal prepared (and hence lived off Nutella slathered toast and take out for a few weeks). I tried hard not to compare myself to other women who seemed to have it all down, but it’s hard not to. Throughout the transition, I was often reminded that my sitting around with a sleeping baby in my arms was something to be cherished, that this moment is fleeting and still important work. I didn’t always get it right, though. There’s that time I bathed her in a panic (but to be fair, bath time was always something of a panic for me – it just felt so awkward, hunched over the side of our tub, worried that she’d slip out of the non-slip bath hammock and drown in the 3″ deep water because that’s what all the horror stories on the internet say could happen). I mean, they say it’s supposed to be this relaxing thing to do with your kid and here I was, so freaked by the possibility of her slipping out of my hands while trying to wash her butt, I accidentally dipped her face in the soapy water. There was another time I bumped the back of her head on the plastic rim of the baby bath and she wailed at me. Yeah, I’m not that great at bathing her… but I have improved and she’s been wonderfully patient with me as I continue to learn how to do this whole mom thing.

3. I’m still a person, an individual. But now, I’m also a mom. In the beginning, I felt that the learning curve into motherhood was a sharp, head-spinning whirlwind. There were so many new things to learn, to master and to figure out – I mean, I can’t even tell you what my Google search history looked like during that time period. I spent hours looking at pictures of baby poop (no lie), reading about latch and breastfeeding tips, studying videos on how to do tummy time. I read up on parenting philosophies, thoughts and opinions on babies crying, on sleeping, on determining if the emotions I was feeling (both good and bad) were normal. I swapped stories and got tips from other new moms, this set of amazing women going through the same journey, and it helped me feel less alone, more adequate. Because in those early days, I had a lot of doubts floating in my head about what I was doing. Every decision we made felt huge and I felt the pressure to get it right. If motherhood were a class, I was determined to get an A, and it was completely exhausting.

I felt so totally consumed by motherhood because every waking moment was spent attending to her needs (as it should be), but all that time she spent asleep was more time I spent trying to figure out how to mom it up. If it wasn’t, I was sat, pumping my breasts in an effort to get my supply sorted and build up a freezer supply. I can only remember a handful of times I slept when the baby slept (advice I’d heard a thousand times over), but much of our early days together were strictly feeding-centric. And for a while there, I got a little upset whenever people would ask how the baby was doing but forget to ask how I was doing. It just felt like I didn’t really matter now that the baby had arrived; I’d become irrelevant. Now, this obviously wasn’t true, but you try telling yourself that when your emotions are still kind of “whacko” as my mom would call it! It’s just that I had no time to be just me. It was always me and baby. Later, I’d say that the only time I was ever truly alone was the 5 minutes I got to myself in the shower, and those were the moments when I felt I could relax a bit and just be.

I’d realised then that I hadn’t been spending any time connecting with myself or with my partner. In fact, she was 5 weeks old before I managed to spend any time at all with Tea. Before then, we were tag-teaming caring for the baby round the clock and obviously, we were both tired. When she was 6 weeks old, I had a night out because we’d successfully introduced a bottle to substitute one feed (expressed breastmilk), and it was the first time I felt like me again. I remembered that there were things I liked, things I did before having a baby, but for a while it seemed so impossible to have any time for myself. I understood then how easy it could be to forget your own individual identity in favour of solely living out your mom identity, but I felt it was important for me to still be my own person and indulge in the things I used to before having a baby. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still my whole world, but I needed time out for me – an hour or two – to do and think about things totally unrelated to her.

Even though she’s nearly four months now, I’m learning more and more about how to be the best mother I can be to her every single day. I’m slowly gathering the confidence to get the things I need to do done whilst still caring for her and ensuring she’s got my full attention and my heart. Everyone told me that there’s not really a way to prepare for motherhood, and they were so right. With time, I’m sure my experience of it will change and grow with her needs and whatever challenges may come up, but this first foray into it has been one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done. It’s also one of the most beautiful and most rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it, or her, for anything.

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