It has been over 6 years since I became a new mother so, I have to admit, I was stretched to remember what it was really like back in those early days, weeks and months with a newborn. However, I really wanted to write about the beginning of motherhood, in particular, all the things that, looking back, I found important (although I might not have realised it at the time). Here are my top 7. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
1. MOST IMPORTANT – be kind to yourself
Motherhood is a tough gig. I remember being so scared of the whole labour experience – what would it really be like, would I need an epidural and, if so, how much would it hurt to get one, would I labour for hours or days, was I going to care about all and sundry seeing my lady bits? I couldn’t see past the labour “event” when actually, looking back, labour was the easy part. Caring for a newborn is much harder!
In my culture, for the first month of a newborn’s life, the mother goes through a period of rest and recuperation known as “confinement”. Having moved to Australia at the tender age of 6, this part of my culture would have been lost on me had it not been for my own mother, who insisted on this month of rest which involved eating a lot of gingery food (to warm and heal the womb), drinking red date longan tea (to help with milk production for the baby) and generally being confined to the house. Mum and dad flew over to Newcastle for this first month and I was so fortunate to have their company and support as I tried to find my feet as a new mum.
Not everyone has such a “gentle” start to motherhood so I cannot stress enough how important it is to look after your own health after the baby is born. It is so important as you are healing from the marathon that is childbirth, that you eat and drink well so that your body can recover and keep up with the demands of a newborn. Another tip for the early days – hang on to something which you love to do that has nothing to do with the baby (e.g. yoga, sewing, reading) and take time out to do that something as often as you can (for example, while the baby is napping or your partner takes your baby for a walk).
For me, self-care is the basis to happy mothering. I have no doubt that I’m a better and happier mum if I am doing what I love as often as possible.
2. Having a newborn is all-consuming and overwhelming
Enough said. And it remains all-consuming and overwhelming for a long time. For me, the days and nights all blurred into each other as I demand fed this hungry little human and counted the hours until hubby walked through the door. I found there was no let up until around the 3 or 4 month mark, when I felt things just got that little bit easier. Miss 6 just cried a lot and needed a lot of shooshing and rocking and carrying to sleep. Miss 4 had some sort of silent reflux where she would scream her lungs out after every feed. Master 1 hated sleeping in his cot and spent his newborn months co-sleeping with me.
Oh yes, let’s not forget the breastfeeding. There was nothing “easy” or “natural” about it for me and, while I stuck it out feeding each of my three kids until they turned one, there were many moments I wanted to give up. I was on the brink of mastitis a few times; feeding the baby while at the same time “kneading” the hard lumps in my boobs to get the milk flowing I can honestly say was the third most painful experience of my life (after drug-free labour and passing a kidney stone). While breastfeeding has many great benefits, it is not the be all and end all of sustenance for your child. Remember, you are certainly not failing in any way if, for whatever reason, your baby is given formula. Do what works for you.
3. Accept ALL the help offered
Having a baby was the closest I have ever gotten to having a housekeeper! Because we were living interstate when Miss 6 was born (and in a different city when Miss 4 was born), the help from parents meant that they came to stay with us so they were around all the time to help. For that, I will always be grateful.
I found the most helpful things as a mother of a newborn was to have meals prepared, laundry, ironing and cleaning done and, as more children were added to my brood, offers to babysit my other children.
So if family and friends are offering to bring a meal or while they are visiting, they offer to do the dishes that are piling up in your sink, accept it all!
It sounds funny to say this but I think it is really important to talk to your partner about the practical roles you will play when the baby arrives. For example, I remember for the night feeds when the kids were newborns, my husband would be the first to tend to the baby changing their nappy before bringing them to me for feeding. After feeding, I would settle them back to sleep. This worked for us because it meant I wasn’t sole parenting overnight and my husband had a role to play which didn’t interrupt his sleep for too long so he was not too fatigued for work the next day.
4. Join a mother’s group
This was really important for me because I didn’t have a friendship network in Newcastle when Miss 6 was born. To be able to talk about things with other new mums who are experiencing exactly what you are going through is invaluable. And I completely lucked out because my mother’s group was such a lovely group to belong to.
To this day, although they are far away, I call these women my friends.
5. Do what works for you
I am the kind of person who reads and researches too much. Add to that the fact I had time because I was not working in Newcastle so I was a “lady of leisure” for my entire first pregnancy. Looking back, I was this hormonal Type A personality with OCD tendencies trying to prepare myself for parenthood. As a result, I did an abnormal amount of research and reading about everything to do with babies. I am ashamed to admit I bought one of those floating bath thermometers that you throw in the water to ensure it is not too hot for the baby (uh…hello…perhaps sticking your hand in the water to test the temperature might have also done the trick?).
The truth is, there is nothing that prepares you for parenthood. Nothing. I would know because I think I got pretty close to being the most prepared anyone could be, and I was still stunned, all-consumed, overwhelmed.
The reason why you can’t be prepared for parenthood is because you cannot predict what your newborn is going to be like temperamentally (some babies enter the world happily and seem to find their place in it relatively quickly; other babies just take a bit longer to settle into life outside the womb and can be a bit miserable until that happens). Also, you can’t be prepared for what you are going to feel as a new parent or how you will recover from the birth physically, mentally and emotionally.
At the end of the day, do what works for you (obviously with baby’s safety and health as the paramount consideration) in your particular set of circumstances.
6. Record the memories
For those of you who are sentimental, take pictures and write down the details of special moments. My husband is a keen photographer while I am the sentimental one who likes recording memories, so together we have quite a library of photos and record books for each child.
Everything is such a blur, especially in those first few frantic months and I can tell you it is really quite special to have a memory triggered when looking at a particular photo or a journal entry. In the future I hope to write a post about memory keeping because it’s something quite dear to my heart.
7. Find a great GP
A great family GP is worth their weight in gold, because they can be involved not just in your newborn’s care (from general check-ups to administering vaccinations) but in your post-birth care (physical and emotional).
We started afresh when we returned to WA and are very happy to have found a GP who has a particular interest in women’s and children’s health.