First things first, I have to out myself as a currently six months pregnant person (some of you may recall the fatefully timed dilemma I was having around rolling the dice again with a second child. As it turned out, Mother Nature had already had her way). I have long thought about, and often joked with my husband, sharing the things we wish we’d known or been told upon becoming parents to our now nearly two-year old son. There is definitely something to be said about the comfort of being a seasoned mum this time around. I’m an altogether calmer, hardier sort now – although it would be unkind of me to pretend this isn’t thanks to the grittier episodes of baby rearing. And knowing precisely how it feels to find yourself madly typing ‘Is snot-green poo normal at three-months-old?’ into Google at 4am, before going off some tangential cliff-face convinced the answer to the former means your kid has some rare funky flora working mischief in their tiny gut. The type that will put paid to going outside again amongst all that bacteria just waiting to pounce for the next few days. Scrap that, till they’re ten.
Which is why although nothing can prepare you for being/the odd feelings that go with pregnancy, life with a newborn or motherhood in general, if I had the chance again, this is the heads-up I would want to give myself. The things that no-one tells you…
DON’T RUSH THE PREGNANCY BIT
Here’s the thing (and I don’t mean it harshly): you have to remember that you are not sick but pregnant, so beyond steering clear of the relatively short list of no-go’s and taking things a little more gently in the final trimesters, carry on as normal*. Follow your regular exercise if you can. Enjoy lazing about while you can – don’t fill your days with baby-prep and nesting – you won’t not feel tired for, oh, eighteen years or so once baby arrives. Give alcohol-free beer a whirl – this time around I’ve discovered brilliant Pale Ale from Brew Dog that would have made the Friday evenings of my first pregnancy a far sunnier affair. Try not to panic or equally gen up too much with fixed ideas about the labour. Yes, you’ll be longing to meet your baby, but in the grand scheme of things the labour is actually a fairly short introduction to the newborn chapter – and that adage about the best laid birth plans is something mother nature loves nothing more than to stick her fingers up to. There is no badge of honour for going through untold, unwarranted pain.
BEWARE GOOGLE (AND UNINVITED ADVICE)
Advice is something everyone loves to give, whether we ask for it or not: annoyingly, just one of those things about motherhood. Be prepared for barely a snort from your buggy soliciting some kindly meant (though there will be moments you doubt this) tip from passers-by. The surround-sound of social media and the Internet is ripe breeding ground for comments, scary anecdotes and a baffling array of perspectives on baby-related woes. You’ll need to learn to trust your self and your maternal instinct – or get professional medical advice if you’re genuinely worried to avoid those small hour Google meltdowns that can make even the most level-headed of us feel like we’ve lost the plot. Sometimes, when you just stop and simplify what is really amiss, you can find a way through by leaning on past experiences and approaches that often translate surprisingly well to babies. For instance, for all the pressure to stimulate little ones’ minds and waft those space blankets at them for every waking minute when you’re not dealing with the ingress and exit of food, they need downtime, too. There’s no such thing as FOMO when they’re tiny.
PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING IS NORMAL. PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING IS JUST A PHASE
If there’s one thing that is certain, and is actually very important, it is that no one knows what they are doing. No one understands babies, really. They are a bundle of pure instinct and weirdness, so the best thing you can do is to match their uncertainty with some of your own: i.e. don’t worry if they’re not eating very well or conversely want to cluster-feed all night (groan). Most things fall under that lump category of ‘just a phase’ and are finite. It may feel like wading through treacle while your riding out these phases, but they will pass, and are usually perfectly par for the course. Try to avoid subscribing to the baby-industry’s attempt to dupe you into thinking everything is a potential problem that you can solve if only you had the right method/product/philosophy/cared enough. They’re simply playing on the crazy high-demands we place on ourselves to have an answer or coping mechanism for everything. And babies – make that life in general – simply aren’t built that way.
From pram shoes to changing tables, there is a whole host of crap that folk would have you believe you need for babies. Inevitably, there will be exceptions to this rule (as every baby and parent is different) but much of the paraphernalia that accompanies newborns especially is unnecessary and only there by dint of clever marketing that says your tractor of a travel-system needs a Christmas tree’s load of those Lamaze developmental baubles hanging from it. Speaking of buggies, similarly to wedding dress shopping, check you can actually manoeuvre it around your locale, preferably pop it up with one hand – and never go out for the first time without practicing how to collapse the flaming thing or fit it in your boot. Much as they are spendy, the Bugaboo Bee would be my pram of choice for its nifty light weight ability to be hauled into my house in one piece, rather than the shuttle run of chassis and seat I had to undertake with our old pram. Oh, and always check EBay.
THE HOSTILES & TUTTERS
As with advice, we live in a world where having an opinion or stance is the norm: learn to brush off the tuts and frostiness of the anti-baby or staunch parenting-philosophy following brigade, it’s nothing personal. It is easier said than done especially if, like me, you struggle with anxiety, but you are more resilient than you know – and will find strength in it. It doesn’t really matter which side of the various problem-areas from breast vs. bottle feeding or sleep training vs. co-sleeping you end up on, as long as you are doing your best, following your intuition and that your children feel safe, loved, well fed and clean.
There is nothing like going through the unknown together to galvanise friendships. Beyond solidarity, I hadn’t been prepared for the little, crucial glow of kinship you feel when several months into motherhood you realise who you feel better for having seen or laughing about nipple shields with. Not to mention the newfound respect for our bodies and womanhood as a whole.
TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS (ON YOURSELF)
Partly thanks to being of a generation that places high expectations on ourselves to excel at everything, partly because we’re succumbing to a system that can be distilled down to what’s best for baby vs. what’s best for mum, it’s tempting to go at motherhood like the clappers in a bid to look like a pro. Yet in order to build up the stamina we need to look after a new baby, it’s vital to not over-stretch yourself. No one is, or should be, judging you. Allow yourself time to heal. Don’t feel obliged to have visitors in those early days – but if they offer help or even better meals – maybe say yes. Keep going to the doctors or seeking help if you don’t feel right: don’t let yourself say you’re fine just for the sake of the six-week ‘standard’ recovery time. Sleep as much as you can. Give your post-baby body a break; don’t give into unfair notions of getting back into shape for many months. But make sure to look after yourself when it comes to brushing your teeth, washing and taking the French woman’s lead of taking care of your skin but ditching any thoughts of make-up. Door-bouncers and bouncing chairs make for great distractions and ways of keeping your baby safe so you can take a few minutes.
ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
Being knackered all of the time, the physical fallout and seismic change in your lives might not look like the recipe for a happy, healthy mum – and least of all a relationship. But if you try to find the funny side and fun in parenting together as a joint force, making jokes about any female plumbing-issues you may be experiencing or the like. Things really do ease up and become less unpredictable circa the 1.5 year mark – along with the temptation to run your buggy over those people who told you this was the case in the early days (when next week felt like forever away) and that you should enjoy this time “because it goes too fast” (I seriously believe someone slowed down the clocks from late 2014 until spring of this year). Hence why some of us find ourselves back on the threshold of doing it all over again just as things get better…
*Needless to say, always take your doctor’s advice, not mine!