When you are expecting a baby, you concentrate a lot on how your baby will arrive into the world. You attend antenatal classes and talk over birth options, write a birth plan, and dream about cuddling your little tiny baby.
Preparing for the birth feels like such an overwhelmingly important thing, that its pretty easy to forget that after the birth you’ve got years of actually raising a small human to look forward to. At least that was true for me.
What even was this?
To be honest, whilst I thought I was prepared for birth and for baby, I really wasn’t. The reality of losing control of what was happening to my body took it’s toll. I like to be in control, and suddenly I had all my choices taken away and a tiny angry baby left in my care.
Turns out, babies don’t read books. They don’t listen to podcasts or experts and they mostly do whatever the hell they want (This equally applies to toddlers, preschoolers and school age children so far). My ‘preparation’ for having a baby (reading some books, lots of googling) went totally out of the window by around day 5.
In my pregnant life I had assumed that learning to be a mum was as easy as learning other skills – you look for the most well reviewed book by an expert, read it and everything just works. Right? My children were always going to be well fed, not watch TV, want to learn, and we’d be a close knit family full of love. Because I read a few books.
What was I thinking? Now I look back and think OMG you idiot. But I had NO idea what actually being a mum would be like. About 8 weeks in I remember thinking I desperately needed to thank my mum (who was a single mum from before I was born) because this shit was hard and I had help that she hadn’t had.
But. How would I have known differently? I have a much younger brother and so I had more hands on baby experience than a lot of new parents had but I had still never changed a nappy or fed a baby, or been up in the night looking after them. I had never felt the overwhelming need to protect someone else, or do the best for them. I had never had total responsibility for bringing up a person.
The Weight Of Expectation
I learned A LOT. Very quickly. I was introduced to concepts about infant development and mental health that I had never even thought of. I did a total 180 on my beliefs as a parent.
I had expected to do sleep training as early as possible, I had expected to use my swish pram and the nursery room we decorated. I expected to go back to work full time quickly and continue my career. I expected to be a certain kind of mother.
When my son arrived I didn’t want to sleep train. Ever. He didn’t like the pram and I loved slings. I didn’t want to go back to work at all, although I did go back part time for a year. I became a totally different kind of mother.
One of the reasons I found the transition to motherhood so overwhelming was the weight of all my expectations being smashed to pieces. How do you change so many beliefs so quickly?
We Need Support
Our society sets parents up for difficult lives, especially mothers. You are told you can have it all – but you are expected to work like you don’t have children and parent like you don’t work. You are told that there is a ‘right’ way to do everything – but all children and families are different and there isn’t a right way. You are told that becoming a parent is a magical and special time – and it is, but it is hard and long and overwhelming. You are told to do this all alone, without the support of extended family which would have been the norm in the past.
My advice now to people who are expecting babies is to find their support network. Find your village – be it parents, friends, extended family. Find local groups, find sling libraries, find breastfeeding support, find mental health support. Find these before your child arrives, so that when they do you can enjoy the time getting to know them, knowing that your support network is there.
Becoming a parent is hard. It can be incredible, it can be mindblowing, it can be magical. But it has long hours, the boss doesn’t sleep and they ask questions *constantly*. We NEED support to manage, whatever that looks like.
Above all, take care of yourself.