When I was pregnant, a lot of what I did and read was focussed in on the ‘big’ day (pushing a human through my vagina, not getting married, just to be clear). We hypnobirthed, we NCT’d, we read the books. All of them prepared us for labour. Or so we thought. I still feel pleased that we really did our homework because all of it – but especially practising hypnobirthing nightly – kept me calm for the whole pregnancy. Despite our labour not being what we had hoped (Ha!), I feel like the preparation kept me mentally strong in what was – frankly – a terrifying ordeal. For eight months we were so engrossed in this one upcoming event that we didn’t really think about what happened afterwards. And as a result I felt woefully underprepared when I arrived home with a baby. If I could have known a few things before the birth about after the birth, this is what they would have been.
- The first bit sucks. For some women, it sucks less. For other, it sucks a whole lot. It will suck for completely different reasons for each woman. For me, it was a mixture of physical pain and baby blues, leaving me struggling to care for my newborn and then crying daily about how inadequate that made me feel. The pain also wore me out – it made sleeping harder and was so relentless that it felt like psychological warfare. I hope, to whoever is reading this, that it sucks less for you. But if it doesn’t, have a survival plan. Know where to get support, whether it be hands on help or mental back up. Tap into that support early and then milk it until you genuinely feel ready to go it alone.
- On that note, be patient. Recovery comes slowly. Learning how to look after a baby comes slowly. Getting used to broken sleep will never come. For me, six weeks was the magic moment that I broke out of my what-the-shit-have-we-done cocoon and became a beautiful mummy butterfly. To quote something often found on really cheap tacky coasters, ‘Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.” Usually I burn stuff that says stuff like this, but on this occasion, you may actually want to buy one of these coasters to remind yourself that you will come out of the darkness.
- People will come. Like the three wise men came to Jesus in the manger. Except your visitors won’t be wise; they’ll be full of shit advice and, to add insult to injury, they won’t bring gifts that can be exchanged for global currency. We made a rule of allowing blood relatives only for the first week which was one of the best things we did given that, even with the rule in place, our house became a petting zoo overnight. Know your limits in terms of guests whether you measure that in people, hours, or how many bottles of champagne you want to drink a day, and then stick to it.
- Read the books. ‘Don’t read the books’ they told us. Again and again, we were both warned away from sourcing professional advice on the subject of childrearing in case it was too patronising, too authoritarian, too bohemian etc etc. ‘It all comes instinctively’, they chanted in unison. Does. It. Fuck. Had a I read a bloody book before Whoopsy arrived, I would have known that when a baby screams its bloody head off at you for five straight hours, it is likely overtired and needs to be put down to sleep. I would not have bounced it up and down on my knee for those entire five hours thinking it needed winding, or entertaining, or wearing out. Five weeks. Five weeks we did this. EVERY NIGHT FOR FIVE WEEKS. Until, guess what? I read a fucking book.
- You get to eat extra calories if you breastfeed. Breastfeeding is really hard. No one mentions that. It’s like putting your nipples in the mouths of small rabid terriers who hate you. You’ll likely experience milk, blood and pus seeping from the area where you once had nipples all in the same day. But hey – bonus – you get to eat more calories!
- It’s really hard to kill a baby. Seriously, I tried. Kidding! For most of history, babies have been brought up in caves. Or if they were rich babies, mud huts. And understandably, many died. These days most of us are able to give a baby all the essential it needs even if we’re as poor as church mice (I’ve never understood this saying on the basis that a) mice don’t require money and therefore probably don’t categorise themselves according to wealth and b) the church is historically one of the richest institutions in the UK so the church mice are probably hella wealthy as far as rodents go). Heating, door locks, vaccinations, hot water and a safe sleeping spot is most of what your baby needs in its first months of life. So don’t allow the anxiety around baby safety – be it yours or other people’s – to stress you out. You will not accidentally kill your baby by putting the wrong type of blanket on it when it sleeps, or having the bath temperature three degrees too warm, or putting clothes on it that haven’t been washed first in organic lavender scented laundry detergent. Go ahead and sweat the big stuff – local pedophiles is top of my list – but don’t sweat the little things.