Holly Willoughby recently declared that motherhood for the third time has been more difficult than for her previous two children. In her interview for The Mirror, she thought “it would be like falling off a log” having had two children before. Talking about problems with reflux and tongue tie, she admitted that her newest addition “felt like her first”.
God, Holly, not to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude, but I wish your honest admissions had occurred a few years earlier, when you had your first baby at the same time I had mine, when my parenting confidence ebb was at its lowest and most vulnerable. In those dark days of sleepless nights, PND and debilitating anxiety, with a baby who also had tongue tie and reflux, in amongst the craniosacral therapy, baby massage and desperate visits to a breast feeding counsellor, a little glimmer or media morsel of hope that another new mother was going through the same angsty experiences as me might have offset the situation. Instead, my slightly OCD online clicking, to smoke out someone who might just be going through my reality, was met with singularly bouncy, upbeat motherhood experiences. This beautiful, bouncy haired woman even appeared back on This Morning, apparently still juggling new motherhood, breastfeeding and a job, at a time when I could barely manage to have a shower or leave the house before 3 PM.
This might sound a bit hashtag first world problems and all that, but when you’re flung headlong into this brave new world, you grab onto to anything which might offer a light to your shade. Unfortunately, I felt very alone. Not because I was alone – I had plenty of wonderful, caring people around me – but it was this rather peculiar, irrational, self-induced loneliness. Everyone around me seemed to doing this new mother malarkey a damn sight better than me. I set expectations impossibly high and negatively judged myself against everyone and everything. When my son cried, and he cried an awful lot, it created a rising sense of panic in me each and every time – panic that I wasn’t doing enough for him and panic that everyone else around me would think I wasn’t doing enough for him, and that, somehow, I’d bred a child who was destined to just, well, cry.
Sometimes this was borne out by experience – like the first time I tried to get my behemoth buggy on a bus, and managing to get the whole thing wedged stuck in the aisle with a screaming baby, a disobliging bus driver and the critical eyes of the passengers burning into me. Slim pickings, you might think, but at the time, as an hormonal new mum recovering from C section house arrest, with a tiny creature who I’d just been assigned lifetime supervision but who I actually thought hated me, it was a pretty dark day. Sometimes, though, I think I had just concocted my own conspiracy theory – that every other new parent was definitely, completely, absolutely doing parenthood in a more breezy, confident and Mini-Boden catalogue style way, in a cruel bid to expose my maternal flaws.
Of course, you get some parents who do just breeze through it. Perhaps they have easy-going babies, good feeders and sleepers, or perhaps they are just genetically pre-programmed to better deal with the sea change. Or perhaps they are all just big fat liars or good at covering it up because, now with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, I realise I wasn’t alone. In fact, I was probably in very good company. There was no conspiracy theory, we were all just muddling along in the best way that we could. Talking to a friend recently, who knew me in those early days of motherhood, I realized I was, too, perhaps guilty of covering up what was really happening. Apparently, I had always just appeared calm and confident and that she felt the more frazzled one. She calls it the swan effect, where you appear serene on the surface but, underneath, you’re paddling like hell. I had believed the same of her.
Parenting is a great leveler – it doesn’t matter whether you are the nation’s favourite TV celebrity or work in a shop, the challenge of new motherhood is the same. It strips you down, dismantles everything you’ve ever known and rehashes you into a slightly wonky version of yourself. A version that functions slightly differently, sometimes infinitely better, sometimes worse. Love, neuroses, the inability to remember what you walked into a room for; all are heightened.
It’s heartening to see mothers in the public eye admitting, in the face of pressure to look perfect, that they, too, have their challenges and struggles. But it’s also important to realize that the experiences of other parents around you are just as, if not much more, valid. Here are a few things I’ve picked up from experiences of new motherhood:
1. Your crying baby sounds 100 decibels louder to you than it does to anyone else. The looks you get from people when your child is crying are probably not disapproval, just a flashback for them of what they or someone close to them have experienced, or a supportive acknowledgement that motherhood can be tough.
2. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get dressed and leave the house until most people are coming home, in fact, it doesn’t matter if you don’t leave the house at all. Your baby will not be developmentally deprived as a result.
3. Don’t keep expensive baby clothes for best – they will rapidly grow out of them. So what if they get a bit grubby? Aren’t good quality clothes supposed to wash better?
4. Whichever expensive travel system you invest in, you’ll end up buying a cheaper fold-down pushchair within 6 months. Trust me.
5. Don’t start weaning before you have to – it’s tempting to get to the next stage but you’ll just have an extra few weeks of cleaning 99% of the puree you’ve spent most of your precious evening batch cooking into ice cube trays off the walls and ceilings.
6. Don’t get complacent with your interior decorating. That cream rug or crushed velvet sofa might seem a good idea when your sleepy newborn is still in their moses basket but future proofing your house with wipeable, washable stuff now will save a lot of sighing and telling off when they’re older.
7. And finally, that mum over there, the one you think looks calm and in control, with the perfect sleeping baby, whilst your baby grizzles and cries? She’s just grateful to know that someone else is going through what she went through half an hour earlier.