Just after having my first baby I was sitting up on a hospital bed, exhausted from the emergency c-sec, entertaining visitors, and sleepless nights, when my mum rang and said a strange thing. — How are you? She said. Oh, well Finn isn’t feeding well, and they’ve had to put a tube into his stomach through his nose and…— No, she stopped me. How are YOU? Yes, he’s your son, but you’re my daughter, and I want to know how YOU are. And I burst into tears.
You see, as sure as eggs is eggs, the minute you fall pregnant your body will become a vessel for a child. Much of the advice and information you might be told, or read, will focus on your baby; what sized vegetable it compares to, how you need to ‘value every moment because it goes so fast’, whether or not it has eyelids or fingernails and why you need to learn about prolapse. Much of this advice is sincere, but you can become so used to becoming the sidekick in a story about your baby that it will come as a bit of a shock that you — and I mean the ‘YOU’ of your identity — that you will be affected too.
So, with a view to you (YOU) firmly remaining the protagonist in this exciting new time for you (YOU) then please accept some more #unsolicitedadvice from me about retaining some of the YOU in you.
1. Whoever you are when you’re tired, be prepared to be that person all the livelong day. Don’t try and hide it, embrace it. Feed. Nap. Shout. Repeat. You are going to become weepy sleepy, hungry angry and too tired to be admired. You can no longer clip and snip your personality into a ‘nice’ shape. You will have to succumb to your raggedy bare self. Although some people might be shocked by her, those who know will know already. And when you are finally comfortable this way, you will realise that you are and always were a QUEEN. A note on your relationship with your partner; this may well expose some areas in your relationship that need work, care and attention. Be prepared for things to surface. These things will either help you grow together or help you to stop wasting your time with each other. Either way, try to get along and be kind to each other as you’re in it together forever now.
2. Take care of yourself with the detail and focus you care for your child(ren). The number of hormones currently goose-stepping around your body will change you in the same way that puberty did — remember that? You will find new insecurities, new strengths, new bodily functions and new directions. Your body will expand and contract but so will your identity, there will be things you can return to and things you can not. Try to be present with all that change going on and act as your own parent would when noticing things and taking steps to help yourself. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, allow yourself to be looked after by those around you, partners, friends and parents alike. Your happiness is the cornerstone of a functioning family because you are equally as important as others in whatever the new dynamic is. Seek personal or professional help if you need to.
3. Be subjective. I tried in vain to be objective for about 3 or 4 months until I found out it was bullshit. If you try and be all empirical, you will get caught in a quagmire of conflicting evidence when you need to make split decisions. All this evidence is based on quantitative data most of which is being disproved all the time. Breast or bottle, co-sleep or cot the list goes on. Do what is right for you at that moment. Even if you are objective by nature, be subjective. Make a decision. Move forward. Don’t look back when all those ‘objective’ people will frown and get all judgy. Motherhood is like sexism XXX. People are continually trying to play on your feelings of inadequacy to sell you shit or bring you into a discussion that suits their agenda. Make your own agenda. If you start listening to all the crap, you will find yourself alone in a room, and everyone in it will be weeping. Don’t do that to yourself, do what makes your new family work.
4. Get Your Armour. I can not stress this point enough. And it counts for the chaps too. Choose the thing that makes you feel so abundantly and comprehensively you and don’t ever leave home without it. For me, it was red lipstick and a top knot. For him, it was a craft brewery T-shirt and air max. Don’t let that shit go. You can go anywhere, covered in anything, clinging to the last ounce of your dignity and your pride, whip that thing from your nappy bag whack it on and say frick you life I know who I am and I know where I stand. Red lips and attitude got me a very very long way while I was pregnant then breastfeeding and later when I had a screaming toddler kicking fits in the street covered in snot and cheese. I’d breathe in and say — I’m just a girl, in red lipstick, standing here waiting for a boy in blue joggers to cool it, sunshine. I am just me, you are just you.
5. In a time-starved world, you will find yourself at the epicentre of love. You will need to dole out affection to people even when you are in a rush, or your energy is totally spent. Hear this. The nuzzle is a vastly underrated display of affection. I guarantee that if you are worried about how you can possibly show one or more person all the love you hold for them in your heart, that if you take the time each day to give each person a nuzzle, they will know. Not as ubiquitous as a cuddle or specific as a kiss, the nuzzle confides, listens, encourages and emboldens. It’s a fluid movement, kinda like moving in for a smell mixed with a face smother mixed with preening. And you absolutely can not do it when you’re rigid with anger. Just watch a mama cat with her kittens or a bitch with her pups. It’s nature’s most motherly of gestures, and it benefits are felt by all involved.
6. Learn to do everything with your left hand including wiping a bottom and tying up a shoelace (vice-versa if you’re a leftie). You will now and for probably years to come, be holding something or someone with your dominant hand. You may well throw out a dominant hip too. All this when your core muscles resemble spaghetti. So here’s the rub; if you have a weak core and you overload your back and neck muscles, you will begin to feel fatigue. That leads to aches which lead to pain. Pain makes you feel vulnerable and underconfident in your body, you start to move walk and stand in a compensating way, and soon your posture projects that vulnerability to others which can lead to social anxiety. So, I beg of you, if you do not want to suffer from a long-term chronic backache/hip pain/wrist trouble then dear God get yourself some mat time. Kegals are your friend. But take it easy. In my first pregnancy I tried to run six weeks after a c-section and wasn’t ready, so I had to slow my recovery right down, and part of my scar took a lot longer to repair than it should have. I’m not telling you to exercise. I’m just suggesting you take care of your body, whatever your stage of fitness, and to try to even out the impact on it from parenting.
7. Pals. Pals, chums, buddies and mates. This section is an ode to friendship. As a result of the roles people fall into after having a baby, social lives change. Generally, the caregiver takes on the social responsibility of the child; organising playdates, birthday parties and childcare arrangements, playing second fiddle to the wunderkind. This can introduce you to a plethora of new people. Or it can isolate you beyond belief. Whichever it is, is not always up to you — don’t take it personally — but there are things you can do. Join a baby group! But if you don’t like it, or anyone in it, move on. Don’t lose heart, crack on until you find your tribe. A lot of people bang on about how bad social media is for culture, but for new mothers, it can be a total blessing. Talk to your partner (or a parent or old friends)! If you find yourself in a tight spot, alone and without any way of meeting people, speak out. Let other people take the reins for a moment for you to indulge in a new pass time, to volunteer somewhere or even just go to your health visitor to explain, he or she will undoubtedly be able to make some introductions to others in your circumstances. And a note on old friends. Some will fall by the wayside. It’s human nature. No one owes you their time and don’t be surprised if someone or some people make their excuses and leave the table once you pull up a highchair. But value the ones that don’t. They’ll be the ones who’ll hold you when you cry into your gin. They’ll be the ones who will make you laugh when your stomach is sick because you have to go back to work after maternity leave. They’ll be the ones cheering you on at every stage when you have to make all the necessary changes to your friendship as your tiny person grows into a big adult sized human.
8. And finally, my friends, prepare to feel thwarted. Things that take twenty minutes now take an hour, things that took ten minutes, that’s right, now take an hour. Be reasonable and manage your own expectations of the time you have in the day. Need to ‘pop’ to the shops? Got a work thing booked in? Each one will take waaaaay more time than it should because; nappies, sick, shoes, outerwear, wobbles, weeping, shouting, food, comfort, wrangling and coercion. Most of my rage has been projected onto my child when we are trying to keep to a schedule of some kind. I have it on good authority that this doesn’t change much until kids get quite a bit older. I am unbelievably impatient, and that’s a part of my personality I’ve had to temper because there’s no situation where losing it has ever helped me or my kids. Instead, now, I give everything an hour. Unfortunately, this feeling of being thwarted can affect your job as you can no longer stay late, finishing projects to deadlines if you have kids to pick up. It’s a given. However, all that thwarted time makes you gestate ideas. This is a superpower. When your kids are looked after/occupied/asleep, and you can work, you concentrate harder because you know your time is precious. This is a superpower. When you bring home money that you earned, and all you want to do is spend it on your sprogs, and you realise you haven’t bought new shoes in a year. This is a superpower. Some people use these superpowers to do things they’ve always wanted to do, they start up new businesses or establish creative careers. The idea being that if you’re going to be away from your kids, you might as well make the time count. Other people decide to jack in anything that takes too much energy away from their kids and take on jobs that mean nothing more than a paycheck to them or give up work altogether. Either way, thwarting = re-assessment of priorities.
NB, as with any life-changing scenario, people react differently so please remember that this advice is entirely unsolicited which gives you the right to ignore it if you wish.