How to survive the first year of parenthood….
So, as many of you know I have a 15 year old lad and a just over one year old little girl. Due to fertility issues it took us ten years to conceive our Little Miss and during that time we forgot it all. I forgot how small newborns were. We forgot how exhausting the sleep deprivation was. We forgot the timescales for weaning and immunisations. We forgot how much babies cost. We forgot EVERYTHING. The only thing we hadn’t forgotten was how to make a baby (and thank goodness for that!).
In a way, I think it was a purposeful loss of memory. Like all my brain cells got together and agreed ‘If she remembers how sheer bloody difficult it was, she might never want to do it again so let’s wipe her memory. Get rid of it all! The all-nighters, the projectile puking, the soggy shoulders, the I-haven’t-washed-my-hair-in-three-weeks look and every other tough time that they went through. Sayonara memories! Smell you later!”
Maybe it was for the best.
So when we were finally blessed with our Little Miss, it all came as quite a shock. Yes, we had been there before, but it was 14 years ago. It was a lifetime ago. A lot of the official guidance had changed so it was like having our first all over again. We were older (but certainly not wiser) and not as spritely as we had been with our first and having a high risk pregnancy followed by a special care baby placed us under pressure from the moment that little blue line changed our world.
I’ll tell you the punch line now though: it was so worth it. On many occasions over the course of the first year, it’s been tough. Like really tough. But never has ‘tough’ been so joyful, so full of love, so fulfilling.
I’m no parenting expert (says the woman who has to bribe her one year old with a bag of Pombears, the top of a french stick and half a packet of chocolate buttons just to get round half of Asda) but thought I would share a few things we learned along the way:
- Pack a couple of different sized sleepsuits in your hospital bag. With my first (he was a whopping 9lb10oz so came out the size of a fully grown 3 year old) he was too big for newborn so needed the next size up and with my second, it was the opposite! She was far too small for newborn. I had lovingly chosen what was to be her ‘first outfit’ and all that went to pot when she was born so teeny. I ended up having to send my Hubby shopping for tiny baby sized clothes. I felt awful that I didn’t have something to put her in that fit her straight away. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my baby brain had led me to packing a hat for a 6-12 month old in my hospital bag. I ended up being given one of those nana-knitted wooly hats from the hospital to put on her when she was first born. I treasure it now though.
- Try and control your spending – this was something I was TERRIBLE at. I exercised no self control whatsoever but when I was handing over a black bag of brand new, tagged, unworn baby clothes to a pregnant friend, I sure wish I had. My baby would have had to remain at newborn size for three years to get through the wardrobe of clothes I had bought for her. I wasted so much money, which would have been far better spent on the boring stuff like nappies and wipes!
- Try not to romanticise the birth in your head – go in with an open mind, what will be will be. This is a biggie for me because both of my deliveries had their complications. I had an extremely difficult birth with my son which was incredibly traumatic and with my second it was an emergency section. So many mums visualise a boho-chic birthing-pool-with-whale-music-and-absolutely-no-pain-whatsoever- birth. Some mums get it. They are lucky. People like me don’t get that lucky! I think if I had gone in expecting a birth like that, I would have been extremely disappointed. All that mattered to me was that I had a healthy baby at the other end. I know that birthing experiences are very important to women – and so they should be – and women should absolutely have every say over how their birth is managed and planned. Unfortunately for me, both my deliveries went tits up but did it matter? No. My babies matter. They came through it, and that is all that matters.
- Take control of your first moments together – I learnt the hard way with my first. I welcomed every man, woman and child to meet my son when he was only a matter of days old. I soon felt really overwhelmed with it all. I resented handing my baby around all the friends and relatives for cuddles because I didn’t feel like I had even had a chance to enjoy those cuddles myself. With my second I was a bit of a Mum-Zilla. She was in special care for a while and quite poorly and I didn’t feel up to visitors. Nor was I ready to share her with anyone. We welcomed grandparents (and the cuddles, support and reassurance they brought with them) but we said no to everybody else. Once we got home, I still took my time before inviting friends and family around. I wanted time as a family. I wanted to close the doors on the world and just enjoy her. I wanted my Big Lad to adjust to having a baby sister without the doorbell going every half an hour. I think she was almost a month old before my best friend met her. I don’t regret it though. I’ll remember that time we had, feeling our way through becoming a family of four, forever. It was beautiful.
- Forget your usual standards. So, you used to have an immaculate home? You used to hoover on a daily basis? You used to make all meals from scratch? You used to put your make up on every morning? Whatever your standards were before having a baby, make no mistake that there is no shame in lowering them (and lowering them again) after having a baby. Becoming parents is the most beautiful gift. But it is bloody exhausting. For a while, you live in a bit of a bubble. A big, love filled bubble of loveliness. Then shit gets real. It has to get real, unfortunately. I would LOVE to spend the rest of my life in that love filled bubble but, and it’s an unfortunate but, life kicks in. The hubby goes back to work. The washing basket is overflowing. The fridge and kitchen cupboards are empty. Reality bursts that bubble and suddenly you are expected to do everything you did before having a baby, now with a baby. I remember on my hubby’s first day back to work after paternity leave, I tried to be the ultimate domesticated wife. I tried to make a hot pot for him coming home whilst feeding the baby and shushing her and hoovering and dusting then shushing some more. I ended up burning the tea. The hoover spit out crap instead of sucking it up because it needed emptying and I hadn’t even noticed. And the milk I had just lovingly fed my baby ended up being sprayed all over the sofa in a reflux inspired vomit sesh. Yup. Never have I ever looked less domesticated.
Just because the hubby went back to work and I was at home on maternity, I felt under immense pressure to be the all-singing-all-hoovering housewife. I put myself under pressure to have a homemade dinner ready for him coming home, a clean and tidy home, a freshly bathed and changed bubba for post-work cuddles and maybe even a dash of lippy on my chops. What he got instead was a warbling hormone crazed mother with vomit in her hair, a shit tip of a home and a burnt hot pot. Did it matter? No. Was he expecting anything different? No. Taking care of baby is a huge deal. It is bloody hard at times. Don’t be afraid to lower your standards while you feel your way in to motherhood. You’ll never look back on this time and say ‘I really wish I had kept my home tidier’ but you might think ‘I wish I had just lowered my standards and focused on me and my baby.’
- Trust your instincts. On a couple of occasions during her first year, I have felt, instinctively, that something has been wrong with Little Miss. I sometimes felt silly making a GP appointment ‘on a whim’ or phoning the Health Visitor for the 35th time that week to talk through something that I was sure was totally in my head. My GP told me to always trust my instincts. If you feel like something is wrong, don’t be afraid to say so or seek help. The consequences of not saying it could be too big.
- Sleep is a constant topic of debate amongst parents. Or, more like, lack of it. Sleep deprivation is hard. There are no two ways about it. And as much as I loved to steal extra night time snuggles, when you’ve been ‘night time snuggling’ for twenty three nights in a row with about 40 minutes of uninterrupted sleep, it gets wearing. I was the silly mother trying to be Super Woman, telling her husband to go back to sleep while I sort the baby out. I was worried that he wasn’t getting enough sleep for work. And, well, let’s face it, I’m on maternity leave, so I don’t need the sleep as much as he does. Right? Wrong. We all need sleep. I reckon even super duper survival expert Bear Grylls would agree with me. You’ve got to be in it together. It becomes impossible for one person to continually bear the weight of sleep deprivation. It leads to exhaustion, resentment, illness – it’s not good. Share the load. Do alternate nights, or alternate get ups. You’re in this together. Don’t try and be a Super Hero, just be you, be the best mum you can be whilst taking care of yourself also. You are no good to anyone if you end up collapsing with exhaustion!
- Take photos. Steal precious moments. Breathe it in. That might sound a bit airy fairy but believe me when I say that time flies. They aren’t small for long and that first year is really special. Even the evenings I spent pacing the floor with a baby who thought sleep was for the weak gave me the opportunity to steal precious moments. Holding her close to me, in the dark, in the silence, just me and her . Ok, I was an exhausted mess, but I consciously told myself that one day I will look back on that moment and want to relive it. So I held her a bit closer. I breathed her in. The smell of her, the soft touch of her skin, tracing her tiny fingers as they grasped mine. There is something to treasure in every moment.
- Don’t ever be afraid to ask for advice and don’t ever be afraid to ignore unwanted advice. Everyone thinks they are an expert when it comes to parenting. It is one of those topics that no one is ever going to agree on. We all have different ideas, different parenting styles, different ways of doing things. And thank goodness we do – it’s our differences that make us beautiful, after all. Get used to the idea that family, friends (and maybe even complete and utter strangers) will want to share their advice with you – even if you express no apparent need for it. Don’t take it personally. Listen to it if you like, consider it if you want to, but it is equally fine just to ignore the buggar and continue doing your own thing. My mother in law once mocked me for parenting my baby ‘as if I’d read a text book on it.’ I’m not sure what she meant by that. That I was trying my hardest to get it right? That I had done my research? That I was an uptight parent? I’m still not sure what she meant by it and she said it 15 years ago. But the look on her face when she said it definitely suggested that I was getting it wrong. I was only young at the time so it definitely knocked my confidence. Don’t give anyone that power. Parent the way you want to parent. By all means get support and advice but on your own terms – when you want it or need it – and forget everybody else.
- Finally, try not to compare your child to others. Both my babies have been slow at achieving the physical milestones like crawling and walking. With my first I actually lost sleep over the fact he wasn’t walking at 14 months. I would go to playgroups and see babies the same age as him whizzing around the place or see babies older than him at his nursery well ahead of him. I was convinced he was never going to walk. My Little Miss isn’t being much different either. She’s definitely got a bit of the lazy thing going on. I mean, why walk when you can flutter your eyelashes and get your big brother or daddy to carry you?! She’s a diva in a nappy. This time though I am so much more relaxed. Contrary to my fears, my Big Lad is not still crawling about at 15, he just walked in his own good time. Nothing good can come from comparing your child’s development to that of others. If you have any concerns about their development, it is best to see a professional for advice. Every baby is different, they will achieve milestones at different ages, they will grow and develop at their own pace. That doesn’t mean that there is anything to be concerned about. Just focus on your own little bundle and support them to learn and grow and flourish and they will get there.
I hope the above helps, even if just in a teeny way. Wherever you are in your first year, enjoy it. The joy our little treasures bring to our lives is just immeasurable. They are the most precious gift. Enjoy every moment. Even the poo and vomit filled ones.