This is war and these are the trenches. The aim here is simply SURVIVAL!
Being a mum, for the first time, is the most challenging and life changing role on the planet. Suddenly, life as I knew it is no longer and I am at the mercy of my little babe. He cries and I respond immediately; he smiles and I gaze lovingly into his eyes; if he is awake, I am on duty and ready for action. I feed, change nappies, sing, wrap, swaddle and sway – whatever he needs, I do.
Gone are the days of being able to pop out to the shops or watch a DVD or catch up with a friend without having to plan with military precision. I cant leave the house without a suitcase full with multiple changes of clothes, nappies, muslin wraps, blankets, dummies, wipes and about 6 litres of water for myself. I cant get anywhere on time and I cant make plans without wondering.. “what if he falls asleep and I have to wake him up?” – everyone knows the age old adage, NEVER WAKE A SLEEPING BABY!!
After only 2 weeks together, I am still learning how to be a mum and he is still adjusting to life on the outside; the so-called 4th trimester. With so much happening for both of us, it’s only natural that things don’t go completely to plan and as they slowly fall apart, it occurs to me that there are so many things that women just don’t talk about! Why don’t we share all the dirty little secrets? On top of this, our solitary lifestyles leave us completely in the dark about what actually happens when our own baby arrives. Is it because we don’t want to sound as though we are struggling? Is it because we thought being a mum was going to be easy? Is it a fear of failure or judgment? If I could go back to the days of the extended family; I would, because motherhood should never be done alone.
Sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion is an absolute killer and although people told me multiple times ‘get as much rest as you can before the baby arrives’, it didn’t really paint the picture for me as to the extent of my impeding exhaustion. I’ve always been a big sleeper; I love sleeping in, I love afternoon naps and I need a minimum of 8 solid hours of sleep every night in order to feel good. My baby boy changed all of that in an instant. For the first 2 weeks he was feeding every hour, then every hour and a half – day time, night time, you name it. I am awake. It’s been 2 weeks and the most I have slept is 2.5 hours in a row and when I woke up after those 2.5 hours and looked at the clock, I felt like I needed to celebrate.
Being sleep deprived has me questioning everything – am I doing a good job? Am I cut out to be a mum? How can I sustain this? How will I survive? Did we do the right thing having a baby? A good sleep re-sets your emotional bank and gives you a new burst of motivation, energy and resilience to fight some of the other challenges that come with this job.
Cabin Fever – another fantastic element for new mums! I live in a gorgeous little first floor apartment, perfect for a single couple who enjoy lots of time outdoors and live a busy lifestyle. Disaster for a mum with a new baby. In 2 weeks I haven’t left the house. I have come to call my bed ‘our island’. On our island we are safe, naked, skin on skin and feeding regularly and getting to know each other in the most intimate way. On our island, I am still completely exhausted but it comes without the stresses of having to leave the house and face the world, the car seat, maternity bras and the possibility that either my baby or me might have a public meltdown. The idea of getting dressed and going somewhere is just too much but in the most bizarre of catch 22 scenario’s I feel completely isolated and trapped.
I hadn’t really considered how exhausted I would be after the birth itself coupled with the physical healing that needs to occur and the hormonal, physical, spiritual and emotional changes that are all happening at once. There is no rest. No recuperation phase. The whistle has blown, the game has started and you are the star player.
On top of all of this, cabin fever, exhaustion, feelings of ‘what just happened to my life?’, I was learning to breast feed my baby – there’s really no room for error here or you have a crying baby or breasts that feel like they have been attacked by a vacuum sucking piranha (thank you to one of my friends for that little analogy). I am lucky that my body is doing all the right things to generate a great milk supply and my baby has a ravenous appetite and a natural instinct to snack regularly in order to bring in my milk quickly and efficiently. I remember waking up on day 3 with the most massively engorged breasts you can imagine (if you’ve been through this, then you don’t need to imagine!) – I felt like someone had spent the night bashing my breasts with a baseball bat and filling them with cement. Its not fun and its not pretty (unless you’re a husband or partner who loves breasts, in which case its not only awesome, but terrifically exciting).
There is just so much that happens in the first 2 weeks – it’s the most incredible journey and I have had moments where I have had tears running down my face as I stare lovingly into the eyes of my newborn wondering how on earth I am going to survive this. How can I stay sane, well, healthy and awake long enough to ensure that you are happy and healthy and loved beyond words…?
I keep telling myself ‘this too shall pass’ and I will come out on the other side of this – I will get out of the house and return to civilization, I will be a great mum and I will join the ranks of millions of other women who can share that knowing smile.
If I had of had a glimpse into my world right now before my baby arrived, these would be my top tips:
- Work out who your support network is going to be – motherhood is not to be taken on alone. You will need all the support, nurturing, encouragement and love that you can get and it’s the people who love you the most who will take care of YOU so you can take care of your baby.
- Calendula Tincture – if you made it through a natural vaginal birth, chances are you are going to have some side effects – whether its just bruising, swelling or a tear, calendula will help with the healing process – recent studies also show efficacy for helping to heal surgical wounds after caesarian sections.
- Get some nipple cream – my recommendation would be Lansinoh HPA Lanolin which helps soothe and protect sore and cracked nipples. Its safe and hypoallergenic and 100% natural so you don’t need to remove it before breastfeeding. This stuff was my saving grace and we were lucky that we had a really good run.
- Start a cabbage patch in your garden – when your breasts are engorged, hard as rocks and hot as molten larva, you are going to love being able to put cold cabbage leaves on your breasts – yes, that’s right, this motherhood thing is super attractive.
- Prepare a range of meals in advance and keep them in the freezer – you are going to have your hands full and probably drained of all your spare energy for things like cooking and cleaning. Let’s face it, we can’t do it all. In addition, ask your family and your best friends to bring over a meal when the baby arrives – don’t bring me more baby clothes, bring me something that’s actually going to help ME through the toughest transition of my life.
- muslin, muslin, muslin – its true what they say, you can never have enough wraps and its crazy how many you can go through in a day.
- If you are like me and are going to start day one with cloth nappies, select a small range of assorted styles and when your baby arrives, choose which ones are your favourites and order more of those.
- Cuddle, kiss and tell your husband/partner how much you love them as often as you can. Spend some quality time together as a couple as things are going to change fast and for a little while, your relationship is going to take a back seat to the new project. (In saying that, having a baby does change the relationship and I personally found a whole new dimension of love for my husband as I watch him love, nurture and hold our babe in his arms).
- Book a cleaner once a week or once a fortnight – my house looks like a troop of babies have stormed through it and the floor has milk trails all over it from leaking nipples or the result of active burping. If I could have someone clean my house to make it feel sparkly again, I would enjoy being at home more and my ‘domestic goddess’ eyes would stop looking around and thinking ‘gee.. I must get around to cleaning that’.
- Arrange to have a delivery once a week of fruit, vegetables and meats. There is nothing like having fresh provisions delivered straight to your door when you are on your ‘Island’ smelling the beautiful baby milky smell and thinking of nothing else.