With no beating about the bush, let’s get stuck in to…
- Rule Number 1: DO NOT COMPARE YOUR EXPERIENCE, YOUR FEELINGS, YOUR STORY WITH OTHER NEW MAMAS.
My wonderful son, Jacobi, turned 6 months old this week. This is the first blog post I’ve written since he’s been born. I haven’t set foot in a gym in 9 months. My mind will tell me I haven’t done much since September 2017 EXCEPT raise a baby… as if that is no mean feat (!).
What you see – “OMG she’s got her sh*t together!”
What I see – That one time when I worked out and had a hot cup of tea.
It’s so incredibly easy as a new mama to look at things you believe you are doing wrong, things you believe you could do better and things you are doing which simply don’t live up to the efforts of “Super Mum” (insert description here – you know what I mean!) whether she be at your local baby group or someone you follow on social media. We are conditioned to strive for the ever unachievable perfection, and the low self esteem which is felt at not reaching that unachievable goal, has become a cultural norm. As it’s National Eating Disorders awareness week, I will use an example of how women feel about their bodies to display this – 90% of women are unhappy with how their bodies look (www.statisticbrain.com). Now, do you think we are born with an inherent feeling of dissatisfaction with our bodies, or is it something that is learnt as the result of how women are displayed in the media, diet culture and the sexualisation of the female body? I think we can all agree that the latter is true. But going further on that topic will be saved for another post. What I’m trying to say is, please don’t compare yourself to others. You are your individual person, with your own individual baba and no two stories of new Motherhood will be the same. And remember, what you see on the outside (e.g. Supermum accomplishes all new Mama tasks with confidence, a smile on her face, and a fresh blow dry), is not always a true representative of the lived experience of that person.
- Rule Number 2: LET GO OF THE “SHOULD’S”!
I feel like because it’s National Eating Disorders awareness week, I SHOULD be writing a post on eating disorders or body image. Yet alas, here I am writing a post on new Motherhood. In those early days of being a new Mama, your mind is probably going to be bombarded with an infinite number of “SHOULD’S”.
“I should turn up to my baby group happy, smiley and care free despite the fact that I got 2 hours sleep last night and smell of baby puke”
“I should feel the happiest I’ve ever felt in my entire life now that I have a little bundle of joy, and if I don’t feel this, or even worse feel sad or depressed, then there is something wrong with me”
“I should fit back into my pre pregnancy jeans by the time baba is 12 weeks old”
Oh, the list is endless (or certainly too long to list on this blog)! For me personally (at 6 months post baba), the strongest should is probably that I should have made more of an effort so far to get back to my pre pregnancy size. Instead, as I mentioned above, I haven’t even made it back to the gym yet. Yes, I take regular gentle exercise in the form of walking the doggies, but honestly, it’s been so flipping cold recently that even that has taken a bit of a dive! But I digress – all of these “should’s” are NOT facts. They are not a true expectation or rule which must be lived up to in order to qualify as a satisfactory mother, woman or person. As mentioned in rule number 1, all of these things are things that we have been socially conditioned to believe we must be or must live up to. And I fall short in this area. I want to always own that I have the exact same struggles as you do. Just because I’m a mental health advocate and I write blog posts about the mind and about feelings, doesn’t mean I’m perfect at looking after my mental health or practising good self care. I probably still tell myself things I “should” have done on a daily basis. Just like you, this is stuff I have to work at continually, and just like you, I will make mistakes which I will have to pick myself up from, rectify or learn from. And to finish this rule, there will be women out there who really are smashing all of these “should’s”. They’re “doing everything right” and are feeling the best they ever have. Good for them. It does not mean these women are better than you, but we should be congratulating them and feeling happy for them instead of feeling envy and a feeling of being “less than”.
- Rule number 3: LOOK AT THE POSITIVES, NO MATTER HOW SMALL!
This rule builds on rules number 1 and 2. I was going to describe this positive outlook as “if at the end of the day your baby’s needs have been met, she’s fed, warm and clean then you’ve done a good job”, but after a little bit of thought I believe that statement to be incorrect for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are probably going to be days when baby doesn’t eat enough (for whatever reason) and there are also probably going to be days when you’re so flipping tired you forget to change a nappy for x number of hours or just don’t have the physical or mental strength to tackle bath time. There are also probably babies out there where all of their physical needs are being met, but their emotional needs of love and attention (which I argue, are just as important as physical needs) are being somewhat neglected. I might add, and in hope of not sounding repetitive, that we are all human and we are all going to fall short on some days. May I encourage you, that babies are much more robust than we think they are, and if they go a day missing a feed or a day where they get plonked infront of the TV and don’t get much human interaction, they will be ok. Obviously I am not referring to physical or emotional neglect where there is a prolonged period of needs not being met. But, on a lighter note, I’m talking about looking at those little positives, on a daily basis, one day at a time. If you had a shower today, count it as a WIN! If you got out of bed today, count it as a WIN! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying spend the rest of your life aiming to only achieve getting out of bed (or similar), but more to just be ESPECIALLY kind to yourself in those first few days, weeks and months of being a new Mama. Your whole world has just been turned upside down. You have a new aspect to your whole identity. Don’t rush yourself. Take things slowly. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.
- Rule number 4: MAKE TIME AND EFFORT WITH YOUR OTHER RELATIONSHIPS.
Whether that’s your relationship with your partner, your relationship with your friends or other relationships! All of a sudden, you are thrown into a situation where a real life human (yes, that’s a real life human being!) is totally dependent on you 24 hours a day for all their needs to be met. Not only this, but this human is one that you spent 9 months creating in your womb from a little wormy type thing to fully fledged human being (I know I’m repeating the human being thing, but I used to fail at looking after a plant so to acknowledge that I now look after a human being still blows my mind). What I’m trying to say is, you probably feel like without a doubt, your baba is your number one relationship in life. When you love someone so much, and they take up so much of your time, it can be easy to forget about the other relationships in your life. Your partner especially, who may have previously occupied that number one spot in terms of affection and time, may be left feeling slightly bewildered and confused that they are no longer your number one priority. I know it may feel like a chore (or it has done to me!), but make sure you spend time and effort on maintaining a good relationship with your partner. Maybe you don’t have time for that weekly date night anymore, but maybe even just once a month, get a babysitter and go out for dinner (or other date) with your partner. Not only will you both benefit from it, but baba will benefit from her parents getting along too. Secondly, your friends! Friendships are so important in that they provide love, support, nurture, fun and so much more. It’s not healthy to seek to have all your emotional needs met by one person (your partner), and friends are there to not only help you with that but also provide a different kind of relationship to the one you have with your partner which is special in its own way. Making friends with other new Mamas is a great way to get support and not feel alone on this new journey. You can share the good times, the bad times and the times inbetween. And obviously don’t forget your long time mates! Don’t see having an afternoon or evening away from baba to see your girls as selfish; by nurturing your relationships, you are nurturing yourself, which is going to allow you to be the best Mama you can be.
- Rule number 5: If you don’t follow the above rules, it’s ok. Just LOVE your baby, and DO YOUR BEST.
I don’t really feel like this rule needs an explanation. The most important thing you can do is to love your baba and do your best. And remember, love is not always a feeling, it is a choice. There may be some people reading this who are going through postnatal depression. Symptoms of PND can be not feeling attached to your baby, and feeling like every day is an ever more difficult struggle to cope. If that’s you, the best thing you can do for you and your baby is seek support. There are a number of charities, such as Best Beginnings and PANDAS, which provide support for mums with PND. If you think you may be suffering with PND, ring the PANDAS helpline on 0843 28 98 401. If you need urgent help, please call 999.
Throughout all the highs and lows of these first few months, I encourage you to ENJOY your baby. Each new stage brings new difficulties and delights (current difficulty – teething! Argh!), but there’s that age old saying that you don’t get these moments back, and I truly believe in that sayings underlying mantra to enjoy the present moment. Now, at 6 months, and at the beginning of the weaning process with my little man, I sometimes wish I could go back to those first few gruelling weeks of trying to get to grips with breastfeeding, which at the time I thought were horrendous! I can’t believe how quickly time is going. And no, maybe I haven’t “achieved” as much as some other mums with 6 month olds. But my story is that I feel a love I did not know was possible, and have been given a sense of purpose and meaning that has utterly changed my life in the most positive way.
I find it hard to affirm myself; let alone to declare it on the internet, but hey – I’m smashing this Motherhood thing! I encourage you to feel the same. And remember, no matter what you do, to your baby, you are perfect.
Stay strong Mamas xxx