Dear New Mother,
It takes your breath away, doesn’t it? You knew it would. You knew it would change, well, everything, but you didn’t know it would rock you to your very core quite as shockingly as it has, did you? I didn’t either. None of us did.
We read every baby book we could lay our hands on and listened to all the advice being thrown at us from every direction; some delivered with love and good meaning, and others, sadly, delivered under the misconception that sharing a traumatic birth story would better prepare us for ‘reality’. We set up a room for our baby in peaceful, warm tones and imagined planting butterfly kisses on a tiny forehead and whispering ‘Goodnight’ as we turned on the gentle glow of the night light and quietly closed the door, leaving it slightly ajar, then snuggling, complete and happy, with our partners into the night. Motherhood looks beautiful, and we look beautiful doing it.
We felt prepared. We felt ready.
The reality was so very different, wasn’t it? The raw reality of surrendering to birth shocks, regardless of how prepared we thought we were. Did you have the birth you dreamed of? Did you have a voice in your baby’s birth? To my sisters who had the birth they planned for, I wrap my arms around you with joy. To my sisters left tender and a little broken, dazed as to how their beautiful birth ended so very differently, I wrap my arms around you even tighter.
Your baby is here. Now is the time to start your Mothering story. Now it really begins.
Your body will feel violated. You may look in the mirror in the days after birth and not recognise the woman looking back at you. You will feel soft, tender, emotional, vulnerable. If your birth ended surgically, you’ll have stitches and scars and pain when you stand. You will bleed postpartum and wonder if it will ever stop. Your breasts will be swollen and tender and you’ll leak milk at the mere thought of your baby. You may never have felt such vulnerability before and it may come as quite a shock.
Go gently. Let your body and spirit heal.
Do you remember the day you bought your baby home? How strange it felt to walk into your house, where everything looks exactly as it did when you left it, but somehow everything has changed? What do we do now? Day and night lose all rhythm and the Universe outside your door ceases to exist as you adjust to this new ‘normal’ you find yourself living. Yet the outside seeps in and you find yourself trying to live up to expectations of all the things you should be doing. You feel chained to your baby; feeding, sleeping, changing, but the domestic chores don’t disappear! “I can’t do this”. You’ll say it. More than once probably, as you look at the pile of washing, or stand staring at an empty fridge wondering what you could possibly make for dinner as your baby cries and cries, desperate for the cluster feeds he so needs in the evening.
You walk tracks into your carpet as you do lap after lap of your house with your baby in your arms, trying to help her sleep. You will stand at the door of your baby’s room as she screams, wanting to scream back, “What do you need? You cry when I hold you, you cry when I put you down! I don’t know what to do!” You will be terrified that you’re doing everything wrong.
It will occur to you that to breastfeed a baby 8 to 10 times a day, sometimes for an hour at a time, is the equivalent of a full time job! It’s just one of the many full time jobs you have now. You will live by the clock (until you learn to turn them all to the wall) and you will study and log every second of your baby’s sleeping and feeding. Later, you’ll look at your notebook and laugh at yourself, but now, it’s the only thing keeping you in control……..feeling like you’re in control. You will wonder, “How does anyone do anything with a small baby?” You will feel like everyone has it together except you.
You sit, for the seemingly millionth time today, on the lounge with your baby at your breast, gazing dazed out of the window and wondering how on Earth you are going to survive this. “Everything gets easier after 6 weeks” everyone says. So you grit your teeth, endure the cracked nipples and other realities of a newly birthed body and hang in there until the day dawns on your baby’s 6th week. Perhaps you feel a little less shell shocked. Perhaps your body is beginning to heal. So sure, it’s a little easier, but there is no magic dawning of a day when suddenly you are needed less by this little being.
Slowly, as you become more confident and more able to listen to your instincts and read the needs of your baby, you will begin to relax a little. You will get rid of the books that do nothing but bring stress and doubt into your mothering. You will be able to block out the advice that doesn’t sit well with your soul. There will be, even in the darkest of times, some moments of such pure joy it will seem like a light is shining on you and your little family. The love you feel for you baby will knock the breath out of you at times and you will happily spend hours just gazing into your child’s face.
Your connection is strong.
You will find a support network of other mothers who understand you, who will stand honestly beside you in your journey. When you feel isolated you will find where to turn to discover these mothers and your isolation will ease. You will learn to surrender to the ever changing, always fluid, life of a mother.
But still, there will be things that, when they are happening, feel like they will go on for an eternity. Looking back, you’ll see that they were but a blink of an eye, but when you are sleep deprived and desperate you will feel like you will never sleep again. You will spend hours online looking for answers, to find out when other people’s babies slept, when they slept all by themselves. You don’t think you can survive being needed by your child so many times a night for the next 4 or 5 years.
But you will.
When, one bedtime, your child, secure in his attachment and love within his family, curls up in his own bed, pulls the covers up to his little chin and says “Goodnight Mummy, you can go now.” you will be rendered speechless for a moment. Then you’ll lean over, plant a little butterfly kiss on his forehead, whisper “Goodnight”, turn on the night light and walk out of his room. All will be peaceful. You will feel a pang, a pull on your heart strings that your baby is growing up. All the late nights, all the co-sleeping and breastfeeding, all the every 20 minute night waking, all the frustration and worry about sleep will, for that night anyway, be over.
Motherhood will look beautiful, and you’ll look beautiful doing it.
Until then, know that you are walking a path left by all the mothers before you and that the endless rocking, swaying, singing (and sobbing), and sleepless nights are a Universal truth for all Mothers. Even when you are feeling lonely, you will never be alone. We are standing beside you every step of the way.
Love, Me. xx
Karen is Co-Editor & Community Manager at Mamabake .