Yesterday we went out for lunch. Sitting on the table next to us was a new mum and dad with their 10 week old baby. They had that new parent look. You know the one. That encompasses joy, fear, anxiety and exhaustion. All at once. I wanted to go over and hug the mum and tell her it will all be fine. But that would have been weird so instead I said, ‘It does get easier.’ ‘That’s good to know,’ she said. And I could see the hopefulness in her face. There is so much that new mums deserve to know. So I’m writing this.
Dear New Mum,
Firstly, congratulations on your teeny tiny bundle. You grew a human! That officially makes you awesome.
How are you feeling, now the dust has settled a bit? Probably a mixture of happy, knackered, confused and anxious. Because it’s weird isn’t it, becoming a mum? Pretty overwhelming, I’d say. I remember those early weeks so well. That feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day and thinking, ‘Do I really have to do all this again tomorrow?‘ It felt like such a feat some days. I wasn’t sure I was up to the job, to be honest.
Everything feels so permanent when you’re a mum for the first time. Like it will never get better or easier. You think you’ll never sleep again. I mean, how will you when the baby doesn’t sleep for longer than a couple of hours? How on earth do you even get a baby to go to sleep? To stay asleep? Without rocking it? And you daren’t put the baby down. Ever. Because she might detonate everything in her path. We spent the first two months taking turns to eat dinner until we realised she wasn’t a hand grenade and we could put her down.
You will sleep again. You will. The baby will grow and as she grows, she’ll become more satisfied and wake less for milk. You’ll find ways to comfort her and settle her for sleep. Maybe you’ll rock her. Maybe she’ll self-soothe. It doesn’t really matter right now. Do whatever you need to do to get through the day. Because it only takes three days to break a habit. Three days, that’s all! So if you do create habits you want to change later, you’ll be able to. In three days. When you’re ready. When you’re strong enough. When it matters.
And it really does get easier. I promise you. Because nothing stays the same. Everything changes. Constantly. Remember, ‘This too shall pass.’ Phases come and go and you will learn to weather the storms. To be that palm tree that survives a tsunami because it bends with the wind. Mums have strength and resources unlike anyone else. I bet you’re already realising this about yourself.
And this will stand you in good stead because your baby will keep you on your toes. She will sleep and lull you into a false sense of reality. Then suddenly she’ll have a couple of off days where sleep is the last thing on her mind. Because she’s teething. Or having a growth spurt. Or just doesn’t feel like it. Likewise with food, one day she’ll eat sweet potato. The next? She’ll be flinging it across the room in disgust. And protesting with a hunger strike. It will make you feel anxious. Out of control. Tearful. This is a natural, maternal response that never fades. My mum still worries about me and my sister eating, thirty years later. Try to just go with it and you’ll feel more relaxed. Because babies don’t play by the rules, I’m afraid (neither do toddlers or schoolers, but let’s save that for another day).
You’re probably discovering that alongside challenging and tiring, motherhood is actually a bit monotonous. Sometimes lonely. So get yourself out every day. For a walk in the park. Feel the sun on your head. Meet a friend for coffee. And a humungous slab of cake. Or make the most of the fact your baby can’t move yet and do some good old fashioned retail therapy.
Never agonise over the decisions you make. None of us get it right all of the time. We can only do what we think is best at the time. This motherhood lark never ends so you don’t want to spend the next forty years stressed and anxious. Stand proud in all your decisions. You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Ever. Your baby. Your rules. And it’s never one size fits all. Try not to waste time feeling guilty. It starts the minute you give birth and will take over your soul if you let it. Remember, you’re doing your best and it IS good enough.
It’s ok too to have undesirable thoughts. You don’t have to love every second of every day. I remember once saying to my mum, ‘If she doesn’t sleep soon, I’m going to fling her out of the window.‘ I had no intention of doing it, obviously. But I needed to vent my frustration. I needed to say something angry. To convey just how tired I was. How fed up. You are not a bad person or mother for thinking thoughts like this. You’re a very normal one.
Don’t worry about the state of your relationship, if things are a bit rocky. Having a baby will challenge you both. In different ways. You will feel knackered, unusually out of your depth and your partner might not understand this. You will frequently want to disembowel him when he says insensitive things like, ‘I’m exhausted,’ or sleeps through the nightfeed. Again. He, on the other hand, will be feeling helpless and maybe even a bit scared of this sleep-deprived, hormonal wreck that used to be his clear-thinking, rational other half. Don’t waste time wishing he would behave differently. Or wishing he would just get what you’re going through. Chances are, he can’t. Because his experience of parenthood is, so far, completely different to yours. He didn’t grow your baby, he didn’t give birth, he hasn’t undergone the same physical changes you have. So save yourself the anguish, ask him to hug you often and tell you you’re amazing and save the moaning for your mum friends. Who will completely and utterly get everything you are feeling. Before you’ve even said it.
Finally. Be kind to yourself. Every day. Embrace the fourth trimester (for as long as you like). Always remember that moments pass. It’s a cliche but it’s true. Talk to your mum friends often. Accept any offers of help. And put your hand up if you’re struggling. Because motherhood is the most challenging job most of us have ever done. It’s relentless. It’s disconcerting. And there are no prizes for flying solo. Once you open up, you’ll be surprised just how many mums are feeling exactly the way you are, but were probably too frightened to say so.
It does get easier. I promise.
You’re doing brilliantly.