Recently, lots of people have asked me why I started Not So Smug Now. It’s easy to forget. Four and a half years on, two children and two businesses under my belt, I have to stop and remind myself why I wrote that first blog post. So, partly because it’s always good to reconnect with your reason for being, and partly because (even though my kids are older and I’m out of this phase) I know there are still people finding and reading this blog who have just started out on this crazy journey we call parenting.
Here’s the thing: people will tell you that ‘you’ll never feel love like it’, that ‘you’ll feel complete’ when you have a baby. They’ll tell you it’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever do and they’ll use words like ‘natural’ and ‘destiny’ and ‘what you were made to do’. What they won’t tell you is that it’s can feel really, really shit, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.
Having a baby for the first time is the single most transformative, traumatic, terrifying thing you will ever do. It’s miraculous and inspiring but it’s also, in reality, dirty and hard and painful and you’re so, so, so tired and you’re in so much physical pain and the confidence will be knocked out of you because absolutely nothing that you read or hear can fully prepare you for the bombshell that is a newborn baby.
Let’s get this out of the way first: of course you love your baby. You are delighted that he or she is here. You are never, not for a minute, taking for granted the privilege of being able to fall pregnant, grow a human and birth a baby and when the chips are down, you don’t ever, really wish that you hadn’t done it. But…and this is the key, it’s ok to think that those first few days and weeks are shit. Really shit. Exhausting, physically painful, mentally overwhelming and couple that with sleep deprivation, managing a relationship, trying to get on with normal life…it’s really, really hard and it’s ok to wonder, in those dark, lonely moments, whether you did the right thing.
And that’s ok. Because it’s normal.
If you want, we can blame the hormones and they definitely play a role. You’ve just put your body through (hopefully) it’s biggest physical trauma yet and then the hormones kick in and then you get no sleep and for the first time in your entire life you are almost wholly responsible for keeping a defenceless, fragile, teeny-tiny human alive. This is a LOT of pressure and it is ok to freak out. It’s ok if it takes time (months) for you to adjust to this bombshell that just landed in your life. It’s ok.
I can’t say that enough. It’s ok.
You are bleeding, your nipples are agony, you’re physically restricted, you’re tired, you’re emotional. It isn’t blissful, instagram-filtered day time naps on perfect white bed linen. It isn’t styled buggy shots in autumnal parks. It isn’t peaceful sleeping babies on sheepskin throws. It’s breast pads littered around the house. It’s sanitary towels the size of breeze blocks and knickers to match. It’s Lansinoh, it’s microwave meals, it’s middle of the night sobbing and crying (the baby and you). It’s mastitis and hip pain and vaginas that feel like they’re the size of a whale. It’s the painful first poo that you’re putting off for as long as possible. It’s stitches that feel like razor blades in your labia. It’s friends and family turning up and you can’t understand why you’re not pleased to see them or why you can’t be more sociable or why you’re not busting out batches of cupcakes to greet them with.
And of course, there’s breastfeeding. For me, personally, the first time around that, and that alone, was the root of all my stress and discomfort. I was either feeding (which was agony) or lathering my nipples, cracked and bleeding, with Lansinoh (also agony) or I was dreading the next feed (emotional agony) or laid up with mastitis (serious agony). All the professionals around me would said, “Just keep going…it’s the best thing for your baby,” which translates as, “A good mother would make this sacrifice.” My own mother was saying, “Just give her formula. You were brought up on formula and you’re ok.” The health visitor made me feel as if formula was no better than a combination of tequila, crack cocaine and dung beetles. When we finally succumbed to a bottle of Aptimil, Jimmy and I were so far off the reservation we both had to hold the bottle so that we couldn’t blame the other one for ruining our baby. We both sobbed the whole way through it.
After giving her the first bottle, I called our health visitor and sobbed down the phone. “I’ve just given me 8 week old formula and I need you to tell me I’m not a terrible mother.” Her response? “Don’t worry. You can always undo the damage you’ve done when it comes to weaning.”
And that, right there, was the moment. The lights were switched on. Temporarily the crazy, sleep-deprived fog lifted, just enough, for me to realise that bending my very fragile self to the will of others was never going to end well. I realised that I was the mum, I was her mum, and the one thing, the only thing, that was coming naturally to me was a gut feeling deep inside myself that until that point I’d been ignoring. I resolved then to dial down the outside noise coming at me and listen to what my instinct was telling me.
It wasn’t perfect from then on. After a traumatic birth, and eight weeks of brutal breastfeeding and hormones and a husband who went on tour for 8 weeks after a month…I succumbed to post-natal depression. But, now matter how hard that got, it was never as bad as it was in those first few weeks when I was desperately looking to someone, something, anything outside myself for the answers. After that, I slowly grew confident in my own ability to do the right thing or at least to give my own ideas a shot.
So, if you’ve just had a baby you may be recognising some of this. Or not. Your experience may be entirely different; it may be far more positive and empowering (my second birth definitely was). What I couldn’t do in that first blog is offer advice. Now, two babies down. Two very different births down, I can say this and know that, from the bottom of my heart, it will make the world of difference to your newborn experience.
You need to rest and stop and breathe. You need to get in bed and stay there and eat takeaway and watch shit TV and have a bell on your bedside table to ring when you need anything…and yes, that includes the latest copy of Grazia or a bag of Haribo. You need baths and guests that only stay for 45 minutes and only if they’re willing to whip a vacuum around or cook a casserole. You need to be naked and you need to hold your baby. Day or night no longer exists – sleep whenever and wherever. You don’t need to answer emails or pick up the phone – send that shit straight to voicemail and pop the Out Of Office on.
You have birthed a human being. Yes it’s natural and you’re made to do it but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. You need to recover and enjoy that recovery. Did you hear that? I said ‘enjoy’ and I mean it. Lean into the newborn bubble. Accept it and embrace it. There is absolutely NOTHING else that you need to do in the first few weeks of motherhood than stop and stop and stop. You will never, ever get this chance again – trust me – you will yearn for the time when you could lie in bed for two weeks and do exactly as you pleased.
There is no in-between. Doing anymore than the above will leave you listless, lonely, lethargic. It will stress you our and hurt your heart. It’s hard becoming a mum, it’s hard birthing a baby – give yourself and your new family the best possible start by looking after you. It makes everything easier. Even breastfeeding.