I've been meaning to post this for a while but every time I went to, another baby drama would occur and I'd feel like a fraud posting something that could potentially make me look like I have my shit together as a mum (does anyone?). And then I realised I needed to preface with this: these are indeed things I learnt in my first year as a mother but they are also things that I continue to learn in new and different ways everyday.
My baby just turned one which makes me a mother of a toddler. What?! This past year has simultaneously been the slowest and fastest, hardest and easiest, and scariest and funniest of my life. I’ve learnt so much; more than in the 4 years of my PhD. Here are some of the things I wanted to share with you:
1. Your politics can't always save you from (crushing) gendered roles
Prior to having our baby, my partner and I had planned to share as much of parenting as we possibly could. Our vision was for me to spend 6 months at home with our baby, and then for us both to work part-time and share the care. What we hadn’t planned for was:
- how hard it is to find a part-time job in academia in my partner’s field
- how little support there is for fathers who want to work flexibly to spend more time with their family
- how hard it would be for me to leave our baby
These and other factors resulted in us feeling like we were being forced into the stay-at-home mum/‘breadwinner’ archetype (that’s not to say there is something wrong with this if it’s what you both want, but we did not). Unfortunately, without the necessary social support in place, we realised there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it (thanks, society!), and that this was just something that we needed to keep talking about with each other and trust that it would pass. As our babe gets older, more options become available and hopefully we’ll get to our ideal care/paid work situation soon.
2. This too shall pass
So, this one is in pretty much every article about new parenthood but it’s such a big one I’ve chosen to include it as well. Weeks of illness for the whole family, months of living off 3-6 hours of broken sleep, months of the baby hating car rides/the pram/a mode of transport that isn't you; there is a lot to not like about having a small baby and it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking these things will never end. But eventually things get better and the normal rhythm returns. Until the next batch of crazy baby/life business, that is...
Life ebbs and flows; there will be good times and there will be bad times. Through it all we know these (largely minor but frustrating and upsetting) things won’t last forever. Often when I was particularly stressed about something I would ask myself if it were likely to be an issue in a few weeks time? A few months time? Next year? It usually wasn’t. This, paired with a good complaining session with another new mum (essential), usually gave me the perspective to trust that this too shall pass.
3. To live with a baby is to live with uncertainty
When I was nearing the end of my pregnancy I couldn’t believe how bizarre it was to make plans but always finish them with ‘…unless I have a baby then.’ The uncertainty and lack of control over when my body would produce my baby was mind boggling. Fun twist: this is life with a baby in general! You never know if they actually will go down for that nap and give you that break you so badly want. Or if you’ll be able to make it to that thing at that time. Or if you will get to sleep much tonight.
A year later and I’m much more flexible and less concerned about things happening ‘on time.’ Eventually I realised that, for me, motherhood was a lot more enjoyable when I surrendered to the chaos. (Having said that, I’m still prone to the occasional meltdown because I just really wanted to do that thing at that time…)
4. It's OK to feel angry
Having a baby prompts one to feel many emotions. There are the positive ones like joy and love, and the 'negative' ones like sadness and anger. I was really surprised to find that anger could be part of the new parent experience. Babies depend on their parents for their every necessity and for a time their only method of communication is crying; of course you are going to feel angry at times. (Try spending hours on end in a dark room getting a baby to sleep while the rest of your friends are outside living their lives and not feel a little angry.) And feeling angry is OK. It's normal and healthy, and not something to be ashamed of. Discussing this with my partner and other new parents helped me to see this. (See here for a great article about anger management for parents.)
5. Your female friendships will get your through
"Don’t believe the hype. Shout your joys, your fears and your failures to the world. Look for the ones that answer “me too”. It might be only a whisper, but they are there. They are your people. Your tribe. Hold on to them," - Haylee Hackenburg
I fell for the ‘mummy wars’ trap. (Which is odd considering my love and trust for all things women.) You read about it so much that I had assumed when I had a child, other mums/parents would just be waiting to judge me. (Thanks, patriarchy!) Such crap! My female friendships have got me through a lot in my life and motherhood is no exception.
As soon as I had my baby, the women in my life gravitated towards me with support and open ears. These included women who were in the baby trenches as well and those who did not have children but knew it was a big deal to have one. Sometimes it was a simple Facebook message asking how I was and other times it was dropping off a meal (some friends once bought me a burger and flowers, and it's honestly up in the top 5 best things that have ever happened to me). Either way it was a lifesaver.
To my surprise, I also found great support in our new parent group, now playgroup (which really shouldn’t be surprising given that’s what they’re there for!). Prior to attending I had assumed the best I could hope for was to find one other mum to have the occasional chat with, and that soon everyone would break off into the smaller groups. But one year later we’re a cohesive group of support and empathy. Our Whatsapp group chat is filled with the lows and highs of parenting, and we frequently meet for coffee and park dates. Initially I found it difficult to gel with everyone, largely due to forgetting how to socialise (sleep deprivation and long days with a being who can’t talk will do that to you) but after several months I eventually got the hang of it again (I think) and I’m so glad that I did.
Bring on another year of lessons!
Visit the Jean Hailes Anxiety hub for more information on anxiety and worry when you are a new mum and access helpful tools and resources.
This blog originally appeared on Tonic & Tea.