It’s the great paradox of parenthood; having a baby – which around 85% of women do – is both one of the most “normal” thing you can do with your life and the most incredible thing you ever will.
You might put together a mean strategic plan or win clients with a single word, but baby wrangling is not something you’re trained to do. You heard about babies and yeah, yeah, you know you’ll be tired, that babies cry, that they can be hard work. But if you can manage a team, surely you can manage one little baby!
And then you have your own and you realise how little you “got it”. Here are six things I thought I knew, but didn’t fully believe before having a baby.
- Ninety percent of caring for a newborn is feeding, feeding, feeding. It’s fair enough that growing babies need more than three square meals a day, but when feeds take the best part of an hour and they feed on average 11 times a day, THAT’S why new Mums complain they have precious little time to eat, or do anything, for themselves. But if you choose the comfiest place for feed times, have something to read or watch on TV, at least you can enjoy the rest.
- Sleep deprivation is more than being tired. Of course new mums are tired. But it’s the kind of tiredness where you struggle to start to lose your resilience and hopefulness. Try not to think about the fact that you’ve got at least a year until they truly sleep through the night. To keep your sanity, you realise you have to take an oath to “sleep while the baby sleeps”. Don’t be tempted to do anything else.
- You don’t actually get to hang out with your baby for weeks. At first, newborns can barely stay awake long enough to eat, poo, and get changed before falling asleep. The world outside the womb is tiring. In time, they sort out night from day, stay awake longer and you do get to play with all those toys they were given.
- The fastest way to change a baby’s habit is to say you’ve worked it out. Just when you’ve realised that bub “usually has a big sleep about now”, or you’re now going 3 hours between feeds and you plan your outings around it, they’ll shake up their routine and make a liar of you. If your six-week old is now sleeping through until 3am, don’t mention it to anyone or they’ll be up and down all night. At work you would have been told that “change is the only constant” and it’s truer in this workplace than any other.
- Your flexibility is the main thing to get a workout. And I don’t mean you’ll have time for yoga. Any plans you make, from “lunch in the city” to “vacuuming after brekky”, will often go astray when baby needs you to do something else.
You’ll become just as flexible with your parenting style as you do with your plans. Many a pregnant mother has committed to singing two songs a day, or not using dummies, but babies who are unsettled in the wee hours have a way of changing your mind. And far from making you a lesser parent, going with the flow makes you a better one.
- Motherhood is a journey you take alone. One of the biggest surprises about motherhood can be the realisation that the most momentous arrival in your life is nothing more than a pleasant blip on the radar in others’.
While friends and colleagues will be thrilled for you, tell you how gorgeous your bundle is and (hopefully) offer to help out, their day-to-day life soon moves on just as it did before. Meanwhile, you’re experiencing more joy, confusion, love and anxiety than you ever have before. Even the father of your child is unlikely to go through the complete lifestyle overhaul that you do.
Mothers groups are invaluable for providing comfort that others are sharing similar journeys to you. Taking time to adjust to motherhood is normal (on, average it’s reported it takes nearly 5 months). But soon, it will be you giving your two cents worth on what it’s really like.