Dear new mum,
I see you walking in the park with your pram or nursing in the shopping centre, and I think: look at that lucky new mum. She’s in the baby bubble, watching her baby’s eyes softly close to sleep, holding her tucked under her chin, feeling that indescribable feeling that only new babies bring.
And then in the next breath, the longing is washed away by a thought: thank god it’s not me.
Because I remember not just all the amazing, heart-bursting stuff that comes with new babies, but also the hard stuff too. And so, with the wisdom of all my many years (my children are now seven and five – which probably sounds like another world to you), I’m writing you a letter, with all the stuff I’d say to myself if I were back where you are now.
1. You will make mistakes
This parenting gig? You’ve never done it before. You may have had younger siblings, cousins or even been a doting godparent or aunt, but you have never done this 24-hours a day, seven-days-a-week.
You will make mistakes. Birthing a baby releases many hormones, but there is no ‘instinctive-breastfeeding’ hormone or ‘get-a-baby-to-sleep-through-the-night’ hormone.
Those things are learnt, and learning involves mistakes. Becoming a parent is just another step in life that you have not taken before, and mistakes are a normal part of the process.
This is a long game, so start as you mean to proceed and be kind to yourself.
2. Being a parent is hard work
If you listen to talkback radio, stop. Just stop. For some reason, talkback radio is full of older people who have forgotten what it’s like to have a new baby. Yes, people have been doing it for thousands of years, but I’ll wager it’s always been hard. How can looking after a small human being that you love beyond measure, who wakes constantly through the night and demands all your time be easy?
And while we’re at it, ignore all those people who tell you to enjoy this time because it will be gone in the blink of an eye. They’re right, of course, but they’re forgetting that it’s equal parts pleasure and pain. Thinking that you’re meant to love every minute will make you feel like a failure. You’re not. It’s rewarding, but it’s also hard and you’re allowed to acknowledge that.
3. It gets easier
On that note, it does get easier. There were times when I was lying next to my daughter’s cot, my arm awkwardly stretched through the bars, patting her bum for hours on end. I didn’t think that she would ever sleep. At the same time, I felt like my career was over, that I would never have the freedom to go for a spontaneous swim or have the energy to wear anything but tracksuit pants.
I am happy to report this is no longer the case. My daughter now climbs into bed beside me, and all I do is pull the covers back for her. I have had many spontaneous swims and I don’t even own a pair of tracksuit pants anymore.
Gradually space starts to creep back into your life. Your child develops and becomes more independent. You both evolve and grow together.
4. This is your life, so live it the way you want
Parenting today has become one of the most analysed and criticised things you can do. But this is your life and your family, so choose what works for you and shut out the noise.
If breastfeeding is not for you, or if it is. If you love to co-sleep, or if you need your own space in your room. If you need time away from your baby or if you want to suck up every little minute.
While there are valid reasons for safety guidelines that cover the wellbeing of children, if you’re a loving, caring parent, what happens behind your doors is up to you. Or out in public.
Everyone has an opinion on how to be a parent, but only you can decide what’s right for you.
5. Ask for help
This is my final, and most important point.
I know you’ve been told this before, but I want you to really think about it.
Asking for help is not a sign that you’re not coping, that you’re weak or a bad mother. Asking for help is about understanding that babies are hard work (see point 2), and no one is meant to do this alone.
We bemoan the ‘loss of the village’ for a reason. Human beings aren’t built for isolation, particularly when you’re a parent.
Reach out to friends, family and if you can afford it – paid help. There are many people out there who will help and support you, and you deserve all the help and support you can get.
So, if you see me staring at you wistfully in the park, please don’t be freaked out. I’m just thinking back to when I was in your shoes. I see you, and I know how difficult it can be.
Just hold on tight and be kind to yourself, you’re doing a magnificent job.