Motherhood: happiness, rainbows, smiles and love. Right? Wrong. I’ll freely admit that the first few months of my son’s life were tough. At times, I found myself sitting on the chair in his room sobbing my eyes out while he screamed. I’ll raise my hand and say, at 19 months, it still happens!
What’s concerning is that so many new parents are in the same boat, we just don’t talk about it. We shout from the rooftops when our kid sleeps through the night and eats solids. But we don’t openly talk about those nights that are spent rocking, patting, shushing, cuddling, trying desperately to get the baby to cooperate. We don’t talk about how tough it is to become a parent, about how drastically our world changes.
This is probably why there’s such a problem in the first place. Australia has programs facilitating the transition to retirement, but there’s not much out there to prepare you for parenthood. You’re going to feel overwhelmed, happy, sad, confused, frustrated and exhausted all in the one hour. And there are many mums out there who wish they had been more prepared for this part of motherhood. Nastassia is one of them. “People were willing to discuss the pregnancy, but no one talked about what happens when you take your baby home. I remember feeling like I was stealing a baby from the hospital when we left,” Nastassia recalls.
Here are some things you can do to make the transition much easier.
Manage your expectations
There are lots of expectations when it comes to parenthood – the birth you’re going to have, the kind of parent you’re going to be, the child you’re going to raise and the relationships you’re going to have. The problem is, that when it comes to babies, usually nothing goes as planned. Dr Nicole Highet, Executive Director at the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) says expectations are often completely slanted by society, and they’re setting new parents up for failure. “The expectation that you’re going to absolutely fall in love with your baby, it’s very much portrayed in the media,” Dr Highet explains. “For a lot of women, that’s not the case. They describe feeling numb.” Key here is that this is completely normal. Bonding with babies, like any relationship, can take time.
Read more on life with a newborn:
- Conversations to have with your partner before baby arrives
- The fourth trimester is real and here is what you need to know
- 6 things all parents fight about in their baby’s first year
Talk openly with those around you
Look at your pregnancy as time that you have to prepare yourself for the next stage in your life. Ask yourself and your partner everything you think you need to know. Dr Highet suggests questions such as “what is your expectation around parenthood? What level of involvement do we both want to have? How are we going to manage the juggle? What about time for us in our relationship?”
Use the time to prepare for the birth and the aftermath. The hubby and I talked about anything and everything during our pregnancy and it didn’t completely eliminate those overwhelming days – believe me, it did no such thing – but it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Amanda Bernstein from Essential Me, is a doula who has worked with dozens of women, says that new mums rely heavily on their partners during the early weeks and months. For her, the biggest thing is understanding. “Listen and show compassion and understanding that things are tough. It’s an adjustment to your lives together.” Figuring out roles can also work wonders. “Some people say don’t worry about things like the dishes or dirty laundry piling up, but I personally think it makes a big difference to your state of mind, and this is one way partners can be a big help,” she said.
Build your village
And we don’t just mean your friends and family. Building a village includes everyone who may be able to help you from nannies to cleaners to meals. It’s something Lana Sussman, Counsellor and Co-Founder of The Parents Village is passionate about. “Western culture has an expectation for new mums to just ‘bounce back’ after having a baby and partners tend to return to work quite early on, leaving mums feeling isolated, exhausted and in need of support,” she explains. “But we weren’t made to raise children alone.” Lana suggests outsourcing wherever you can (embrace online grocery shopping ladies), and to give yourself a break. “Fill your cup by doing something you love. Look after yourself, take a shower, eat, sleep. Self-care is highest priority. Divide and conquer is your new mantra.” This is echoed by Dr Highet. “At COPE, we emphasise building your village. Having places to go, having people to connect with; when you’re in those difficult times, you can draw on that village before you get to the point of crisis mode.”
The most important thing you can do, and this was echoed by everyone I spoke to, is to be realistic. Having a baby changes everything – from body shape to finances and everything in between. An added problem, however, is that no matter how realistic you are those dreaded dark days will still happen, and you’ll find yourself at a crisis point at some stage. It’s just about understanding how to manage it. While some will use humour, others will cry. And this is okay. “When your baby does poonamis all down its back and all over you, you gotta laugh!” says Lana. “But allow yourself to cry too. It’s an incredible release.”
Lindsey Mineff created greeting cards to be given to new mums for this exact purpose, and they’re hilarious! The greeting cards are honest about the realities of motherhood and are a wonderful reminder that taking on this new responsibility is tough work. Lindsey created the series normalising the real feelings of motherhood, after hearing a mother’s story about mental health. “They give mums permission to say the struggle is real, and they need a break or they need someone to talk to,” Lindsey explains. They’re also a reminder that everything you see on social media, and everything you’re likely comparing your life to at this very moment, isn’t the whole picture.
For Nastassia, this is key: “Be open, be truthful to yourself and don’t feel ashamed or guilty. All of us are struggling and the more we are all open with each other about the fact that this is a massive guessing game, the easier it will be for all of us.”
Remember, parenting is anything but a Huggies commercial. Yep, those cuddles sure are nice. But those tantrums, those drowsy fights in the middle of the night, the food all over the floor and the snot all over the face – that’s motherhood. Welcome to the tribe.
Call to action
There are plenty of resources out there to help you manage the transition to motherhood. Ready to COPE is just one of them, offering free fortnightly emails to guide and reassure through the challenges of pregnancy and your first year with bubs.
The Parents Village also offers a prenatal program called Birthing The Parent for individuals or couples to help you stay on track.