No matter how prepared you think you are for motherhood, there’s no doubt that the arrival of your first child has a seismic effect on your life. From your emotions, to your priorities, to your values, everything is subject to monumental change.
I always find it hilarious when I see these ‘celebrities’ who, within days of giving birth, are pictured in the papers in four-inch heels and skintight jeans, heading out to the latest trendy restaurant! The message they’re sending out is ‘look how I’ve just popped back into my designer life’.
There’s a name for this approach to parenthood: denial!
You don’t have to be a celebrity to experience this form of denial though. While pregnant, we all develop images of how life with a new baby will be. We’ll drop the baby weight in a few days; we’ll have a great household routine mapped out with freshly-cooked dinners on the table at set hours; we’ll be back at our desks in no time at all, continuing with our successful careers….you get the picture?
I certainly did. When I gave birth at the age of 38, I thought that my daughter would sort of ‘fit into’ my life and my routine! As a busy journalist, I had the luxury of working from home and I simply imagined that I would balance being a mum with continuing with my career.
While I was pregnant, I had a glorious image of me sitting in my immaculate house, seated at my computer writing Pulitzer-winning stories while my cherubic, angelic baby sat happily playing at my feet. Everything was white, perfect and fluffy!
Fast forward to three weeks after giving birth….I managed to get myself and my daughter dressed and out of the house before lunchtime and was practically doing a lap of honour around the garden because I was so pleased at my achievement!
When I did eventually start writing again, I vividly remember one occasion when my daughter was teething and fractious. I cuddled her in one arm in a vain attempt to comfort her, while typing with the other hand. The tears were flowing – and they weren’t all hers! I felt such a failure.
Looking back now, I realise that I was far from a failure. I was simply a mum who was trying to do her best all round and beating herself up for not hitting the perfect standards that I had created for myself.
Quite simply, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of having a baby. Babies, I realised very quickly, don’t just ‘fit into’ a routine. When they arrive, they’re the centre of your universe and you very quickly have to reorganise your other ‘planets’ around them. When you factor in the sleepless nights, shifting schedules and hormonal havoc, it’s little wonder that you can easily become totally disoriented!
Becoming a mum also introduces you to a new universe within yourself. Whatever age you are when you have your first child, giving birth teaches you many things about yourself, and you may find hidden inside you a vast capacity for worry, love, fear, rage, guilt and protectiveness that you didn’t know was possible! Before I had my daughter, for example, I had always had a great interest in current and world affairs, but, once she came along, I viewed threats to world peace a distinct threat to her. Global warming was going to be a danger to her.…you get the idea?
The dynamic of your relationships also shifts once you become a mum. No matter how much you love your partner or husband, the simple fact is that your baby is now at the centre of your world and your partner is no longer numero uno. Some men find this difficult to accept, particularly if you choose to stay at home full time and become totally wrapped up in your child.
Your attitude to your working life can also be affected. I’ve seen friends who were the epitome of ‘the career woman’ actually give up work completely after having their first child: such is the pull of their new role. Equally, I’ve seen others, who don’t have the option of giving up completely for financial reasons, change their working pattern by working over lunchtime, for example, so that they can leave earlier in the day.
Becoming a mother brings a level of intensity to your emotions and your life. There will be many positive aspects to this but the most important point is that you accept – as I had to – that your life is never going to be the same again. The sooner you set realistic aspirations and acknowledge that a degree of upheaval is unpreventable the quicker you’ll settle into your new role and stop beating yourself up with impossible expectations!
Five ways to make being a mum easier
* Admit that the changes to your body, mind and soul are enormous and that you have to give yourself time to adjust. The more you’re prepared for the transformations, the less upheaval you’ll experience.
* Spend some time with a real baby before you give birth to your own! Even if it’s just for a few hours, it’ll give you a good idea of what’s to come.
* Take good care of yourself. Yes, you’re looking after your baby who’s number one, but remember that your soul needs nurtured too, so take some time out to read or get some fresh air if you get the chance!
* Try and ignore the heaps of well-meaning advice that you’ll be hit with in the early stages. Sit down with your partner before your baby is born and work out what makes sense for YOU!
* Give yourself a break! If your baby goes a day without a bath, if dinner is a takeaway pizza, and if you feel more exhausted than exhilarated, so what? Being less than perfect is part of life and once you can acknowledge that, the rest will be easier to accept.