Friday, 21 June 2013

Lesson 2: Other Mums Must Be Lying

Every new mother must, at some point, have had the following thought: 

My life is over.

Admit it. No of course you won't admit it - because new mums will smile, gush about how magical the birth was (see Lesson 1 for my thoughts on this) and generally just get on with it. And that, I believe, is where we let each other down.

My first experience of this over-exaggerated coping came when I took my six-week old son to a local breastfeeding group. I was shattered. Cream bloody crackered. He was waking up every hour, my husband had just gone back to work, and I was in that panicky stage where it takes about three hours to get ready and you take a full-to-brim Yummy Mummy changing bag with you to cover every eventuality (except four changes of clothes due to nappy leakage, for which no mortal could have prepared).

Don't get me wrong, breastfeeding/baby groups can be a godsend - a chance to get out of the house, have a cup of tea, and mix with like-minded mums. Wonderful. Except the like-minded bit, which was not my early experience. The other mums were always lovely, of course they were. But I needed a rant, a vent, a scream about how awful sleep deprivation is. I needed solidarity from other slightly fed up breastfeeders who were also at the end of their tether with having to get their boob out every half an hour having never finished a meal. I'd hoped we'd all rant and vent together.

Except the other mums didn't do either. They all looked so happily mumsy. Breast-feeding was going well, their babies were already in some sort of a sleep routine, yes they were finding it a bit tough but  they couldn't even remember life before the baby. My declaration of "god it's AWFUL isn't it?!" was met with sympathetic but not understanding smiles.  Any expression of unhappiness in these circles runs the risk of sounding like not coping ("she's probably got a spot of post-natal depression"). There is simply no room for a downright good moan.

Herein lies the problem for women like me. The non-mumsy mums. The mums who are totally in love with their child but struggle to enjoy the endless feed/poo/cry/not having time to have a shower in peace cycle. The mums who can remember life before the baby - sleeping for nine hours, having clean hair, deliberating on topics more highbrow than which boob feels fuller ahead of the next feed and comparing nappy contents. This does not mean I regretted having a baby - I never ever have, and I hope my son knows that in years to come. But Jesus Christ those first few months were tough. 

The day I met a now VERY good friend of mine sticks in my mind due to all of the above. My husband came home to find me pacing the living room in tears trying unsuccessfully to calm down an uncontrollable baby (he had acid reflux due to a floppy larynx, not known to us at the time). I literally handed the baby over, put my shoes on, and headed out for some fresh air before I exploded with frustration. I paced the country lanes on the edge of our estate for nearly an hour, and on the way back I bumped into a girl I recognised from our ante-natal classes and the midwife clinic who was putting out her recycling. She looked fed up, she looked tired, and I wondered if she was taking longer over the recycling than necessary to get a moment's break. I asked how she was finding it all.

Her reply - 'pretty horrendous!' I loved her instantly. 

Lesson 2: most mums will tell you what they think they should be telling you. Having a horrendous time of it does not make you a bad mum, and neither does admitting it.

The Unmumsy Mum

Lesson 1: The Birth (No Need To Cry)

After countless prep sessions watching One Born Every Minute, those ante-natal classes and three weeks obsessively 'nesting' I was prepared. Hospital bag packed, un-packed and then re-packed (they said I needed two packs of maternity towels - that couldn't be right, surely) and the freezer stocked with meals I had spent ages preparing but we would never eat, I waited.

When I went into labour (picture a whale trying to have a relaxing bath and lots of exercise ball bouncing whilst my husband timed my contractions on his Birthing App - seriously they have an app for everything nowadays) I was feeling quite optimistic. I think it is important to let you know from the outset that I have never been a very broody person, so I was looking forward to the moment I would first see my baby and that natural maternal instinct would 'kick-in' following the experience of bringing life into the world.
It was quite an amazing experience, and woman to woman I am not lying when I tell you it really wasn't as bad as I had expected, but I couldn't help but feel guilty that the often talked about 'sudden rush of love' didn't hit me in the way I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, it is a remarkable process and delivering a healthy baby (we had a boy) after all that anticipation is such a relief. But that was just it; above all possible emotions I was hit solely with an enormous wave of relief. I had seen every OBEM episode going and it is an absolute given that the new parents always cry. Always. And believe me I am a cryer - I've been known to cry at property programmes and Jeremy Kyle. We had even joked about waterproof mascara. 

No prizes for guessing then that I didn't cry. That's right - not a single tear was shed between my husband and I at the birth of our son. It was more of a happy High Five moment, or would have been had both my hands not been attached to a drip of some description. My husband dressed the baby in one of the outfits we had lovingly packed and it was far too big, I was a pretty cross at our wasted effort choosing new clothes and he ended up in a second hand newborn outfit that had shrunk in the wash. It was all quite functional. Kind of how I'd imagine the launch of a product to be after you've designed it and taken delivery but then have teething problems to address.

I want to make it clear that post-labour I was not depressed, or tanked up with painkillers, or experiencing some kind of delayed euphoric reaction. And we were happy that the newest member of  our family had arrived safely - he was gorgeous! 

I was simply underwhelmed by the process in comparison to the picture that I had bought into through witnessing endless emotional labour scenes in films and on TV.

Lesson 1: labour will undoubtedly be one of the most important things you will ever do, but it may not match up to the general expectation and (shock horror) you may not cry - it should be okay to admit as much.

The Unmumsy Mum