Creators, explorers, heroes, just some words I would use to sum up a new mum. But this isn’t always how I would have felt. As a society, motherhood seems to have become marketed and categorised by typically condescendingly ‘feminine’ whimsical tropes – flowers and pastels and baking bread. And more disparaging, the party girl who now stays home, losing your sparkle.
But if we were more honest about what has just happened (physically and psychologically) then new mums, take heart – you are the bravest, strongest person you can be.
And here are four reasons why:
- You have stared down death. If you and the baby are both alive, you are doing well. Childbirth used to cause so much death. Think of all the babies today who get stuck, the long labours, the c-sections – once this could have been the death of the baby or mother or both. Sadly there are those who experience the tragedy of death during birth but for the rest of us – just the fact we are still alive, our baby is alive, is something to be thankful for. And we aren’t really well made biologically for giving birth – we seem to downplay this – babies heads are massive – so however you did it, (there is no such a thing as ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ to me, there is just what happened), you did it. Well done. Celebrate that you are alive.
- You might not be ok… and that’s ok. Childbirth – however you do it – has got to hurt a bit. Pregnancy takes a lot out of us. There is blood, and milk and stretched body parts all over the place, stiches, scabs, stiffness, walking might not be that easy, going to the toilet might not be easy at all, and you have a tiny, new person to care for. We get over it. We recover. We even come back stronger. But let’s not pretend we don’t feel this. Let’s instead, all of us that haven’t just had a baby in the last couple of months, stand back in awe and say to those that have ‘you and your body are truly amazing, because you are getting through each day’. You will feel better, one day, but it’s ok if you don’t right now. And if you really feel bad, ask for help. You deserve it after what you’ve been through.
- You have found a capacity to survive without sleep that you did not know you had. One day you will sleep again. It may not feel like it, but you will. Before this you will feel terrible at times, and grumpy and sad, because you have not slept. But before you know it that tiny baby that will only sleep on you, thus rendering it impossible to sleep yourself, will not fit on your chest. So however difficult it seems, try to enjoy the long nights, find a way to watch a film, read a book one handed on a kindle app, and if you can get someone (partners, friends, relatives, someone you pay) to take a couple of hours so you can really sleep, do it. Do it as often as you can. Yes breastfeeding is good for the baby but if you can give them a bottle of breastmilk or formula and it means you get some sleep, don’t beat yourself up about it. Think of sleep deprivation as a way to reach a higher plane of consciousness, a proof of your strength, not that you can’t just remember your own name and want to cry all the time.
- You will never be the same again, but you are still yourself, maybe even a better version. When the dust of the excitement of a new life settles, babies can be pretty boring, they sleep and eat and poo. And, you, the new mum pushing the buggy down the street becomes a blurred shadow to get around to the commuters, and students, and shoppers, busy on their way. The gaggle of mums in the coffee shop take up space and make a mess, to the chagrin of those on their shiny laptops, creating their new ideas. But those mums have and will again have to fight on the tube at rush hour, sit at their own shiny laptops, chair board meetings, run start-ups. We aren’t so different. We just have a baby with us – and one universal truth – we were all babies once that had to be held and cared for, someone suffered to give birth to us. So can we all just be kind to each other and be thankful for all the women who came before us, for all who will come again?
Motherhood appears to be celebrated in our society, but it’s often a weak, insipid celebration really that glosses over the real physical and psychological demands of what it’s like. And having a baby doesn’t make you want to wear pastels and learn to cook if you didn’t do it before. We need to reframe it. New mums everywhere – take heart, you are a warrior, a hero, albeit probably one in a stained old t-shirt, contemplating how you won’t be able to take a real holiday again for at least 18 years. You are owning it by getting through each day.