If you have kids, you know the feeling. You’re tired. Wait, make that ANNIHILATED. You may have had, let’s see, 1 hour 36 minutes of sleep. You’re an interstate highway of hormones. You’re hungry. You’re thirsty. You are recovering from various possibilities of delivery with various degrees of success – or, if you’re the partner, supporting someone who is.
There have been blood, sweat and tears. There may be hemorrhoids. And, at the centre of it all, there is a tiny human being whose existence and survival you, and only you, are now entirely responsible for.
Welcome to the joys of parenthood! Yippee!!
Now, this is not to put anyone off having children. The human race must go on, after all. But facts are facts and it is important to realize that a living, breathing tiny human is no tamagotchi or a baby Annabelle doll that you can put away. No, Friend. This is life. FOREVER.
Amid the chaos and madness of life with a newborn comes the inevitable flurry of visitors and ‘friendly faces’ that poke about asking helpful things like ‘How much sleep are you getting?’ (none, thanks for reminding me), ‘How is breastfeeding going’ (Slow, sore and seemingly endless. Can I interest you in seeing some chafed nips?) and, personal favorite, ‘Is (s)he a good baby?’ (aaaarggggh gggggrrrrr rraaaaaaaargh).
Yes, having a newborn to look after is not easy. Luckily, there ARE some helpful people that come around bearing babygros, making tea in silence and even, joy of joys, offer to take your baby for a couple of hours so you can get some kip. However, there are also those saps that treat a visit to a family with a newborn with the same sick relish of bystanders of a car crash, wagging their tongues at gory details, pain and misery.
The truth is, as you settle to your little ‘bundle of joy’ (expectation, much?) there may be times when you are feeling anything but joyful. Yes, of course you are proud. Yes, of course you are ecstatic to see bump become baby and bring life into the world. Yes, of course you think your baby is the cutest and most beautiful thing ever and you are excited beyond words.
However, having gone through 9 months of physically supporting another human being inside of you and then delivering them into the light through a massive physical and mental effort, you could do with a week at a spa and a beach holiday sipping alcoholic drinks through a swirly paper straw. Instead, you’re wiping thick meconium from tiny nappies, surviving on biscuits and cat naps and generally trying desperately to make sure this helpless human being survives and thrives in the big wide world.
Tired has taken on a new meaning and you are TIRED.
A taxing delivery or complications do not help matters. Nor does a lack of real support.
Ah, support. What is support? True support. Not the kind of support where people sit around barking rules, instructions and old wives’ tales. Not people telling you with all the sensitivity of a Rottweiler that you are ‘doing it wrong’, whatever it is in question. Not the kind where people ask you how you are and expect to see a gleaming smile and a blissful ‘wonderful‘ because they are uncomfortable dealing with real, raw emotion.
Support is getting the help with whatever you need in that moment. For parents of newborns, support commonly includes:
- No. 1: help with bubbah so mum and dad can get some SLEEP!
- having a tidy around the house
- bringing clothes, nappies and equipment if baby comes a wee bit early and mum and dad are caught short
- encouraging mama to breastfeed if she wants to and offering reassurance
- if partner has to return to work, keeping mama company and coming over for cake and a chat so that she can have a shower, go the bathroom ALONE and generally get some adult company
- coming up with unsolicited opinions / advice
- asking questions that should be rhetorical – ‘How much sleep are you getting?’, ‘Is he a good boy?’
- make mum / parents feel worried with questions like ‘Is that normal’? ‘Should she be doing that?’, ‘Are you sure he is getting enough milk?’
- sitting around asking for cups of tea and meals. These are not normal times. If you are a guest, make your own tea – and for the parents whist you are at it.
- ASKING IF THE BABY IS A ‘GOOD’ BABY.
This is a personal bug bear, but what is with people asking this question? Define ‘good’. The baby is just a baby. This question does nothing more than worry parents about being incompetent. Unless their baby is a heavenly angel who sleeps 12 hours straight, breastfeeds with the efficiency of an deep sea oil extraction pump and gives the parents back rubs in a quiet moment. In that case, feel free to make big, sparkly eyes and sing-song ‘Ooooh yes, a very good baby. We are so lucky, aren’t we, Lawrence? #Blessed“.
When the baby comes there is a seemingly continuous list of duties that will have you wondering how three simple tasks: feeding, changing nappies, sleeping, can occupy ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT, the two often indistinguishable and running into each other.
In addition, there is recovery from birth to be done, dealing with all the visitors and generally trying to get back a semblance of life that does not revolve around baby. Not easy when said baby suddenly decides to cluster feed in a services McDonalds parking lot on the way to the family’s first ‘big day out’. Nice one, baby.
Welcoming a newborn into your life is a time of happiness and celebration. It is also a time of exhaustion, big learning curves and walking about in a stained dressing gown. Everyone wants to know how you are but probably wouldn’t appreciate you detailing the ebb and flow of your lochia.
Today’s society does not make it easy for new parents to get along with things in their usual mad, messy and emotionally unstable way. Hectic, ecstatic and occasionally miserable, welcome to life! Not like some aspirational Instagram poster-mum in hot pants in Nikki Beach Cancun, Day 3 after birth.
Parents are expected to look like this:
The truth is, how easy or hard you find to adjust to parenthood does not always have everything to do with you. Adjusting to parenthood depends on a number of factors. Some are:
- what kind of delivery you had
- what kind of pregnancy you had
- whether this is your first child
- whether this is a planned pregnancy
- proximity of family
- proximity of friends with kids
- whether you have a partner or are raising the child alone
- your financial situation
- your house (bungalow with garden? Fourth floor flat, no lift?)
- the time of year you had your baby
- your mental health prior to baby
- whether your baby is healthy or there were complications
- how baby and you are adjusting to breastfeeding
- your partner’s attitude to you and baby
and many, many more!
Of course, babies pop out all over this big blue planet and the vast majority survive and thrive. A tiny studio flat on top of a chippy can be as good as a palace for a baby as long as it is loved and cared for. Nor is raising a baby in a palace any guarantee for an easy adjustment to life with a plus one. But there are many things, the first of which is having a network of trusted friends and family who can share in some of the childcare duties, that can ease and influence your transition into this bright new world.
The message of this blog is: Do NOT be afraid of experiencing raw emotion.
Don’t be afraid of being exhausted.
Don’t be afraid of being occasionally miserable.
Don’t be afraid to admit you are.
An estimated 1 in 5 mums and 1 in 10 dads experience baby blues, so if you are feeling down, you are not alone! Hey, if rich and gorgeous Chrissy Teigen can open up about postnatal depression with a full-time live-in nanny, that husband and those legs (!) (read her open letter in Glamour magazine here), why shouldn’t it happen to you??
Feeling down, crying, questioning things, snapping at your partner – this is the stuff some moments are made of. If you feel you are not ‘performing’ or handling things as well as you should, try to be gentle, forgiving and loving with yourself. Some tips are:
- Get some REST! Do NOT be superwoman. Bring in your parents or a good friend you can really trust or time share with baby care with your partner. Do what you have to do, but get some sleep. Sleep is important. A good night’s sleep can totally change how you feel.
- Make time for yourself. You are not JUST a mother (or father). Yes, your baby is number 1, but you can only give what you have. So look after yourself first and try to make time to do things that you enjoy, whether it’s taking a yoga class, going for a quick walk or having an uninterrupted phone call with a friend. Do NOT sit there getting thumb cramp checking Snapchat on your phone. Do NOT obsess with how baby is doing. Make this time count.
- Talk Talk Talk. Talk to your mum. Talk to your partner. Talk to your friends. Talk to your GP, your midwife and your health visitor. Talk to PANDAS. Get a doula and talk to her (Me: “Hello!”). Don’t try to keep it all inside or be embarrassed. The more people know about how you feel, the more people can help you. People can’t help you if they don’t know what’s wrong. Understand that it’s ok to be going through things and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad or incompetent mum or dad. Mental health is complicated and you feel what you feel – no shame in that.
The truth is, it’s ok to have those moments. Mind you, Moments. Maybe days. Certainly not weeks. If you have been feeling low for a week or more, it’s time to call a GP, talk to your midwife or health visitors or turn to a postnatal depression support group such as the PANDAS foundation. They are not going to judge you or take away your baby. They will help you find a way out so that you can start enjoying life and find yourself again.
Conclusion? Yes you can have it all. All the cuddles, all the surprises, all the explosive nappies, all the sleepless nights, all the drama, all the worry and all the love and joy of having a small baby. But, just like a busy executive or a famous pop star, getting good assistance around you frees up your time and energy to enjoy the really beautiful stuff.
You have had a baby and it’s ripped through the structure of your life like a firework. You are dealing with new challenges, new schedules and a new identity. It’s a period of change and it requires time to adjust to. But adjust to it you will. Soon, I promise you, you will wonder what on earth you did with all that time you had in the era of BB (before baby). And you will not be able to imagine NOT having your warm, fuzzy, incredible, beautiful, magical, loving, funny, adorable baby in your life.
Why do we need doulas?
After nine months of carrying her baby, every woman deserves to have a happy and exciting ‘welcome ceremony’ for the little one into the world. That welcome is the birth.
However, as the due date gets closer, you may find yourself overcome with fear, worry – or perhaps simply deep curiosity – about that day may hold for you.
You may be:
- Googling and YouTubing videos of labour
- Talking to everyone you know who has given birth and finding that some people are only too happy to share their not-so-happy story
- Taking your antenatal classes but finding them impersonal and very limited
- Listening to a hypnobirthing CD and wondering if this will really get you through labour pain
- Divided about pain relief options
- Imagining ‘what if’ scenarios
- Worried about your own ability to handle pain
- Having irrational fear about sudden complications
- Wonder if you will have reliable support during delivery
If so, then you have company! In fact, you are in the 90% or so of women who experience some fear or anxiety about birth.
Prior to my own birth, I was addicted to research and was doing everything I could to prepare myself for my own birth plan. I had no mentor but I had spoken to plenty of friends, read as much literature as I could fit in, attended my antenatal classes and breastfeeding workshops, visited the unit where I would give birth, and generally did everything I could to feel positive, prepared, and excited about my labour.
In my labour, I eventually used the tools I had gathered and trusted my body to do what it needed to do and, in the end, I had the beautiful birth experience I wanted. However, reflecting back, I have to be honest and say that I had been naive. The books, the articles, videos and classes had equipped me with useful information, but I had done nothing in terms of really embedding this information. I had not owned it, worked through it, lived it. I had not really built myself up mentally and emotionally for what labour would bring and, truth be told, when the contractions started, I panicked.
The trouble with mainstream information is that it is:
- Focused on the mechanics, rather than the mindset, of birth
- Generally puts the baby at the centre, not the mother
- Written from the medical perspective that makes it feel like labour is happening TO the mother, not WITHIN her
- Treats the baby as an independent entity from the birthing mother and not the team that they actually are
- Presumes women are weak and that labour pain is unmanageable
- Doesn’t acknowledge your fears and anxiety and gives you no space to release or talk about these
- Doesn’t discuss the brain / body / hormone / mindset union of your body during labour
- Doesn’t give you guidance on how to navigate the medical system to get the care you need
- Puts you in a position of powerlessness and relies on other people making decisions for you based on ‘what’s best’
All this means that you may be under-informed about how to cope in labour at best, and have paralysing fear and anxiety about labour at worst. Far from looking forward to what can be the most magical day of your life you may find yourself filled with fear and dread ahead of ‘doomsday’. Needless to say, this can not only negatively impact your experience of the last stages of your pregnancy but leave you feeling upset and anxious around the time of your due date. This can not only impact the labour itself but have lasting consequences for your magical mother-baby bond.
What does a birth mentor do?
As a birth mentor, I help mothers and their partners prepare for labour, working through fears and anxiety in the process. As part of the mentoring programme, you can expect to learn the following:
- Understand the fear-tension-pain cycle
- Uncover your coping mechanisms
- How to write a birth plan
- Use the power of hormones to take charge of your labour
- What to do when you feel you are in labour
- Tools and techniques for employing ‘mind over matter’ in labour
- Feel in control of your labour – it is not happening to you! It is within you and, as such, within your control
- Meditations / visualisations / self-hypnosis techniques that allow you to go within and find strength in the latent stage of labour and transition
- Understanding terms like ‘transition’!
- Explore all birth options and find the delivery style right for you
- What you want the birth partner to do / be for you
- Understand and anticipate what may happen during labour and in the first few hours after the birth
- Anything else you want! Whatever your question, you have my mentor support and guidance available to you in and out of the mentoring sessions
The NHS and the healthcare system are not the opposite of doulas and mentors. They have your health at heart, but not your happiness. The ultimate aim is to create a network of support around the mother that will leave her feeling happy, whole and at peace with the experience she had.