Child: Arlo aged 1
Expectations of Motherhood: I was lucky in that I got a glimpse of what it would be like to be a mother a few months before Arlo was born, when my own mum moved in with me & my boyfriend. She’d had a stroke the year before and needed full time care. She basically needed everything doing for her and it gave me a taster of what it would be like to have someone so entirely dependent upon you that you become their whole world. It can be a terrifying & often claustrophobic feeling. On the other hand, I was also excited about having the responsibility of ensuring that one little soul would have the very best start in life that I could provide.
Taking your child home for the first time: I’d been desperate to get back home after having Arlo. I hated being in hospital. Especially as I was the only breastfeeder on my ward, they all looked at me like I had two heads! Plus I was worried about leaving my other half to look after my mum (I didn’t think either of them would much enjoy the experience of giving mum her bath!) But I’d ended up having an emergency caesaerian so had to stay in for a bit.
When we got home, it was like the universe had been turned upside down. Everything was exactly the same, but utterly different. I can’t remember much from then, other than the hours upon hours of through the night feeding. I don’t even remember eating or getting dressed. I just remember sleeping in a chair because I couldn’t lie down & reading the entire Jilly Cooper back catalogue by book-light whilst Arlo fed.
Reality of Motherhood: Being a mother of a baby is the front line of parenting. If it were a war, we’d be the commandos. It is harsh, unrelenting and brutal. All the comforts you once took for granted are gone. Mealtimes are mouthfuls stolen in the few seconds your child isn’t demanding your attention. Sleep is broken and taken when (and where) you can grab it and going to the toilet becomes a juggling act of child and pants. Despite all that, it’s still ace.
The best/worst advice: That you don’t ‘own’ your child – but are instead entrusted with them til they are old enough to become their own person. One of my fellow mums gave me some ace advice that I use as my parenting bottom-line: if they eat, shit & sleep, they’re probably fine. It’s kind of the Ray Mears approach to parenting, but I like it.
I can’t think of any worst advice. Apart from the many legion of comments and looks I’ve gotten from people when I tell them we co-sleep and that I’m still breast-feeding. Stuff like that really makes you begin to question yourself. Hold firm to your principles! If it feels right and you and the sprog are happy, don’t stop. Oh and take everything other new parents say to you about their child with bloody big piece of salt. Honestly, I swear there’s some kind of competitive parenting conspiracy going on! Some (not all) of them can be right buggers for exaggerating how well they and/or the child are doing. It’s alright to be struggling or if Tarquin or whatever’s not crawling/rolling/eating solids yet. You don’t need to lie. It’s okay. We should be sticking together! I make it a policy to be brutally honest to people about how (sometimes quite badly) we’re doing.
The hardest parts of being a mother: Not being able to shield them from pain is one of the hardest parts of being a mother. Even worse is the moment you first hurt them. I accidentally drew blood trimming his nails once & it got infected. I felt AWFUL. Fear of Arlo dying or something bad happening to him is probably the worst part though. The love I feel for him is bloody terrifying. It’s basically feral. And there’s been a fair few nights I’ve lain awake fretting about what horrid stuff could happen to him.
I also now can’t watch the news, read the papers or watch anything even faintly gruesome or gory. I feel a bit like a gaping wound in terms of emotional susceptibility. Even Eastenders can make me bawl. Being a Mum also made me realise the strength of the feelings my own mum must have had for me and made me feel like a total shit for all the times I’ve let her down. The only real regret I have is that my mum never got a chance to be a more hands-on grandparent. The stroke not only paralysed the right side of her body but took away most of her speech as well. The irony of it all being that the one person who would have given me the most support ended up being the one able to do the least. That breaks my heart.
The best parts of being a mother: Seeing the personality in your child grow clearer day by day and having a physical (& very permanent!) proof of the love between me & Arlo’s dad. Children can also really bring family together; quite a few of mine have come back into my life since he was born and started being more involved. Plus I’ve made a tons of new friends as a result of having Arlo. Not just my NCT pram mafia, but other people from the wider world (mainly twitter!!) who I doubt I’d have had the opportunity to get to know pre-child. Being a mum has totally forced me out of my previously hermit-like existence & I’m now very lucky to have rather a lot of amazing people in my life.
Hopes for your family: I hope Arlo has a happy life. I want him to have everything I didn’t: stability, no financial worries, no false promises and fuck-wittery. I basically want him to feel safe and supported. I’d LOVE it if he was creative. I’m going to do all I can to make that happen but, at the same time, I really don’t want him to end up like the Nicholas Hoult character in About a Boy (“killing me softleeeee”). I’m very aware could all too easily be That Mum and am trying to rein in my hippy arts and crafts sensibilities to keep that aspect in check.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Sleep now, while you still can!!! Wallow in it. Have all the lie-ins you can handle.
Try to resist the consumerist frenzy! You really don’t need all the crap you think you need. I took a lot of my hormonally-driven purchases to the charity shop in the end.
Join an NCT class. The friends I made from mine are now among my best ones. You’ll need their support. Even if you’re not a join-er, like me, it’s well worth the few weeks of excruitating group activites.