Child: Safina, 11 Weeks
Expectations of Motherhood: Having spent my life up until getting pregnant focusing on getting the right qualifications to equip me for my career and having my own mother warning me to get myself sorted before thinking of starting a family, I think I actually expected it to be a lot harder than I’ve found it so far (although my baby is only 11 weeks and there’s plenty of time for things to get more difficult). My mum got pregnant at 19 and my older brother (and only sibling) followed suit, he and his wife having their first at 19 and their second only 15 months later. I grew up with financial struggle and I’ve witnessed the emotional struggle children can bring when you’re not mentally ready. So the pressure was on for me to break the mold. I wanted to as well, I had ambitions to see the world and to find a career I would actually enjoy, but from a very young age I was also extremely broody. I have found that pressure the hardest thing so far. And it’s not just pressure from my family or myself, but from society. Having gained equality (for the most part) with men, women are no longer expected to stay at home and raise a family and I feel there’s a lot of judgment towards young women who actually do choose to start a family young as a result. Why would you want to do that when you don’t have to? But motherhood is something we’re programmed to want, not to mention the risks involved with having children later in life, and I felt that pressure to deny myself of those instincts. I was 24 when I did have Safina. I had my degree, a masters, I’d travelled and had enough Friday nights drinking myself silly to last a lifetime. I was ready.
Reality of Motherhood: I expected to love my baby. It’s a no brainer really. I did not anticipate the overwhelming love I instantly felt when she was born. I couldn’t have possibly anticipated it because it’s unlike any other emotion I had ever felt. It’s made me realise how narrow of a term love really is. There should be more than one word for something that covers so many bases because the love I feel for Safina is totally different from the love I feel for my partner or my family for example. While it’s the most amazing thing, there are a whole lot of problems that come with feelings that strong.
Possessiveness for example. I’m having to force myself to take a step back now and let my partner take the reigns occasionally. It’s difficult in these early days when you’re breastfeeding because that’s a huge part of childcare that dad is excluded from, but there’s plenty of responsibility you can let them take on so that’s what I’m learning to do now.
Fear is another. Babies are so totally reliant on you and so completely trusting of you and I’m utterly terrified that something bad might happen to Safina. I have vivid nightmares about it, sometimes they’re horrible and I feel awful that my subconscious would even go there. But sometimes they’re ridiculous, like the time I dreamt she was covered in octopus ink and no matter how much I washed her, I couldn’t get it off (I’m sure a dream analyst would have a field day with that). I’ve also become hyper sensitive to anything involving children. I can’t watch charity adverts about starving or abused children anymore and a couple of news reports of abuse that’s happened locally recently have hit me harder than I ever would have expected. All this just makes me want to give Safina the best of everything and more love, support and encouragement than she’ll know what to do with. Balancing this with making sure she isn’t affected on the other end of the spectrum (spoilt, disillusioned, etc) is going to be tricky I’m sure. And that’s the real problem I suppose. I know I’m going to shape her personality in so many ways and how can I possibly know what is best for another life?
Then there’s the old parenting favourite. Guilt. Whatever I do I question whether it’s the best thing for Safina. But I really am trying to keep on top of that and making sure I remind myself that I am a person too and if I lose myself along the path of motherhood it will be more detrimental to Safina in the long run, because she’ll have a shell of a woman as her primary female role model.
Taking your child home for the first time: This is a really difficult question for me. It was only 11 weeks ago that we brought Safina home for the first time but the whole thing is really a blur. That could be partly due to the amount of drugs they had me on and the sheer sleep deprivation (I think I had about half an hour’s sleep in the three days I was in hospital). I hated the feeling of being drugged up to my eyeballs. I had this wonderful new baby and I wanted to soak up every minute with her but I just felt stoned all the time. After a couple of days I tried to wean myself off them – BIG mistake.
I was highly emotional coming home. I’d spent the day being told I could leave as soon as the doctor saw me. He hadn’t shown by 8pm and I’d been dressed and packed since early morning. I ended up telling the midwife that I would see my own GP and that I was leaving (yes I was one of those patients). So by the time I actually left the hospital I was a mess. I remember trying to get my mum to take photographs of me, Ricky and the baby outside the hospital and outside our front door and her photography skills were not to my standard. I shouted at mum, Ricky shouted at me, not exactly the fairytale arrival I’d imagined.
I also remember a distinct shift in my priorities. For me the nesting instinct kicked in early – we were sharing a house with friends when we found out I was pregnant so it became my mission to get them out (in the nicest possible way) and transform the house into a home. It was ready by the time I was about 6 months gone but by then I’d become obsessed. Even when I was in labour I tried to convince Ricky to join me in some light gardening to try and pass the time (he told me I was mental and I settled for a walk in the park). But when I finally had my baby home, none of that mattered. Needless to say the lawn hasn’t been mowed since her arrival.
The best/worst advice: The whole process from pregnancy to labour and then looking after your baby is a minefield of conflicting advice. It seems the NHS move the goalposts continually and so everyone has different ideas. Even amongst midwives advice varies. For me this made them really difficult to trust and given that I never saw the same midwife twice, I tended to find my own way. I devoured literature about pregnancy, labour and birth and was amazed at the antenatal classes (which were terrible) by how little other mums-to-be knew. It was the first time in my life I’d been the geek of the class but I found that arming myself with as much information as possible made me feel much more at ease with what was in store and while nothing can prepare you for motherhood, you can prepare yourself for labour and I actually really enjoyed mine (seriously). So the best advice definitely came from reading and listening to as much as possible and forming my own conclusions.
The worst advice I’ve had has to be over breastfeeding. I was determined I would do it but if I wasn’t so strong willed I definitely would have resorted to ‘topping up’ with formula. I knew that my body would provide Safina with what she needed but when she refused to sleep while in hospital the midwife told me she could do with a ‘comp feed’, I refused but when she became a bit jittery the midwife came down on me harder. She told me to feed the baby 20ml of formula. After five mil I cried and threw the bottle away and lied to the midwife about it (who was then happy with the baby). Since then she hasn’t had a drop of formula, in spite of various health visitors, friends and family members advising me that it would make my life easier by making her sleep longer, put weight on faster etc. It has taken time but Safina is now sleeping for longer stints and I can see light at the end of the tunnel.
The hardest parts of being a mother: The guilt and the fear that I mentioned earlier are probably the hardest parts but I also find I miss the really small and often mundane things about my life before motherhood. Being able to take my time with my housework or cooking a meal. I miss blasting out my music and cooking up a feast while devouring the best part of a bottle of rouge. That’s how I relaxed, I’ve never really been the ‘put-your-feet-up’ type. Today wine is limited to social occasions (which are few and far between) and I’m lucky if I get time to eat, let alone cook.
The best parts of being a mother: There are so many things, seeing Safina’s little face light up when she sees me, the sense of pride and achievement I feel when she achieves something, knowing that she’s such a perfect mix of me and her dad and that we managed to create something so awesome, but the ultimate best bit has to be the absolute unique relationship between me and Safina. Nobody else can feel what I feel, I have utter exclusivity as her mother and no one can ever come between that.
Hopes for your family: I’d like a little brother or sister for Safina, I think two would be enough for me but I know my partner would like more and I know he’d like to have a son one day – but three is my absolute limit. But besides the logistics – because I suppose you can’t really plan these things too closely and you never know what fate has in store for you – I just hope that Safina (and any future children) grow up to be well adjusted children/teenagers/adults. I want her to be confident yet modest, outgoing, intelligent, witty, creative and we’ll definitely be encouraging her to be musical. But I also want to give her the space to decide for herself who she wants to be and I just hope to be supportive in whatever path she chooses. I hope that Safina and I have a good relationship. I want to be liberal enough for her to make her mistakes while having instilled a strong moral compass which ensures she never goes too wayward. I hope she doesn’t listen to happy hardcore, wear fake tan or read the Daily Mail (although I can’t think of anyone who does all three). I hope she can come to me with her problems. Mostly I hope she is happy and comfortable in her own skin.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: I’d try my best to give minimal advice to expectant mums. Everyone who’s ever had children has something to say and when you’re pregnant you get bombarded with it. In saying that, I have already found myself rambling on to my pregnant friends about my experiences. My points of reference are usually labour – which I tell them in my opinion is not that bad. Your body is designed to do it and instinct will kick in if you don’t get yourself overly worked up. And breastfeeding – I encourage them to at least give it a go. I also think it’s important that you build a network of other mums or pregnant ladies. Even if you had nothing in common with these people before, you will undoubtedly be able to find common ground now. You need to be brave and put yourself out there, attend classes and baby groups and don’t be a wallflower, you never know when you might need that support. I have also found it really important to look after myself, get dressed and put on a bit of make-up even if no one will see you other than your baby. It stopped me feeling like a total zombie when I was sleep deprived. Most importantly I suppose is not to lose yourself and who you were before you were a mum. You need to do what’s best for you as well as your baby.