Child: Vaughn, 15 months
Expectations of motherhood: For as long as I can remember, whenever I pictured my future, motherhood was always a part of it. When we first got married, Andy and I thought we’d probably give it a while but we soon realised that we didn’t really know what we were waiting for and now I can’t even remember what life was like before we became a family. Normally I’m the kind of person who likes to have as much information as possible at her fingertips, but when it came to preparing for labour I surprised myself by finding that I went for the ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach. I knew that my baby had to come out somehow and I decided I’d rather not read a load of books or think about it all too much. Even though I knew that I wanted to be a mum, I don’t remember having any particularly fixed idea of what life was going to be like after my baby arrived. I’m still the only one of my group of friends from uni to have a baby and I’d never even changed a nappy before the night my son was born! I think I figured that, when I had my own baby, I’d just know what to do. Obviously that wasn’t strictly true. I think every new mum constantly feels like she hasn’t got a clue what she’s doing, but you gradually build up some instincts over time as you get to know your child.
Realities of motherhood: The first unexpected development was that Vaughn decided to make his entrance a month early, and pretty quickly, while we were on holiday with friends in Devon. All the advice I’d been given was that labour takes ages and you’re best to stay at home as long as possible so I was utterly convinced it couldn’t be real labour. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the midwife at the local hospital telling me over the telephone: ‘you need to prepare yourself – you’re having a baby today’. My waters broke at 10:30 and Vaughn was born at 12:20. I was incredibly lucky to have such a quick, straightforward labour and that, apart from a slight infection, Vaughn was in perfect health. I’m really glad things happened the way they did. Because it was all so quick and unexpected I had no time to worry and, despite the pain, my clearest memory of labour is being really excited that I was about to meet my baby. And, as holiday souvenirs go, Vaughn is a lot better than a stick of rock! We even made it into the local paper – ‘Holiday couple get an Easter surprise’.
The early days of motherhood were such an emotional roller coaster. For a start, you’re massively sleep-deprived, and also your world has just completely narrowed overnight so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when things don’t go according to plan. When I struggled with breastfeeding I felt heartbroken and that I’d completely failed Vaughn. Now I’ve got some perspective, I regret putting myself through all that torment and guilt, instead of just focusing on enjoying my beautiful new baby.
Throughout pregnancy I thought of Vaughn as an extension of me and I remember when he was born being oddly surprised that he was a completely separate person. At first he was a little stranger really but over the weeks and months I gradually got to know him and now he’s the centre of my life. I don’t think anything can prepare you for how intense your love for your child is and what pure happiness they bring you.
Bringing your child home for the first time: Vaughn had a slight infection when he was born so we had to stay in hospital for 5 days while he had a course of antibiotics. Because we were in Devon we didn’t have any family visiting us, but it was actually quite nice to spend the first few days as a new family in a little bubble, just the three of us.
When we were discharged we had to get straight on the motorway to drive back to Manchester, so Andy wasn’t able to do the usual 1mph new dad drive home, although I did sit in the back and poke poor Vaughn every five minutes to check he was still breathing! Because we hadn’t expected to be bringing a baby home from holiday, the house was completely in disarray and not at all ready for him. Fortunately, we’d got the Moses basket a few days before we went away, but we had no bedding so we had to stop by my in-laws’ place on the way home to collect sheets that my sister-in-law had dropped off for us. One of the first things we saw when we arrived home was my birth plan sitting on the chest of drawers. Suffice to say, it had been a wee bit overtaken by events..
Best advice: Go to NCT classes – it really helps to have a support network of other new mums who are going through the same things.
During labour, try to focus on the fact that the pain is normal and every contraction is bringing you closer to meeting your baby – I found this really helped me to keep calm and get through my contractions, although I realise my labour was very short and this might not be so helpful after 12 hours!
I know this isn’t advice, but supportive comments from my friends and family have meant a lot. In the early days, when you’re exhausted and riddled with self-doubt, being told that you’re doing a good job gives you a real lift.
Worst advice: The Health Visitors kept telling me that Vaughn was right at the bottom of the growth chart and he needed to be weighed every fortnight. My gut instinct told me that he was feeding well and seemed very alert and content but I let myself get caught up in growth chart obsession. It wasn’t until his 8 month check that they realised he should have been on the premature baby chart and there had actually been no cause for concern at all.
If you pick your baby up too much you’ll spoil him – I took absolutely no notice of this one. Conversely, I was told that babies need lots of love and assurance because they don’t know it isn’t two hundred years ago and there isn’t a wolf at the door; even though it sounds strange, that made a lot more sense to me!
Hardest parts of being a mother: It’s very full on. In the early days I was up all night and absolutely exhausted but now it’s a different kind of tiredness; Vaughn sleeps really well at night but during the day he’s constantly on the go and me with him!
You’re always questioning yourself and feeling guilty about whether you’re doing all the right things. When Vaughn was about three days old I told one of the midwives that I was worried about whether I was stimulating him enough and she pretty much laughed at me.
Best parts of being a mother: Watching Vaughn grow and change and develop his own personality is just so exciting. It’s been incredible watching my tiny bundle become a real little boy; running around, playing with toys and even developing his own sense of humour. It’s amazing to think that he’s got his whole life ahead of him and I get to watch him grow up and see who he becomes.
I love how joyful and happy Vaughn is. When I’m dancing around the living room with him, throwing him in the air, and he’s laughing his head off, it’s the purest happiness imaginable.
Hopes for my family: For us all to stay healthy and happy and look after each other. That Vaughn grows up to be a kind, thoughtful person; and that he always knows how loved he is.
It’s okay to take some time for yourself. In the first few weeks, when your baby sleeps a lot during the day, make the most of being able to have a nap yourself or just have a cup of tea and read a book.
Get out and about and meet other new mums.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You always judge yourself more harshly than you’d ever judge anyone else. Giving yourself a break can be easier said than done but the very fact that you care so much about doing the right thing, just goes to show that you can’t be a rubbish mum!