Child:Maia, 15 months
Expectations of Motherhood:As long as I can remember I wanted children. As a child, dolls were my favourite toys and having travelled a fair bit and met my husband, having children was up there with my big ambitions. My elder sister already had four children and had made it look easy. I loved being around my niece and nephews and as a primary teacher I have a pretty good knowledge of young children. I knew that we would try to start a family at some point after we got married, but I think that when I did get pregnant it came as a bit of a surprise to both of us.
We quickly got stuck into planning and buying and preparing, and the whole pregnancy was just a happy blur of new experiences. I was definitely more concerned with the birth than being a mother and although I knew in the back of my head that there would be sleepless nights and hard work, childbirth was definitely my number one thought. NCT classes had taught me all I needed to know about thinking positively and keeping calm so at least the birth would more than likely go smoothly. I was going to have a water birth with just gas and air for assistance. When I did picture ‘motherhood’ it was having a tiny, content, quiet baby who did everything if not in advance then at least on cue, rarely crying and sleeping well.
Reality of Motherhood: A bit different! I had a pretty intense labour, lasting 56 hours. The birthing pool didn’t come into the equation, and gas and air was only the beginning of a large drug cocktail. By the end of it what I really needed was three weeks in the Caribbean but obviously that wasn’t going to happen. The first day was amazing, showing her off proudly to all the family, but that night, alone with this new person in a noisy ward, it all hit home. Pain, exhaustion, emotions & hormones all coincided. One thing for which I was completely unprepared was the length of time it took to recover. I felt like I had been hit by several buses. It was two days before I could get out of bed by myself and three weeks before I could sit easily. I remember going to the doctors a few days after we got home and standing at the back of the waiting room weeping!
Little by little, the birth faded into a distant memory and we got to know our bundle of fun. Needless to say I definitely didn’t have that tiny, content being I was carrying before birth. Maia was almost 9lbs and spent most of her first three months exercising her lungs. It seemed to me that she was either asleep or crying and little in between. I was so stressed when we were around other people because I felt that if she cried I should be able to calm her. When that didn’t happen I panicked. I quickly realised I have a very low tolerance threshold for my daughter’s cries and I held numerous conversations walking about with her in my arms or swinging her about in her car seat in a frantic bid to keep her calm. She screamed every time she was in the car (“but all babies fall asleep in the car right?” er…no) so I made countless stops in laybys and carparks to feed & change and re-settle. By 4 months I started to enjoy her much more. She was happy and following her own little routine which made everything a lot easier. As she became more predictable we became more able to satisfy her needs and we were all a lot more relaxed. Now, at 15 months we’re into whole new range of obstacles: toddlerhood! But now I feel so much more in control, and if not exactly ‘experienced’ then at least ‘prepared’.
Taking your child home for the first time: I was so happy to be out of hospital, it didn’t occur to me that it would be a bit of a mission looking after both myself and my daughter. Luckily my husband had two weeks off so he made sure we were both fed and the house was clean(ish). I followed that great advice ‘sleep when they sleep’ pretty well and generally tried to recover. We found it so hard to put Maia in her cot without her screaming that for the first two weeks she slept on my tummy. Most of our sleep was more ‘passing out from sheer exhaustion’ than restful sleep. I remember the night I managed to put her down after each feed. We celebrated!
The best/worst advice:The best advice I have received since becoming a mother is ‘follow your instincts’. The day my friend told me to ignore the experts and do what I thought was right was a turning point for me. I stopped being anxious that I wasn’t doing things ‘right’ and concentrated on what Maia was telling me instead. The worst advice? Anything that starts with ‘All babies…’. There are billions of people on this earth. There is no way that ‘all babies’ do anything except eat, sleep and poo. And there are a zillion ways they can do those, too.
The hardest parts of being a mother:The worry! Since before day one a day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t questioned something. Every single aspect of Maia’s life has been questioned at some point. Just take sleep for example. Why won’t she go to sleep? Is she getting enough sleep? Why is she still asleep? Why won’t she stay in her cot? Why does she sleep better with us? Does she have a good enough bedtime routine? Is she warm enough/cool enough? Will she wake up again before morning??? That’s just sleep. Multiply that by all the other aspects of her life and you kind of get how much I worry about her. And I’m told its worse when they’re teenagers. Other than that, well sleepless nights are very, very hard, especially when they never seem to end. But I find coffee a remarkable drug.
The best parts of being a mother:There are so so many and they occur on a daily basis. Watching her grow and develop into her own person is just amazing. The way her face lights up when she’s happy, or the cheeky look on her face as she tries to hide from a nappy change. The way she roars when she’s being a lion or pants when she’s being a dog. Her expression of surprise when she experiences a new taste or sensation and her joy at seeing people she knows. Every day she seems to learn something new and seeing her reach each new milestone is simply a wonderful feeling.
Hopes for your family: That Maia will grow into a happy, confident and likeable girl. That she will be academically able, friendly and polite. That she will experience all the good things life has to offer and as little of the bad as possible. I hope that Harry and I will always do what is best for her and our family and that we keep learning and growing as parents. That she will avoid boys until she’s 21 and even then only pick the good ones.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums:Beware the parent police! There are countless ‘experts’ out there, countless and conflicting books, well meaning (or otherwise) friends, family, local old crones who all believe it their duty to advise you in the best methods of bringing up YOUR child. Sleeping, feeding, discipline whatever. Listen to them all and you’ll go mad. The best thing I heard was ‘all babies are different, all parents are different’ (thanks Mum!). Follow your instincts and do what YOU think is right for your child, your family and you. If that means formula feeding at birth (*gasp*), breastfeeding till age 3 (*shock*) or sleeping three or more in a bed (*impossible*) do it and relax because you are doing what works.