Expectations of Motherhood:I guess I didn’t really have any expectations of motherhood – I had no experience of babies whatsoever and could count the number of times I had held a baby on the fingers of one hand (1,2,3…yep, that was it), I had never changed a nappy, never been left alone with a baby, never helped to dress or bath or feed a baby. I think it’s fair to say I was utterly clueless. I knew it would be hard work, intense and tiring (although I had no idea just how hard work, intense and tiring!) and I was terrified by the ‘foreverness’ of having a child. There is no changing your mind, no going back, no half measures – once they are here, they are going to be around for the rest of your life and that’s a frightening prospect. Of course, once they arrive, the thought that they might not be around for the rest of your life is even more terrifying.
While I was pregnant I constantly stroked my bump – that feeling of love and protection was immediate and intense. I felt so proud of my body and loved the private little world I was sharing with my growing baby. People seemed friendlier in general, more helpful and chatty, and I enjoyed the slight nod of solidarity that I exchanged with fellow mums-to-be on the street. But alongside this sense of wonder, excitement and love, I also felt I was operating on a level of heightened anxiety – the worry of something going wrong was, for me, far more exhausting than the physical changes of pregnancy.
I was six days overdue when my contractions started and everything went according to plan, until a few hours later when I was rushed to hospital with a scary bleed. In the rush my birth plan went all to pot – I forgot my phone (containing my hypnobirthing mantras and music), and the bleed meant that the birthing pool was out of the question (somewhat to Dave’s relief, who was dreading having to use the “poo-catching net” of water-birth lore – yeah, thanks very much whoever told him about that). In the rush to leave the house we’d also forgotten the baby bag, so when Charlie was born he was swaddled, Baby Jesus-like, in hospital-issue blankets. It didn’t do me many favours in the Mother of the Year category when the midwife noticed I had remembered to bring THREE bags of my own clothes, either.
The labour itself was relatively straightforward and I got through on just gas and air. The pushing stage did seem to last a very long time, though – and I had an unfortunate experience with a less-than-tactful doctor (amongst myriad excellent hospital staff) who marched in, barked at my midwife to ‘JUST CUT HER!’, and marched out again. Talk about bad bedside manners. The best physical description I’ve heard of giving birth came from my best friend, now a mum of two, who when pressed to describe what it actually feels like (an impossible question, but you can’t help but ask) said: ‘It’s just like doing a massive poo.’ And, in a way, it is.
Dave left a few hours later to get some much needed sleep and I was left in the delivery suite with my son. My son. My son. My son. You have 9 months to prepare yourself, but it still feels most surreal when it actually happens. I tried to shower but was bleeding too much and left the bathroom looking much like the famous scene in Psycho. I remember trying to mop up the blood with loo roll whilst feeling like I was about to pass out before giving up and apologising profusely to the midwife.
The next morning, breakfast was brought and I asked for tea and bran-flakes. The rather brusque midwife left these just out of reach on my tray table. As I’d had a stitch (not to mention a baby) mere hours earlier, it was painful to move and as I watched my tea go cold and my bran-flakes go soggy, I suddenly felt like bursting into tears. It was all too much. How could I do this? I felt hopelessly out of my depth already. At exactly that moment, Charlie started to stir and I suddenly realised I had a choice. I could either fall apart, or I could dig deep, realise that this tiny person was entirely dependent on me, and step up to the mark. I popped to the loo, brushed my teeth, had a wash and changed my clothes. I emerged a different woman and felt genuinely excited and ready for this new chapter in my life and all of the uncertainties, challenges and adventures that lay ahead.
Taking your child home for the first time: We were able to go home later that day, although lack of food and loss of blood meant I almost fainted carrying Charlie out of the main hospital entrance. I managed to hand him to Dave in the nick of time – it’s not a very good start to motherhood: dropping your baby before you have even left the hospital. It took 15 minutes to fit the car seat (note to future parents: put the car seat in before you have the baby) and then Dave drove home so carefully (waiting ten minutes before right turns, hands at ten-to-two on the wheel etc) I felt as though I was sitting in on his driving test. When we got home, our three cats came for a quick sniff of the new family member and our biggest cat Fletch went to sleep in the pushchair, which set the tone for much (ongoing) territory-marking. It took us three weeks to name Charlie – which shouldn’t have been surprising given that it once took me three months to name my cat and she ended up “picking” her own (well, it was the piece of paper her paw touched first) from the shortlist. His middle name was easy and had been picked pretty much as soon as we found out we were expecting a boy at the 20-week scan – Frank, after my Dad.
Best Advice: Trust your body. It sounds a bit hippy, but it knows what it needs to do at every stage. Throughout my pregnancy and labour I was constantly amazed that my body could produce and provide everything that this baby needed to grow and develop into an actual mini human. It still blows my mind when I think about it. Ain’t nature great?!
Try to make time for yourself. Even if it’s just ten minutes a day and remember who you are. Becoming a Mum is an incredible experience. It does change your life but that doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself or your identity.
Seeing traits of the people I love in him. Sometimes he’ll grin at me (usually whilst doing something mischievous that he knows he shouldn’t be!) and I’ll just see Dave’s face looking back at me or he’ll be snoozing on the sofa, a perfect, miniature version of my Dad, his Pops. He has inherited the deepest, bluest eyes from my Mum and Sister, and when he shrugs and rolls his eyes, he is suddenly his eldest cousin. The person I love most in the world reflects the people I love most in the world and that is a wonderful thing.
Seeing how excited he gets about the simplest things is helping me to appreciate them afresh. All of the things I had been taking for granted or had stopped noticing years ago, I am suddenly seeing again. It is both humbling and inspiring to rediscover the world through his eyes.
Spending time with him – he is genuinely a cool and funny little guy. He has a cracking sense of humour and makes me laugh out loud on pretty much an hourly basis.
I love daydreaming about who Charlie will be, what he will do, what will excite, inspire and amaze him. The whole world lies in front of him just waiting to be explored. So many wonderful discoveries and untold adventures await him and I hope he will experience, embrace and enjoy it all.
The worst/hardest thing about being a mother: Constant worry, particularly about his health. I sometimes feel that I lurch from one paranoid obsession to the next: from 0- 6 months it was SIDS; from 6-12 months, meningitis; since 12 months (now he has learned to run and climb), it’s head injuries I fear the most.
It’s relentless! All day and all night, every day and every night, although we are really lucky that my family live close by and are happy to help out to give us a much-needed break.
The immense responsibility is sometimes overwhelming.
Has being a mother changed you?: Yes and no. I’m still the same person I was before I had Charlie, but with a few tweaks. I’m Charlie’s Mum and I am immensely proud of that, but I’m still Lucie – and that’s really important. Motherhood has changed me in the respect that I’m now much better at putting things into perspective and not sweating the small stuff. I also have a better work/life balance than ever. Being a mother is the most important thing in my life and Charlie comes first, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean that nothing else in my life matters. For me, being a good mother is about being able to balance all the different elements of your life and give each the right amount of time and energy to keep everything on an even keel. I don’t always get it right but I try.
Hopes for your growing family:
In no particular order:
That Charlie learns to stroke the cats gently rather than demonstrating his love by grabbing fistfuls of fur and pulling their tails.
That as a family we remain happy and healthy and strong and supportive for one another.
Advice for New / Expectant Mums: There is no ‘right’ way. There is no magic book that has all the answers and will, if followed to the letter, guarantee a happy, healthy, socially confident, well-balanced, polite and resourceful child who sleeps through the night from two weeks, eats a healthy and well balanced diet and never cries. Sorry.
You don’t need to buy everything the adverts tell you to – I was something of a marketing person’s dream. I despair of the number of things that remain in their boxes to this day…
That said, if you are planning to breastfeed and prefer to cover up, I would highly recommend buying a breastfeeding shawl (I opted for a Baby BuBu poncho style one with press studs so it fastened securely) My life changed after I bought it and suddenly feeding in public was a far less daunting prospect.
Go on a baby and children first aid course. Hopefully you’ll never need to put it into practice but the confidence and peace of mind it gives you is priceless. (www.milliestrust.com is an amazing charity that offers free / reasonably priced courses across the country)