Child: Florence (9 months)
Expectations of Motherhood: Being the oldest of three children, and having a mother who was a childminder when I was young gave me fairly realistic expectations. Quite a few of our friends had babies in the year or so prior to us, particularly our best friends, so we had experienced their joys and frustrations second-hand.
In terms of getting pregnant, I was really disappointed that it didn’t happen straight away. I come from what seems like an ultra-fertile family – my relatives pop out babies left, right and centre with very little difficulty so I had always assumed that I would be the same. The months ticked by until I found myself at the doctor’s, having been trying for a year without success. I was referred to the hospital and after various tests they discovered I had PCOS.
At this point, I realised I had been putting my life on hold – I was stuck in a job with a bullying boss, producing photographic work with no real focus, with dreams of doing something to inspire me – so I got a new job and a place on an MA course. Starting a new job coincided with taking fertility drugs – my poor boss must have wondered what sort of madwoman he had employed. And within three months, I was pregnant. Having to break that news three months into a new job was a little embarrassing, but as we’d waited two years by that point, we were ecstatic.
I was slightly apprehensive about maternity leave as I have always been very focused on my career as a photography teacher and enjoy being independent and socially active. I was photographing abandoned buildings for my MA project, we ate out and went to gigs all the time – I couldn’t see how any of that was going to be compatible with motherhood…
Reality of Motherhood: Turns out none of it was, but I don’t care now we’ve got Florence!
Motherhood is amazing. It is joyful, it is magical, it is wonderful. And it is bloody relentless. I don’t think I had longer than an hour to myself in the first four or five months. There are days when I practically throw Florence at Ewan as he walks through the door, and there have been days where I have just sat and cried with her, but as I have been told so many times, it gets easier. Those days are few and far between now, as Florence and I have grown into each other’s rhythms – I know when she is likely to get grumpy and how to prevent (or to get through) it. But it is rare – she is a lot of fun to be with. I can’t think of a person I would rather hang out with. And certainly no-one else with whom I would willingly spend 24 hours a day.
The reality is strange though – just last week I thought, “I’m a married mother of one” and it seemed like somebody far away from me; somebody older and wiser.
Taking your child home for the first time: I couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital. The birth was quite quick (so I’m told – 11 hours didn’t feel that quick to me, but what would I know?) but I lost a lot of blood at the end, so I had to stay in overnight. I wasn’t expecting that, and after a hot, sleepless night with a shellshocked newborn baby, and two meconium-filled nappies to deal with when I could barely stand up, I just wanted to get home. I hassled the midwives (apologies) and even spent the final hour sweltering in my coat as some sort of pointless protest. When they finally let us go, I felt like the first woman in the world to take her baby home from a hospital. Walking gingerly along, carrying this tiny bundle, I was so proud when people stopped to look and ask about her – I thought we were so special, but people are just interested in tiny babies I now realise!
Both sets of parents had turned up at the hospital within a couple of hours of Florence being born, so my parents set off first to put the kettle on (a brew solving all of life’s problems) whilst we carefully buckled Florence into the car and spent the five minute journey home on full alert for signs of reckless driving (everywhere).
We got home, and all six of us just looked at her in the carseat. Shit!
The best/worst advice: It’s been said many times on here, but being told to wake your child up to feed them is just beyond comprehension. Here you are, an exhausted new mother with no idea what’s going on and a midwife tells you (as she did me) to blow in their face to keep them awake, to strip them naked and wipe a cool flannel on their body. I cannot believe that I even attempted this (never the cold flannel – the midwife did that at the hospital and I was horrified) but I was told that if I didn’t feed Florence every two hours that she would sleep through the hunger signs and become too weak to wake up, and essentially die. As if I wasn’t worried enough! With the next one, I will definitely leave them to sleep. Oh how I will leave them to sleep!
Another piece of terrible advice – sleep when the baby sleeps. I don’t understand when you are meant to wash, put a wash on, clean up, cook etc if you are always asleep at the same time as your baby. How would anything get done? And I am lucky enough to have a hardworking husband and loads of really supportive family and friends nearby. I shared some naps during a few weeks of a brutal growth spurt, and the house looked practically derelict. We ate a lot of beans on toast (when we’d remembered to buy bread – sometimes just beans).
The best advice has been to do things my own way and ignore all other advice! I feel lucky that I have been brought up to be very confident in my abilities and I resolutely refused to read any books during pregnancy. I am not doing things the way the midwives and health visitors suggest (co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, baby-led weaning etc), but do you know what? I have a really happy and healthy little girl who loves life so I must be doing something right.
I understand that not everyone will feel confident enough to forge ahead blindly, and that seeking advice can be really helpful but I think one needs to be aware of over-seeking. You can find evidence to support whichever path you choose to take, and worrying about the smallest details won’t have any real bearing on the way your child grows up. We are all brought up differently but on the whole, most people are pretty decent human beings.
The hardest parts of being a mother: The absolute relentlessness. Feeling a bit tired? Cranky? Headache, sore throat, cold, backache, unable to go to the toilet because of stitches? Tough. Get up, get on, do it. Your baby has no concept of you as a separate being – you are simply there to nourish them. It changes and evolves as they get older, but it hasn’t let up yet! The initial newborn helplessness segues nicely into separation anxiety and now Florence is developing mobility with alarming speed – if I so much as look the other way she manages to crawl to something dangerous, grab the cat or otherwise cause mischief.
The failure to protect your child is something that I can only imagine increases as they become more independent. Whenever Florence falls over or is in pain, I feel like I have failed as a mother. When she gets older and has her heart broken, or gets teased at school for something, or is influenced by insidious advertising I will fail over and over. All I can do is my best, but it won’t always be good enough.
The best parts of being a mother: Seeing your baby for the first time. I couldn’t believe that this amazingly perfect little thing was mine. It took about six months to stop wondering when the knock on the door would come to take her back – I was sure we were only allowed Florence due to some administrative error.
Making her smile and laugh. Florence was an early smiler, at around two weeks, but didn’t give up laughs easily. She was easily amused, but didn’t give a real belly laugh until????? Now we know how to get a giggle from her, but it’s also exciting discovering new ways.
Seeing Florence interact with others. She is a sociable little thing and particularly loves other babies and children. Because she is so smiley, people react to that so she does get a lot of attention when we’re out – it’s great because I’m quite outgoing but people think you’re a bit odd if you just strike up conversation with them – a baby is a great excuse. I’ve met so many people through having Florence and had so many positive experiences just chatting to strangers when out and about.
Each new experience with her is amazing too – every time she does something new, I become extraordinarily excited. Just seeing positive (and sometimes negative) elements of yourself and your partner emerging in this tiny being is interesting beyond belief – genetics is infinitely fascinating to the people involved!
Has becoming a mother changed you? It has made me more tolerant of others – I used to get really annoyed about small things, like bad driving or someone being grumpy but now I try to put myself in their shoes more. They may have been up all night with a screaming baby; they might be experiencing any number of difficulties. Or they might just be an idiot. But I can’t know one way or another and I would want to be given the benefit of the doubt, so I must do the same for others.
It has made me a bit softer, I think (and not just physically). I was probably a bit more cynical before. It has made me wonder at the world again – if Florence finds a tiny piece of foil fascinating, then perhaps it is. Maybe I need to look again.
What I was worried about prior to birth and what I have been really pleased to discover though, was that motherhood hasn’t changed me – it has added to my experience and personality but I am still essentially Laura.
Hopes for your family: I hope that we treat each other (and those around us) with kindness and respect. I hope that we can all be patient with each other.
I hope that we can provide siblings for Florence; we are both one of three siblings and would love to recreate the childhoods we both had, and the bonds we have with our siblings. I hope that our children love each other and like each other.
I hope I’m one of the cool mums when Florence goes to school…
On a practical level: stock up the freezer with meals that are easy to chuck in the microwave; accept all offers of help; let visitors get their own drinks and be firm about how long they stay.
Above all, don’t worry if you don’t feel like a ‘natural’ mother straight away. This is the biggest change you could ever make in your life – why on earth should you know exactly what you’re doing? It took me at least three months to get the hang of breastfeeding, and even now I don’t think I’ve ever managed to leave the house with everything I need in the nappy bag.