Alison, Nora and Frank

Name: Alison 

Nora, 2.5 and Frank,11 weeks

Heald Green, Stockport

Expectations of Motherhood: I never thought I would be a mother. We married on the understanding that we would be fabulously child-free so it came as something of a shock when I woke up one day (and it was that sudden) and wanted, needed to have a baby. I then had to break the news to my husband that I had experienced a complete about face, fortunately, once we had had some conversations about it he was on board and we started trying to conceive. It was then eighteen months before I get pregnant, by which time I thought it was never going to happen.

Once pregnant, I expected that I would be still me, but with a child. That I would feel, behave and think in exactly the same way. That I would have time to read, and cook and create exactly as I had before. That I wouldn’t mind sharing the childcare with my wider family, and that I would be happy to skip back to work just as before. I expected my child to be a mini version of myself and my husband, someone I could share my favourite children’s books with, who I could teach everything I’ve learned so far and who I could absolutely make sure doesn’t make the same mistakes that I did. 

Only one of those expectations proved to be accurate.

Reality of Motherhood: That it is constant wiping, so much wiping!
Seriously though, it has been life changing, and brain changing. I don’t think in the same way as I did before, I can’t feel or behave in the same ways that I did. My daughter is not a mini-me, she is a small but perfectly independent and unique person in entirely her own right and I wasn’t expecting that. 

I wasn’t expecting to find breastfeeding so hard. I had been to a class at the hospital and a La Leche meeting too so I really thought it would be fine for us. I thought that I would put my baby to my breast and she would know what to do and was surprised when she didn’t. However I was also surprised by how much I wanted to nurse my baby and so put up with the toe curling pain it cost me to feed her. I think that was my first lesson in the sacrifices that motherhood can require. I sought help from every source available but it was still 7 wince-inducing weeks before it felt ‘easy’. It then became a key part of our relationship, a vital tool in my mothering and something I mourned when it finished after sixteen months.
When my son was born I made sure I had expert support lined up. A tongue tie was spotted when he was 3 days old which was snipped on day 5 and I noticed an immediate difference. However feeding him is not the leisurely, relaxing experience that it was with Nora, he squirms, grunts and is finished in 5 minutes… I have compared nursing him to feeding a baby piglet, this means I’ve had to develop new strategies for nap and bedtime which are not entirely successful yet.

I wasn’t expecting that my children would be so different from each other. I spent the first few minutes of Frank’s life saying ‘But he has a different face!’ Although that might be the side effects of diamorphine. With my daughter I felt an immediate rush of love for her, a sense that she was awesome and incredible. With my son I just felt that he was a very nice baby and relieved that he was ok (his shoulders got stuck as he was born). This difference in feeling didn’t worry me, I knew that I would love him but it would be a slow burn. Six weeks in that love is growing and getting stronger, it is solid and immutable and entirely his own.

Taking your children home for the first time: That was weird. When we brought Nora home it felt completely unbelievable that our driveway, our house, our furniture should all have remained the same when the universe had shifted so completely. We welcomed her home surrounded by loving grandparents and once they had left felt utterly unprepared for what we should do next.

Bringing Frank home was more of a logistical problem as we weren’t sure whether or not we would be discharged until the last minute and had to make sure that childcare for Nora was arranged. We were home for just under 24 hours when we were recalled to hospital because he was jaundiced. My memory of this time is of Nora standing by our front door, crying and sobbing ‘Please don’t take him away from me’. It still hurts to think of that night.

The best/worst advice: Best… Find your tribe. Find people who mother in a similar way to yourself. It is ok that other people do it differently but it is invaluable to have a sounding board you can trust.

Worst… Anything to do with feeding, or sleep. All you can do is follow your baby’s lead, try to tune into your own instincts and tune out all the voices shouting ‘You should be….’

The hardest parts of being a mother: I wasn’t expecting to find the change from not-a-mother to mother so hard, the reassignment of my identity to a whole new one was difficult, but at the same time rather interesting, a new version of me was being born. I did not at the outset, enjoy the new state of being constantly interrupt-able and, two and a half years into the process still don’t. I was going to put a little symbol every time I was interrupted during the writing of this piece but it would have made the text unreadable.

The best parts of being a mother: So many new friends. I don’t make new friends easily. I have a sound friendship group from school days and have met a few kindred spirits since but mostly I stick a few core people and feel a little distrustful when a new body is introduced to the group. However in motherhood this isn’t possible, other people make the journey bearable, even enjoyable and through groups like La Leche, baby-wearing and a vital early days massage class, I found my tribe.

The other thing I really love is sharing my favourite books with my children, so much so that I launched a blog to list every book that we have read together. I never mind being interrupted when she asks me to read to her.

Has becoming a mother changed you: I am a stronger feminist than I ever was, and more strongly attached to my children than I ever thought I could be. I firmly believe that breastmilk is the natural food for a human baby and will do anything that I can to support another woman in her breastfeeding journey whilst remaining respectful of her right to make her own informed choices.

Hopes for your (growing) family: That my children grow in love for each other; that they have a strong sibling bond that I as an only child never got to experience. That my husband and I learn to balance our own needs with those of this children and of the family unit. That I am as fair and kind to my family as it is possible to be.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums:
I’m not sure I would offer advice. It’s your experience and you will find your own way. If a mum is interested in some of the ways that I have learnt then I would suggest books which have helped me…’The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,’ for one, and ‘The Food of Love,’ which saved me in the early days. ‘Three in a Bed’ and ‘Sweet Sleep’ which are gentle and backed by good scientific research.

Oh, and take a squeezy bottle and lavender & tea tree oils into hospital to douse your bits during those first stingy wees.

Extra Info:
I’m Librarian, currently on Mat Leave. I like wearing my babies in beautiful wraps and I miss solitude more than I am comfortable admitting.

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