Child: Jude, 4 months
Expectations of motherhood: As selfish as this sounds, I meandered rather half-heartedly into the journey of becoming a mum, foolishly believing that because I was in my mid thirties it probably wouldn’t happen. I wasn’t really bothered about having a baby – what I really wanted was a Kitchen Aid in Boysenberry, to match my decor!
Anyway, the Kitchen Aid never happened but the pregnancy did, and went undetected for two whole months until I couldn’t stop crying one week as I was so tired, took a test and – BOOM – there was the evidence of a little growing human. I had a happy, healthy pregnancy and continued exercising throughout. I even ran a 10k at 7mths pregnant (finishing last out of over 300 people, but I had an excuse, right?!)
Other than drinking wine and eating blue cheese, being pregnant didn’t stop me doing anything, so I was adamant that it wouldn’t be any different once he arrived. This baby would have to fit in with me, my lifestyle and what I wanted to do. After all, how hard could it be? All that time off on maternity leave…I’d be able to run every day, go to the gym, go on big walks with the buggy…surely I’d be slinking back to work in a year’s time a good couple of dress sizes smaller, all glowing and yummy-mummy-like.
That was the master plan anyway!
Reality of Motherhood: When people ask me if I’d have another baby in the future I always say the same thing: I would happily repeat the pregnancy, the birth, and the first few days when I was in that weird post-baby “bubble” of altered reality. What I would not wish to repeat were the two weeks that followed. Nobody talks about the colossal crash/comedown that happens as a result of sleep deprivation and hormonal changes and all the other stuff that’s going on.
I was NOT prepared to feel like this, as it was the most miserable I’ve ever felt in my life. I desperately mourned my old life, with all that lovely freedom (and sleep) I once took for granted, and I genuinely felt as though I was going mad. I think this is the closest I have probably been to having a mental illness, and I can appreciate how bewildering and scary it must be for people who experience things like depression, paranoid delusions and psychotic episodes.
I had it in my head that Jude could sense that I was totally crap at this mum stuff and that he hated me, as every time I picked him up he seemed to cry when he would settle down for everyone else. It was as if he knew I hadn’t really wanted a baby and was punishing me, which is stupid as babies obviously don’t have the ability to think like that! One day my husband had to ring the Health Visitor as I refused to get out of bed, or hold Jude or feed him – I just wanted everything to go away and go back to how it was before he arrived. And to compound this, I then felt incredibly guilty and foolish for being so bad at this as everyone else who’d had babies seemed to be having such an amazing time with their new bundle, and I was sat there at 3am Googling things like “what to do if you hate your baby”.
My Health Visitors were amazing and reassured me that this life upheaval was bound to drive these extreme feelings and they saw it all the time. So I was normal – hurrah!
As the weeks passed, gradually I started to feel as though I was bonding with him and that he probably didn’t hate me after all. I didn’t feel this immediate rush of love for him, he was definitely a grower!
Once my husband went back to work after a blissful month off with us, it was as if something switched in my head. I was a bit like “right kiddo, I’m all you’ve got for the whole day until daddy comes home after 5pm so we need to work together and get through this, and I’ll try and keep you alive if you try not to send me crazy!” and this made it easier to just get on with things.
I threw myself into classes and activities in order to break up the day as the prospect of sitting in the house staring at this new baby was my worst nightmare. I still attend some classes like Sling Swing, Aqua Babies and Adventure Babies, and I’ve recently started taking him to a Spanish class for babies where we sing songs about farm animals – sometimes a bit surreal after a night of reduced sleep but good fun! My family take the mickey out of me and say that Jude needs a PA to manage his diary, but I’m glad I started the classes as I’ve met some amazing people, and it stimulates Jude so he has big afternoon sleeps as his little brain needs to digest all the sounds, sights and colours from the day.
But I’m still not making it to the gym or out for all those runs that I said I would, the day pretty much revolves around Jude, so my original master-plan needs some work!
Taking your child home for the first time: As much of a cliche as it sounds, I genuinely expected someone to stop us halfway out the door and say that there was a mistake and that we had to keep him in the hospital! Overall I was keen just to get him home and introduce him to the cats and let him see his new surroundings. The cats were very underwhelmed – they sniffed him, looked at us with disdain, and skulked back off upstairs!
The best/worst advice: The best advice I’ve had was from a colleague at work who had recently had a baby. She said “you just figure it out” and this is so true! You get to learn their little ways and what they like or don’t like, even though they can’t really communicate other than by crying at you for the first few months. Nobody knows your baby like you, so it’s just a case of trusting your instincts.
The worst advice I’ve had is to try and sleep when the baby sleeps. Nice idea but wasn’t practical for me unless I was prepared to never leave the house. Jude tended to nap the minute we got in the car, or went to Tesco, or visited relatives so it wasn’t really a thing for me!
Hardest part of being a mother: I often struggle with the loss of freedom and spontaneity. Some days you just want to camp out in the beer garden because it’s a rare sunny day, and you just fancy a few drinks in the sunshine, without having to worry about consequences. And then you remember you need to breastfeed your 4mth old baby and be a responsible adult, so that type of afternoon is off the cards. Also looking after a baby with any sort of hangover – no way – done it once, it’s the worst type of torture!
Best part of being a mother: Watching this little person that you’ve created, and seeing him make sense of the world and take pleasure in things. Watching him gain real joy from things like singing songs or playing hide/boo games. Being the first person he sees when he opens his eyes in the morning and the first recipient of that huge gummy grin that follows!
Has being a mother changed you? I’ve tried so hard to maintain a real sense of my own identity because I was adamant that this was something I wasn’t prepared to compromise. I’ve seen quite a few friends – smart, articulate and witty women – turn into obsessed super-mums who only ever talk about their children and literally have no other conversation, and I’ve always sworn that this wouldn’t be me. You won’t find me spamming social media with hundreds of pictures, or putting things like #myworld or #blessed because when its not your child, it’s actually pretty boring! I tell my husband off for boring his Facebook and Instagram followers with Jude pics though, so hopefully I’ve managed to retain my self-awareness!
If anything, becoming a mum has made me a bit more chilled out about the smaller things. I used to like the house to look immaculate, or stress out about being 5 minutes late for things. I’ve had to relax about these things as sometimes they’re out of my control. As long as Jude goes to bed happy, fed and healthy at the end of a day, that’s all that really matters.
Hopes for my growing family: I’ve been reading a book about why Danish children are among the happiest in world, and it’s basically down to them being brought up in an environment where they are encouraged to try things even if they fail, to have a strong sense of self worth, and are shown how to see the good in others. I’d just want to bring up a confident and happy little boy who was ready for the big wide world. I’d love Jude to enjoy exercise as I didn’t get into exercise until I was an adult and I regret that, but if he gets into parkrun then I’d want it to be about running together as a family and not focussed on times, or beating people or worrying about being too slow. Although if he inherits his dad’s running abilities then he’ll probably be at the finish line a good ten minutes before me as he gets older!
Advice for new and expectant mums: The best advice I would give to a new mum who might be starting out breastfeeding is not to get obsessed with doing it the “perfect” way that they show you in hospital. Part of my anxiety was driven by the fact that I wasn’t doing it exactly how I’d been shown by the midwife. Jude was (and still is) a very squirmy baby so wouldn’t stay in the “tummy to mummy” position and preferred to flip onto his back. Dunno why but presume it was more comfortable for him – he still feeds like that to this day. I was convinced that I wasn’t doing it right so how could he possibly be taking enough milk or nutrition? Was I starving him to death? In hindsight, I’d say that breastfeeding is like learning to drive. Your lessons will show you the ideal textbook way to do it, but you can still adapt your style and drive perfectly safely once you’re out there on your own. You find your own way.