First time mother: the theory and the reality

It’s been more than 6 months that I brought my baby home. All this time I felt a massive mix of feelings, mainly frustration and happiness. I’ve got a healthy, smiley baby. He’s gorgeous and other than for a strong aversion to sleeping (I guess the world is just too amazing to waste time sleeping), he’s easy to look after. My frustration comes from what I was told caring for a baby should be. I explain.

I never wanted to be a mother and when I decided, with my husband, that it was time to change that, I was too busy to actually prepare for it. I never observed other babies, never even liked children (not sure if I do yet…) so obviously I knew nothing about little monsters.During pregnancy I was studying, working, doing my NVQ, moving house, getting married… I didn’t have time to enjoy pregnancy (which I regret a little) or to learn what babies are like. So at the end of the 9 months we went to a 3 session ante-natal course, offered locally. It was really good and we received lots of advice. And I want to say ‘good advice’, but I’m not sure about the good. The midwives running the course had good intentions and the NHS care where we live is amazing when it comes to pregnancy and child care. The problem is that reality and theory couldn’t be more different, at least in our case.

We were told all about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), or cot death, as we know it. We learned about room temperature, the approximate tog for each item of clothing, how to put the baby to sleep on his back in a cot or basket, the importance of keeping him in the room with us at all times. All very well. Apart from the detail that his room is rarely under the ideal temperature. And that we opted for cloth nappies and the tog information was for disposables (as new parents EVERY detail count). And that our baby simple refused to sleep in his basket, and still does. so imagine my desperation when I was massively sleep deprived and baby would sleep only if I held him. Because, obviously, in my mind, if I put him on his side or front to sleep, or in bed with me, he would die. Obviously.

Then there was breastfeeding. Oh God! That was even worse, because now it was all on me, I couldn’t share this one with Rob. The emphasis on breastfeeding is so strong that formula feeding is not even discussed (one of the midwives even apologised for that) and we were told that the mother will produce as much milk as the baby needs, never less or of lesser quality. Well, I tell you, it didn’t make me feel particularly happy or proud to be a mother when my baby was crying because he was hungry and my breasts were empty. And since formula feeding wasn’t even discussed, we didn’t know what to do, how to choose something suitable. I cried many, many times because I was letting my baby go hungry, which made me feel like the worse person in the world. Add that to hormonal changes after pregnancy, lack of sleep and general baby blues and bang! a perfect recipe for post natal depression. Which thankfully I didn’t get to have yet, but I’m under watch.

I know that health and social services have to give us all the best advice and that the NHS works based on evidence and statistics. I know breastfeeding gives babies a tailored recipe full of exactly what they need and formula can’t do that. But I also know that there’s not one size fits all method and I think we were led to believe that there is. OK, we were naive to think that everything will follow the perfect plan, and maybe even in trusting the advice received so blindly. But when you’re talking about cot death, how do you choose which risk to take? Do I risk crushing my baby by putting him to sleep with us or do I risk letting him suffocate in his own vomit by putting him to sleep on his front? I mean, my mum put all 3 of us to sleep on our bellies and we’re all alive. In fact she almost freaked out when I said I was going to put my baby to sleep on his back, because that’s the way she learned and she did with her children and it worked fine and if the baby throws up the vomit won’t suffocate him, right? Right?

So there it is. We learned the hard way that all advice, even official NHS and WHO advice have to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Now we’re weaning Henry and we’re more relaxed. We still follow the advice we receive, but not to the letter. It’s making everything so much easier.I’m still a bit frustrated that I can’t carry on breastfeeding him a little longer, but he’s healthy and chubbier now, so I guess we’re doing the right thing by using formula in most milk feeds and using expressed breast milk to prepare food for him. I hope one day I can help other women to feel the confidence I didn’t (and still don’t) have. After all, a relaxed, confident mother does a much better job.


The difference between parenting and motherhood:

Since Henry was born I’ve been thinking about the difference between parenting and motherhood. i didn’t look in the dictionary, I don’t really want to know the official meaning of the words. I just feel they are so different, that I keep trying to put feelings, thoughts, even facebook posts into two boxes, one labelled motherhood and the other parenting.

Here’s how I see them. Parenting is how to educate your child. Focus on the child’s educational needs – good manners, playing games, discipline, make sure they are clean, safe, fed, the homework is done and so on. Something my husband will share with me, after all, he is also a parent.

Now, motherhood, that’s a completely different story. This is something exclusive to me. Rob will never know what motherhood is because… well, because he is a man, so he will experience fatherhood. Motherhood is how I feel about being a mother: fear, happiness, love, doubts, insecurities. No doubt many men have these same feelings, and Rob does so too, but our view of the world is different because of the different roles we play. There is also the biological, tribal, all female thing, I don’t know how to explain. That bond that women have for having gone through the challenge of becoming mothers (whether through pregnancy or adoption), that links me, to my mother, my grandmother and all the women in my family.

I had my parents staying with us for 3 weeks and my motherhood clan theory was proved right. My mum gave me a lot of advice and some criticism as well (of course), but more than anything, we shared the experience of 35 years ago and now. I felt closer than ever to her when I said that breastfeeding is being an almost endless source of frustration for me, and she agreed. She had exactly the same problems when I was born. That gave me not only comfort, but also confidence to know I’m doing the right thing and am not the only one to struggle. In fact, it made me stronger as a mother and as a daughter because now I know my mother and I are even more alike.

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

…the morning, actually. Christmas Eve 2013, 7a.m. I was working in the sterile unit in the manufacturing pharmacy, preparing cytotoxic drugs for chemotherapy, so when my period was late I rushed to have a pregnancy test done first thing in the morning, just in case. The chances of being pregnant were minimal, but better safe than sorry. And there it was: a blue, not so faint, little cross. I was surprised, scared, happy, confused, still sleepy.

My first reaction was to call Rob and let him know. I would see him that evening but I didn’t want the principal pharmacist at work to be the first person to know the news. So I called Rob, apologised for waking him up and informed him I was pregnant. Or at least that was what the pregnancy test said. He said something like “Good, come home after work. Love you”. I think he wasn’t awake enough yet, but at least I  officially told him first. I also called my GP and booked an appointment for that afternoon. I wanted to be sure that I was going to be a mother and needed to talk to someone who would give me a straight answer and not make a big fuss about it. The GP said that my pregnancy test (a Clearblue) was accurate enough and he felt confident I was really pregnant, so he was sending my details to the hospital where I worked to be contacted by a midwife. Yes, that simple. To this day I don’t know if this was the reassurance I needed, but I guess there’s a bit of a cultural shock there (I’ll come back to this point in the future).

It was my Christmas present. I told my sister and them my parents, who told my other sister. In Brazil we celebrate Christmas eve more than the actual Christmas day, so the timing was perfect. The next day we told Rob’s dad and his wife, during our Christmas lunch.

So, with so much going on already (work, college, NVQ, travelling with my parents, moving back in with Rob and redecorating the house),  I  also found myself getting pregnant. And just before that I had proposed a fundraising campaign to the people from the spiritist centre and they accepted it. I had too much on my plate and had to leave something behind. The blog went first. Then facebook was off for a while. Once I finished my fundraising Easter bunnies, crochet was reduced to a blanket for baby and 2 little dresses for friends who got pregnant at around the same time. Oh! and I learned to knit -properly- and made 2 vests and a pair of socks for baby.

2014 flew by so fast, I almost didn’t see it. I finished college, and NVQ, left work on a full maternity cover (yay for the NHS), had the most wonderful baby ever and now, almost 4 months after Henry was born, I’m trying to catch up with life. Starting with the blog. If things go as I plan (don’t hold your breath) I will be cooking, sewing, knitting and doing LOTS of crochet, taking photos of everything to share here. I also want to share my struggles through motherhood and parenthood (which I think are different things) and any useful ideas I find around the internet. Wish me luck!