Tuesday 22 January 2013

Marvellous Motherhood

The calendar tells me I have been an 'official' Mummy for four months now - although I think you become a Mum from the moment you know that you are carrying a life inside you, so my tentative steps towards motherhood began a long time ago now. I really want to record some thoughts and feelings about being a Mum here as it feels like a constantly evolving process and I don't want to forget about the journey.

Being a Mum, in my experience, is everything everyone tells you it will be. Every cliche is true. It's tough, it's difficult, it's amazing, it's unbelievable... I've felt more emotions in the last four months than I had in my whole life prior. But I've felt a new emotion in the last few weeks and it's one that is very welcome. I've felt happy and confident in myself that I am good at this, and that Lucy and I are growing really well together learning from each other every day.

I say that this is a welcome feeling because I really struggled for the first few weeks. I knew that being a Mum was going to be hard work but I don't think you can appreciate just what a potent combination sleep deprivation, keeping a newborn baby alive and your entire life changing overnight can be until you experience it. I will be honest, for most of the first couple of weeks after Lucy was born I felt sick with anxiety worrying about everything: was she feeding enough (yes), was she sleeping enough (yes), was she getting everything she needed (yes), would I ever be able to get dressed again before mid-afternoon (yes), would I ever leave the house (yes)... You get the idea! At times I even wondered if it had been the right decision to leave our old life behind. I was very, very overwhelmed.

This constant anxiety led me to feel very insecure - an emotion I haven't felt in a long time - and I really doubted my ability to be a good Mum. I didn't seem to feel this 'instinct' everyone talked about; I felt clueless as to how to care for Lucy; all of her cries sounded the same to me and I didn't know if she was hungry, tired, cold etc; and I panicked when there were times I couldn't soothe her. The Boy was a huge support to me, but my confidence was nowhere to be found and as a competent and successful professional woman, I found that very hard.

I also had dreadful trouble with breastfeeding Lucy to begin with that I really hadn't expected. We didn't have our latch right and my nipples suffered some very acute damage that meant feeding was painful every feed until we got to 7/8 weeks. Looking back how we made it that far I don't really know... at times I was literally curling my toes to get through the agony. But with some very vital help from a breastfeeding counsellor and a local breastfeeding cafe, things finally became easier and the fact that I am exclusively breastfeeding Lucy still at 17 weeks after our wobbly beginning is one of the achievements of which I am most proud.

But as much as the negative cliches are true, thankfully so are the positive ones. The minutes really do turn into hours, which become days, and silently pass into weeks... and it all gradually falls into place and becomes easier. Well it did for me, and for that I am very thankful. When I think back to how I felt when Lucy was a newborn it seems a million miles away from where I am now. I don't recognise that scared, exhausted and frightened lady - now I wear a genuine smile and have a very full heart.

It started getting better by taking little steps - coping on my own when the Boy went back to work after paternity leave, taking Lucy out on my own for a walk for the first time, taking her on a train by myself, meeting friends for lunch, joining a few local groups, taking Lucy out in the sling on my own, feeding her in a cafe for the first time... these pigeon steps gave me wings of strength and courage, and now it feels like there is no stopping us. Hand on heart every moment spent with Lucy is a delight - even when she has a meltdown! - because that maternal instinct and rush of love may have been a bit slowburn for me to begin with, but now it's here with avengeance!

I think the Boy and I have been very lucky with Lucy's character. Psychologists can argue the nature v nurture debate until the end of time, but I know that Lucy was born a very chilled out and sleepy baby. These two aspects of her temperament have been a god send.

I can take Lucy anywhere - to a nice restaurant, on public transport, to a pub, and I even took her to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate a few weeks back - and she copes. She isn't phased. She's happy to try new things, see different surroundings, and be sociable with new faces. This has been magic for me as it's allowed me to hang onto aspects of my previous life while adapting to my new one.

Lucy and I go out every day (weather permitting, currently on day six confined to the flat thanks to the snow!) and meet friends for coffee, lunch or a drink - and this means I still see lots of my friends who haven't had children so I don't spend my whole life talking about nappies (although this is quite a favourite subject of mine, and put me with the NCT girls and we can happily chat about this for many an hour...!).

Because Lucy is so laid back she rarely cries. We had a few tears over one nap yesterday morning, but before that it had been Wednesday last week that I'd last heard her cry. This did baffle me to begin with, but I think now that Lucy is just a very laid back and content young lady who is confident that her needs will be met by me and the Boy. I still find it bizarre she doesn't cry with hunger or to be fed - but I suppose I know when she's likely to be hungry and as I feed her on demand rather than by some kind of routine, she never has to wait too long to be fed. And this also means that when she does have a meltdown, it happens infrequently enough for me to be completely calm and relaxed and just help Lucy get back to herself. I know that she will stop crying in time, so I keep quiet and chilled and that seems to work really well for us both.

The fact that Lucy likes sleeping has also made motherhood very pleasurable for me, as it means I can get my rest and have the energy for the job. Left to her own devices she will have three/four naps in a day of at least an hour in length - giving me time for that quiet cup of tea, a little cat nap, to read a paper, or to do a couple of household chores to help me stay on top of our surroundings. She also does brilliantly at night, sleeping from 7pm to 8am with one wake up somewhere in between 3-5am for a quick feed before she goes straight back to sleep. This means I get an evening with the Boy (and a glass of wine if I fancy!) and can still recharge the batteries for the following day.

It's funny - before I had Lucy I had lots of pre-conceptions about what kind of Mum I would be and how our life would be. I had read lots of books from the Baby Whisperer to *whispers* the Gina Ford book, and I had ideas of being quite routine-led and getting Lucy to fit around our lives as soon as she arrived. And then she did arrive, and it couldn't have been clearer that the books were of very little relevance. What mattered was getting to know my little girl, making her feel safe, loved and comfortable, and working around her natural rhythms as best I could. So by ignoring all I've read and breaking every rule these books set, I now have a daughter who is alert and happy, sociable, and who sleeps well - everything I had wanted when I read them in the first place.

Right now I feel like being a Mum is everything I dreamed of and hoped for. Some days I really pinch myself that I get to spend my time looking after Lucy and watching her see and do things for the first time. It's amazing how excited I can get when she grasps at a new toy, or moves a part of her body in a new way! While I had a very, very happy life with the Boy I didn't know such joy existed - and I can't wait for the rest of our lives with her. And in being a Mum, I have a new understanding for and closeness with my own parents - and an empathy for all the other Mums out there. Keep up the good work!

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