Imagine walking through a door and immediately finding yourself on another planet. With an alien species, different customs, a whole new language. This is exactly how I felt about becoming a mother.
1. Naive newbie
The experience didn’t occur after I gave birth; or a few weeks after: whilst feeding bleary eyed in front of Homes Under the Hammer; or even at my first mum and baby group (an alien experience for any first timer). It began whilst waiting for my first antenatal appointment at our local children’s centre.
As I sat there in my tidy office clothes and heeled shoes, with my coat pulled neatly around me, I was suddenly overcome with a huge surge of emotion. This is happening. You are going to have a child. Sat on a waiting room chair, I studied the photos on the walls: documenting toddlers painting and babies lying on their tummies, next to laughing mums. I couldn’t identify with them yet. A kind worker at the centre passed by and introduced herself; she sat next to me and asked how I was and I was shocked by the wobble in my voice: “err a bit emotional actually, probably the hormones, hahaha!” The fact is, the reality had hit me that I was entering this new world without any experience or anyone else doing it with me. I was starting a new job in a strange culture: parenting.
2. Smug & silly
Rather than explore these feelings, I decided to ignore them and focus on the things that made me feel excited. I followed the babycentre updates and suggestions: “get a stylish new haircut”, “embrace the nesting instinct” “plan a baby moon”…I could relate to all of these! Soon I was ticking through these wonderful boxes on my journey through pregnancy: trips to the hairdresser, online shopping for sweet nursery bits and booking a romantic weekend in Cornwall. I even dressed as chic as maternity clothes allowed me to. “Pregnancy suits you!” people said; and as I rubbed my belly and imagined pushing my newborn around in yummy mummy atire, I felt happy and excited. I couldn’t wait for the birth when after a few intense period pains my baby would be presented to me in Cath Kidson pyjamas, perhaps on a fluffy white cloud…and I would be surrounded by adoring woodland baby animals and blue birds fluttering above, like in Disney’s Snow White. Then days would follow of cuddles, sling wearing and picnics in the sun…
3. When in doubt, refer to ’90s Japanese toys…
I have always had quite a vivid imagination and on this occasion I don’t think it served me very well.
When the baby appeared after what seemed like half my life gone, my partner declared that we had a boy: this was very confusing, because she was in fact female. He must have been as delirious as I. Then I realised she didn’t even look like us, she just looked like an alien. Not surprising if you have been stuck down a narrow tunnel for hours and pulled out through a key hole: yet straight away we were being hit by the unexpected…
“…the babycentre update for Day 1 doesn’t say this! It just says something about black poo”.
Of course time went on and after a few hours of being out of the womb, the familiar features of this sweet little soul did become apparent.
After my partner had left the hospital, I fell asleep for hours…and so did the baby, miraculously. When I awoke I panicked – I shouldn’t have slept that long! Straight away this situation reminded me of when my brother had bought a Tamogotchi as a child and I had looked after it overnight: by the morning it was covered in poo and skull symbols from my neglect. As I peered into the crib, I was relieved to see baby was still alive and not covered in poo. Then it struck me: just like a Tamagotchi, it would need a feed. The feeding button was located on me. Cautiously I picked my baby out of the cot, lifted up my top and kind of put her head near my boobs. I didn’t really want to do this, it felt weird. I was holding an unfamiliar and unpredictable creature to my bare breasts waiting for it to start drinking from them. A clamping feeling followed and after I had stopped cringing at the weird sensation, I watched with wide eyed amazement as the baby fed from me.
4. Beware the Breastfeeding Mafia
Over the next few days and weeks, I experienced more oddities on this planet. The baby didn’t sleep after that first night, in fact I don’t know how she found the energy to cry so loudly because she slept so little.
I was envious of people who went to bed or did any normal everyday activity: making a cup of tea, showering, chatting on the phone, going to work, watching TV. My vivid imagination had been sacked: I couldn’t imagine doing these daily things ever again.
Breastfeeding was excruciating. Health visitors seem younger than the legal age and sat on the floor looking up at me, instead of on the sofa or a chair like human beings do. They suggested breastfeeding groups with unappealing names such as “Latch on” and “Bosom Buddies”, but always seemed to turn up at my house on the days these groups ran. One day I clicked on websites to research formula. Big Brother was watching me, monitoring the newest inhabitant of the parenting planet. A pop up box appeared on my screen saying that “breast is best” and implying that if I proceed any further with my research then I would be committing a crime. I snapped the lap top shut, nervously glancing out the window at whoever was looking in on me.
NO ONE TOLD ME IT WOULD BE LIKE THIS.
Antenatal classes talked about the sweet shop of options of painkillers we could choose in labour. They taught us how to attach a dolly to a knitted woollen boob. They said to make the most of visitors. But… I wasn’t given my chosen pain relief; the baby wasn’t a dolly and my boob wasn’t knitted, it was packed with flesh and nerves endings and attached to me. Every time visitors turned up, baby would be asleep and I wanted to be too. Mum and baby groups were attended: I chose a baby massage class. It wasn’t relaxing for either of us, although I did make a lovely mummy friend that day.
THINGS GOT BETTER.
5. And this time it will be different
Not because any of the above will not happen, but because I will not have the crazy expectations that I did, having absorbed every bit of media and information given to me and taken it as the gospel; all I need to know. I am now a native of this planet. I know the secret to survival. To quote Sylvia Plath: “if you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed”. This includes yourself and your baby and everything that happens from that first antenatal visit.
6. Becoming a real parent
I have a pair of Cath Kidson style pyjamas ready for new baby*, but I have recently swapped them in the hospital bag for the little white outfit worn by my first; complete with milk stain around the neckline. It is more realistic and means so much more to me.
Mummy Rules x
*I am 36 weeks pregnant with baby number 2 at the time of writing.
- I still love the babycentre website; it is genuinely useful. The pregnancy app just makes me laugh a lot more than it used to.
- Breast or bottle, who cares, whichever one works for you and your baby’s happiness.
- Whatever planet you are on, your body is yours.
- It’s your baby. Scary thought I know!