Kind of how Kristen Armstrong (the ex Mrs Lance Armstrong) told Oprah she believed that marriage was the world’s “greatest conspiracy”, I think a much greater conspiracy exists in the West for new moms. Whilst it may be true that no-one can ever prepare you for motherhood, I felt as though people should have at least tried a little harder. These are some of the things I wish I’d known early on as a first-time mom.
1. “Banish guilt“. These were the words uttered to me by my ante-natal teacher when my daughter was about 10 days old. I had phoned her in desperation as I was battling to breastfeed and battling with my new reality in general. She sat cross-legged on the nursery floor and dispensed just the kind of advice I needed, which included telling my husband and I to go out for dinner that night, telling me to drink champagne to stimulate my milk flow (whether I believe this or not, it was what I needed to hear at that moment). She also told me to banish guilt – forever. Of course, this is much easier said than done when you’re a mother but sometimes it’s exactly what you need to tell yourself. I think of her words often. They make me realise that my feelings of guilt help no-one and that they are a waste of energy.
2. “Be kind to yourself”. These are the words of my high school friend, Callia. And I think they are so applicable to new moms – whether this means that you’ll get take-aways/ eat leftovers more often than normal or go out for a girls’ lunch sans enfant once in a while. Just remember that it’s okay to be kind to yourself – your baby will be fine. One of the things Callia did with both her children as part of her “be kind to yourself” campaign was getting her nanny to do a night nurse duty once a week so that she and her husband could go out for dinner without worrying about the baby waking up later. There are many ways to be kind to yourself and this goes hand in hand with banishing guilt.
3. Pick and choose which advice to follow based on what makes sense to you. The world of parenting is awash with advice – and much of it feels contradictory, even when it’s being dispensed by paediatricians, gynaes and midwives. For example, I was advised by a breastfeeding consultant to express every three hours around the clock to stimulate my milk. For me, at the time, it was the worst advice ever. I couldn’t sleep a wink, knowing that I’d better fall asleep pronto because, in two and a half hours, I’d have to jump up in the middle of the night, wash and sterilise the breast pump and start the pumping process again. Things were put into perspective for me when a less uptight friend with a baby three weeks older than mine, wrote me an email about her first few days of motherhood. “The paed told me to wake up and feed every two hours,” she wrote. “I ignored him! I was way too exhausted!”. And she had a very positive breastfeeding experience – probably partly because she was so relaxed and only paid attention to advice that made sense to her.*
4. “Most Fortune 500 CEO’s were breastfed as infants“. Seriously? No. I totally made that up. There’s a reason we don’t have a line item on our CV’s stating whether we were breastfed as babies – because it really doesn’t matter. If you want to breastfeed and you’re able to – awesome. If you want to and aren’t able to, then know that your child will be just fine. The implication by lactation specialists that brain development will not be optimal when a baby is not breastfed is infuriating. Brain development will not be optimal if the kid is starving or if the mother is stressed out of her mind. What helped me when I was battling to breastfeed my first child, was thinking of all the highly intelligent, accomplished adults I knew who were formula fed – my husband being one of them. My mom and mother-in-law were helpful in citing many other examples (mothers of their generation with children of my generation whom I knew) and this really put things in perspective for me. I also saw a recent comment by a Facebook friend who is in her late thirties and one of four children, “My mother can’t exactly remember which of us kids she breastfed and which of us she didn’t”. Case in point.
5. A little bit of make-up goes a LOOOONG way. It may sound incredible if you have not had a baby, but there will be days when getting out of your pyjamas seems like an insurmountable challenge. My advice is to enjoy the odd pyjama day or the odd day without make-up, but don’t make this your norm. A little bit of make-up really does go a long, long way to making you feel like your old self – before you walked around all day with baby puke on your left shoulder.
You will be glamorous again. And it will be much, much sooner than you think it could ever be right now… Of course, this advice is only the tip of the iceberg, but the baby is probably about to wake up for yet ANOTHER feed and your me-time is nearly up – for now.
* The world of contradictory advice on the rearing of infants was brilliantly and hilariously summed up by a frustrated American mom whose rant went viral. Well worth reading: