My advice to new moms is a little unconventional. It’s not that pretty or romantic but I feel that it’s important and spoken about way too little. It has nothing to do with magic parenting tips or tricks or cure-all products. You will be given more than enough advice about how to take care of your newborn. My advice is to take care of YOU and your well-being.
New moms, my advice to you is to learn to say “no” – something I wish I had done in those early days. I had a picture-perfect birth. Physically, my recovery was going smoothly. Emotionally? Not so much. I was, of course, absolutely head over heels in love with my newborn but my emotions were all over the place.
Moms, THIS IS NORMAL, I can’t stress this enough. I don’t think I had the “baby blues” per say, I just felt overwhelmed. All my fiancé’s leave was used up in the first few days after Oliver’s birth, when we thought we would be settling in at home. Unfortunately though, we were in hospital with a newborn who had severe jaundice. Ollie and I spent 3 nights in hospital because of it. By the time we finally got discharged, I found myself trying to settle myself and my baby in at home, whilst my fiancé returned to work and it was terrifying because I was exhausted but too worried to sleep. It was daunting not having the nurses around to monitor Oliver. I barely slept. It felt like the world went back to normal for everyone around me, except I felt like mine was upside down!
I don’t know if it was external or internal pressure (or a combination of the 2) but for some reason I felt like I was required to just “get on with it” and carry on with life as normal.
I didn’t allow myself to rest or be vulnerable. I didn’t cut myself any slack; I thought I could do it all. I gave birth right at the start of my practical legal training which, after much deliberation, I had chosen to continue with (albeit through correspondence, thank goodness). It was still incredibly demanding. Although I am not one for self-pity, I feel there is a difference between negative “wallowing” and allowing yourself to feel just a teeny bit sorry for yourself whilst acknowledging some of the physical pain you are in and trying to process all the millions of emotions you are feeling.
I did none of the “feeling sorry”. I didn’t say “no” to commitments which compounded my feelings of feeling overwhelmed. I LOVED introducing our newborn to others. I LOVED the hospital visits which were short and sweet and so appreciated the unbelievable love and generosity we received. Once home, I loved having everyone share in our pride and joy and our special “firsts” but to be perfectly honest, I craved peace and quiet. I wanted privacy to establish my breastfeeding relationship with my boy.
On top of the many other stresses I was facing, I didn’t want to stress about my house being “visitor-worthy” as well. I longed to stay in my pajamas, hole myself up in bed and snuggle my newborn – something I was unable to do whilst he was being treated for jaundice. I craved learning to do things for myself and getting to know my newborn better after the incredible nurses (bless them) had been doing a lot of my dirty work for me. I wanted to build confidence and adjust to my new role as a mother before diving back into (and exposing my son to) a busy and social lifestyle. I craved early nights – I was still adjusting to my newborn’s demanding sleeping patterns and on top of it all, I was also completing my legal training.
Everyone was doing the most amazing things for me out of the goodness of their hearts and I didn’t know how to say that I didn’t want to go on outings, I didn’t want to put on make-up or try to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes yet and I did not have the energy to sit through dinner parties. I didn’t want to travel far distances or sleep away from home with my newborn; the travelling and being out of mine and Ollie’s comfort zone was far too stressful and chaotic for both of us and it took its toll heavily. At times, I just didn’t want company at all. When my newborn slept, I wanted to switch off, drink a cup of tea and take a bath.
Moreso, I wanted to do simple things like the piles and piles of milk-stained laundry and I needed every extra minute I had to complete my work. I know it might sound selfish or dramatic, but sometimes I didn’t even have the energy for conversation and it felt like hard work. Not being able to switch off or say no left me feeling incredibly burnt out and left me dealing with an often over-stimulated and miserable baby. I was a young mom, trying to carry on with life as normal, except I had a lot less time on my hands to do so. Oliver was a fussy and clingy newborn who did NOT like being “pass the parcel” and I didn’t like being separated from him either, so he spent the majority of his time in his baby wrap while I rushed around like a headless chicken at a million miles an hour all day. I thought I could (and mostly did) juggle everything but it left me very sleep-deprived and anxious.
I wish I had slowed down in the time that it mattered most. I took on way too much and struggled constantly with trying to please everyone and I only had myself to blame for that. I have no idea as to why I didn’t just give myself (and ask others for) a break. I smiled politely and put up a good front – from the outside I don’t think people would’ve known just how overwhelmed I truly felt. Life is so fast-paced and crazy – I’m now working full-time and don’t have the luxury of doing the things I wish I had done as a stay-at-home mom. It’s tough having regrets.
There is a lifetime ahead for loved ones to meet and coo over your child. In my personal opinion – babies are also a lot more entertaining after a few weeks when they start developing their little personalities and start cracking smiles that melt hearts. I wish I had used the first few weeks for pajama cuddles! I definitely won’t make the same mistake in future. I have promised myself that next time I will be just a little bit selfish by saying “no” more and by letting the dust settle before I resume life as normal. There will always be time to pursue your career or catch up your work commitments. Maternity leave is there for a reason, too. You need to be able to focus 100% on your new role as a mom and conserve what little energy you have. There will also be plenty of time to get the dishes done or to tend to the errands on your to-do list. It’s not a train smash if your house doesn’t always look as perfect as it used to.
Life goes back to normal (or should I say – you find your groove and establish a “new-normal”) and you get back to doing all those “normal” things. But in the first few weeks/months after child-birth, you shouldn’t feel the need to go back to normal. Goodness, you just gave birth to another human being and your entire life as you knew it has changed. Allow yourself to slow down. You are allowed to be a little selfish – you have earned it. Remind yourself (and others, if necessary) of this daily.
Say “no” to the things you want to say “no” to.
Say no to getting out of your pajamas – or say no to staying in them if dressing up makes you feel good.
Say no to company if you would like to be alone or say no to being alone if you crave company.
Say no to outings if you don’t feel ready for them or say no to staying at home all day if you do.
Say no to feeling the pressure to fit back into your skin-tight jeans. It look your body 9 months to put on the weight, it may take a few months to lose it again.
(PS… you are also allowed to change your mind each day or even multiple times per day).
What I’m saying is – by saying “no” to the things you do not feel up for emotionally or physically, you are saying “yes” to yourself and what is best for you and ultimately, for your baby. I think this is so essential. Don’t let your physical and/or spiritual well-being suffer whilst you and everyone close to you are consumed with the tiny person who has captured your hearts. Afterall – the saying goes that the best moms are happy ones.
Shea (and Oliver) xx