I was talking to a lady in a cafe the other day who was expecting her first baby. Most of our chat was about the books we had bought to prepare us for pregnancy and birth. While I was pregnant I bought all the books from Gina Ford to Holly Willoughby and beyond. I was determined to know as much as I could about life after birth. Whilst chatting to this lady I realised that although there were some useful tips in there, none had the information that I really needed so I thought I’d write a blog post about what I wish I’d known before I’d had Ted.
Gareth and I did hypnobirthing classes and NCT classes and whilst I think both helped Gareth to get a better understanding of what would happen and what he would need to do (and pack) neither prepared us for Ted’s actual birth. As with most couples, we had hoped for a lovely, peaceful water birth with a gentle, supportive midwife. Ted ended up arriving by forceps after an induction with an extremely forceful midwife who absolutely wasn’t interested in my thoughts about birth. Before I had Ted I was so caught up in the importance of having the ‘right’ birth that I hadn’t really considered what else may happen. If someone had told me he’d be delivered by forceps I’d have been aghast as I was terrified of the stories I’d heard. As it was I was up on my feet the next day and out and about as soon as we got home from hospital. Ted’s birth wasn’t the one I’d have chosen but thinking back to it now it seems almost unimportant compared to all the things that have happened since. I wish I’d spent my pregnancy less hung up on the birth and if we have another baby I don’t think I’ll write a birth plan as mine was completely ignored anyway.
I read everything I could on breastfeeding whilst I was pregnant. I was determined to breastfeed Ted and was very reluctant to buy the formula they recommend you take into hospital ‘just in case’. When Ted was born his blood sugar was low so the midwife gave him a bottle of formula before I even met him. Luckily he took to breastfeeding eventually but always relied on the bottle for a top up as his little tummy had been stretched by the formula. I really gave myself a hard time about Ted being combination fed and experienced a few negative comments when I bottle fed him whilst out. I managed to breastfeed for about 4 months alongside bottle feeding but around then Ted started to refuse to feed and despite lots of support from breastfeeding support workers we just couldn’t get him back into it. We decided to switch to the bottle full time. Again I gave myself a really tough time and I wish I’d just enjoyed having a beautiful, content baby rather than beating myself up over stopping. A few months later Ted was on solid food and I couldn’t believe, looking back, that I’d been so upset over it. I was so lucky to have family and a health visitor who were incredibly supportive about both choices and I know that next time I won’t put so much pressure on myself.
Post feed smiles. I have no idea now whether this was after bottle or breast. Both made him this happy.
When you’re pregnant you’re often told ‘there’s no right or wrong choice’ but there are certainly choices that are pushed slightly more by the midwives and health visitors. Baby led weaning was the recommendation from health visitors. ‘Just give the baby what you have, some toast for breakfast for example’ is what we were told. I was far too scared to jump straight into this so Ted had a combination of puréed food and ‘proper’ food that I thought he could manage. This worked out really well for us as it meant he could explore with food and make lots of mess at home but I could shovel in a pouch or food we’d brought from home if we were out and about and I wanted him to stay clean. I also found that sometimes I could get a bigger variety of flavours for him by trying a bit of both which I think has paid off as he now loves things with herbs and spices in. Now Ted eats pretty much anything and prefers to feed himself, I think following your instinct on things like this is important as it’s all about what’s best for you as a family rather than just what is recommended.
Every parent loves to talk about sleep. We cannot get enough of it. Ever. The books have lovely sleeping and feeding routines in. Just feed your baby every three hours and they’ll sleep like an angel right? No.
What we have learned is that there is no predicting sleep. Ted has always been a fairly good sleeper, sometimes he goes through rough patches and we’ve definitely had some awful nights. When he was tiny I used to google and check my books to find out what we were doing wrong, I’d change all sorts from what he was eating, what stories he was read, what he had in his bath and when he napped. No we know that there’s absolutely no point in any of that. If he’s not sleeping there’s a reason; teething, a cold, a development leap. Usually something we can’t do anything about. We’ve learned just to roll with him, some nights he ends up in our bed but we know that he’ll go back to sleeping through when he’s ready. Not worrying about his sleep is quite a relief and actually since we stopped changing things he’s sleeping well (fingers crossed)!
Being a Mum
At a baby class the other day a fellow mum asked if Ted was my first. When I told her he was she said ‘it’s really bloody hard isn’t it?’ It was a relief to hear someone say it as we mainly see mums doing really well, beautiful pictures on social media, mum bosses, fashionistas. But we rarely see the reality of being at home with crying baby or tantruming toddler. Of course the great bits of being a Mum are wonderful and outnumber the crap bits most of the time but the hard days are really hard. None of the books I read spoke about those bad days. They mentioned the baby blues and post natal depression but not just the mundane tricky days where nothing goes right and you can’t please anyone, particularly the mini dictator clinging to your shins. I was so surprised to hear another mum say that it’s hard because it’s just not something I’d really heard anyone say other than close friends. I love being a Mum to Ted and most of the time it’s exactly as I’d imagined it would be but I wish I had been a little bit more prepared for the tricky days and known how to ask for help when I needed it. Now I know on a bad day the best things to do (in no particular order) are: have a coffee, get out of the house, ring my husband and tell him to bring home chocolate and text a friend who can completely empathise. I was never an ‘outdoorsy’ person before Ted but now I’ll happily run around parks, castles, National Trust sites, woods. Wherever as long as Ted can crawl his energy out and we can both blow the cobwebs away. These bright Autumn days we’ve had lately have been absolutely perfect for that. The power of the outdoors should definitely have been a chapter in one of those books!
When I was first given Ted after my recovery I was fully expecting the ‘rush of love’ that all the books spoke about at length. I remember now just feeling slightly dazed and thinking ‘I can’t believe it’s all over’. I think I was too shocked to feel much at all. My family all arrived soon after this and I loved seeing them with him. We went to sleep and I woke up at around 2am and looked over to see Ted was also awake and looking at me. I picked him up, gave him a cuddle and he looked straight into my eyes. That’s when I felt the rush and it seemed like he understood then that I was his Mum. A mutual understanding and one of the best moments of my life. I will never forget the look in his big brown eyes, it felt like he was saying ‘ok, you’ll do’. From that moment Ted made me love everyone even more. Seeing my husband’s love for him, how besotted my parents are with him and how much effort friends have made to be part of his life just makes me love them all more and value things about them that I maybe hadn’t considered before. The books talk about the love you feel for your baby but not the ripple effect that they will have on the people in your life and in turn how that will intensify all of your feelings. I’m more anxious in some ways because I have more to worry about and more to lose than before but I’m also so much more appreciative of the people we have in our lives and no book could have prepared me for that.
What do you wish you’d known before you had a baby? Or the one piece of advice you’d give a new mum?