As a first time mum, I had absolutely no clue about what to do with my newborn. Yes, I was well read and well informed but somehow was lost when it came to applying that knowledge to my own child. As an early childhood educator myself, I knew what it was like to be responsible for a child and a student in my care. But I had never truly been solely responsible for another human’s life and well-being before. It felt like I was well prepared to be a mum, given my decade long experience and knowledge about children. But then it felt like I knew nothing and I had this new born innocently staring at me, completely dependant on my skills and knowledge.
So, today, I would like to enlist a couple of “small” nothings I wish I had known before my first and only child was born. Hoping this could help some new mums out there…
1. Follow your own instincts: Trust me, you have those! Everyone will always have their own inputs and opinions based on their own experiences and knowledge. And most of the times, although shared with good intentions, these inputs can be more confusing than helpful. I didn’t always know what I should be doing and honestly didn’t even have the time or energy to seek anyone’s advise. But advise somehow has its strange way of making through all that chaos and noise (be it warranted or unwarranted). I wish I knew a more diplomatic way of managing these back then– given that some were absolutely impractical and some were truly invaluable. And whatever decisions I made back then, I’m sure there was always someone who thought that I was crazy enough to do that. I didn’t care of what people thought of me as a mum, I cared about what my baby thought of me as her mum. She is and will always be the only one who has the ultimate rights to comment on my mothering decisions and skills. And regardless of whether her feedback will be positive or negative, I know for sure that it would be real and meaningful, just like motherhood.
2. Babies are born strong and resilient: Although its our human instinct to see babies as cute, fragile, cuddly, dependant, helpless and so on…more so when they are newborns. But they are “human” babies after all and they are born with some innate skills. They are capable of sensing, coping, and surviving. I wish I knew this back then because one of the constant fears I was living with, was that I might “break my baby”. However silly and irrational it might sound, but the most valuable advise given to me back then was by my paediatrician. He had a casual attitude towards every small and/or big concern I raised and always said “Nothing to worry! Babies are born to survive the errors made by their new parents.” Back then I complained that he never took my concerns seriously, but now I wish I had taken his advice more seriously.
3. Babies cry and its only natural: And that’s fine. They can be persistently loud and that’s fine too. I wish I had not instantly answered to my baby’s every little sob and cry. It was my new mum’s guilt that made me do that and somewhere I was projecting my own anxious feelings onto her. Her every cry made me think about where I was falling short. I wish I had known better that babies often cry in their sleep and if given some time and space, might simply go back to sleep. I was guilty of being a helicopter new mum, never letting my baby be. Now, when I hear my toddler cry in her sleep, I pause for a minute or so before running to go check on her. Most of the times, she just needs a tap of reassurance and she simply goes back to sleep on her own. Much like us adults, babies too need to be given that space and time to understand and deal with their own emotions. I don’t really need to overanalyse and overreact by clobbering her with my understanding of her emotions. I need her to learn to figure it out on her own and adapt. This is the very beginning of a toddler’s problem solving skills and of course, I will always there for her, like I have always been, on an “as and when basis”.
4. It’s perfectly fine to let your baby cry: As a first time mum, I was an anxious, helicopter parent since day 1. I hovered over my little one and wanted to fix each and everything right away. I didn’t even let my baby cry for more than a minute. In a quest to comfort her, I overburdened her with my own anxieties and caused her even more discomfort. Probably, if I had simply sat down next to her and given her some place and time to cry and calm down, it would have not only relieved her of her own anxieties but also given me some time to settle my own and clear my head. I could have raised her to believe that crying is healthy, at any age, instead of making her believe that crying is always a sign of weakness and misery. Better late than never! I did learn this soon enough and now we are able to better handle our emotions – specially feelings of disappointments and sorrow.
5. Babies don’t go “by-the-book”: They are called “little humans” for a reason. Just like us adults, they don’t necessarily follow all the guidelines of ideal existence. Although there are tonnes of books about babies and their care, but they are merely guidelines. And more importantly, much against our wishes, our babies aren’t well versed with those books and articles that we, as “mums-to-be” have spent days and weeks brushing up on. Yes, there’s research and statistics to back up those guidelines but then there are always limitations and outliers. Babies, much like adults, will do as they please, regardless of our well planned routines and repeatedly revised schedules. However, one of the many super powers of motherhood is that we not only learn to flourish on the job but we soon adjust to this “new-normal”, even before we know it.
6. Silence admist the noise and chaos: Another mad quest that I was constantly on was to ensure that there was no noise or sounds of any kind, when the baby is sleeping. Newborns nap a lot but in comparison, mine did not nap as much through the day. She wanted to be carried all the time and fed often. Sleep was not really her priority back then and when she did happen to sleep, I became this insane person who ensured that there was absolute silence. I wish I had known better and trained my baby to sleep through the noise and chaos of a typical household. I couldn’t possibly tiptoe through all of her nap times and sleep times for the next decade or so. So, more than training the baby to sleep alone, its more important to “not” train the baby to sleep in an overly hushed environment. The key is to strike a balance between excessive noise and pin-drop silence.
7. All is well, even if you feel otherwise: Feelings cannot be right or wrong. It’s okay to feel stressed out, anxious, inadequate, guilty, overwhelmed, and anything of that sort. Its natural and right, even if its illogical and irrational, even if you are the first one on this planet to feel so about motherhood (which you are not!). I wish I knew that I was not alone. I was not the only one who let my baby cry for a few more minutes just so I could breathe and clear my own head. I wish I knew that I was not the only one to cry hysterically myself as a new mum who is usually portrayed as being nothing but overjoyed. I wish I knew that I was not the only one who found my life and routine going haywire. I wish I knew that back then there was nothing more important than being happy and healthy, rather than being perfect. Eventually, through that chaos, emerged a routine and through that routine emerged a “new normal” – which I have now grown to accept, will never be perfect and will need constant review and revision. Bottom line is that it all works out just fine. I can now be a much better mum when I have let go of the yes and no’s, rights and wrongs, perfections and imperfections of motherhood.
8. Stay in love with yourself: Postpartum anxiety and depression is real and can go easily undiagnosed. It’s more common than we know of and is only natural. I wish I hadn’t been through it but it was beyond my control. But I’m glad I accepted and addressed it in a way that made me the hands-on yet laid-back mum that I am today. We excitedly waited for the arrival of our little bundle of joy and I knew that it was going to be all about her, once she was born. But it shouldn’t be so as the new mum is just as important as the new born. I learnt the hard way that it was so critical for me to look after myself so that I could better look after my baby. I deprived myself of being “ME”, I deprived myself of my “me-time” and that was my biggest mistake when I became a mum. I could have been a way better new mum if I had focussed on my own well being too. Happy Mum = Happy Baby, its true. Today, even if I have to squeeze it into my schedule, I focus on my own well being just as much, without feeling any guilt. I have grown to accept the most logical reality of motherhood: I cannot serve from an empty vessel, and I shouldn’t even have to try.
9. Parenting as a team: This doesn’t mean that both parents need to do the same amount of work and feel the same way towards their little one. More than a battle for being equals, I believe its about playing a balancing act. As new parents, we were equally lost but somehow took turns to freak out on the emotional roller coaster that we were on. With time, we learnt to support and help each other to form a balanced parenting team. We fill in for each other and keep each other in check on an “as and when basis”. We have our own set of duties and roles, we don’t interfere in each other’s parts and yet we stay involved and provide each other with honest feedback and productive strategies to carry on. It’s not about who does more for the child or who spends more time with her. Naturally as parents, we both love our little one to bits and do whatever it takes. But its more about what we do for each other that makes it easier for us to deliver as parents.
10. Enjoy every phase, as much as you can: In those early clueless and chaotic days of motherhood, I was often told to enjoy this new baby phase as much as I can because, before I know it, it will be gone and it will all be missed. I simply rolled my eyes to those remarks and I still do. With time, I realised that I somehow tend to always look forward to the next phase of my baby’s growing years. Probably because I focus on the advantages of the next phase and disadvantages of the current phase. However, in this race against time, I realised how it’s important to accept that every stage of childhood will continue to have its ups and downs and secretly hoping for time to fast forward, isn’t going to make that “joyride” any better. So its best to make the most out of every phase, accepting and working around its ups and downs. Trust me, there will always be more ups than downs, although the downs can be extremely frustrating and “in our face”, but the ups have this humbling yet powerful emotional value that gets instantly engraved, deep into our heart. And in some way or the other, at some point in life, even if I don’t wish to rewind the time, I find myself often looking back on those memories, with nothing but a wide smile. So now, I have learnt to consciously slow down my pace of motherhood so I can cherish every moment it brings my way – the good and the not-so-good ones!