Wow Mother’s day again already!?
I think I was so shell shocked for the last Mother’s day that I barely remember it, but I was there. There are pictures of my little one making an odd face while my mother beams and I am laughing. So let’s look back on the last year of being a first time mother. It was awesome, exciting, traumatic, terrifying, all-consuming and the most rewarding thing that I think I may ever do, and I have lived a pretty exciting life so far. So let’s address the elephant that stomps into the room whenever a mother humble boasts about how great being a mum is. While being a new parent is awesome, it will also rock your life to the core.
Dispersed between the amazing moments of first-time parenthood is an overwhelming number of conflicting emotions. You watch your little one vigilantly. You come up with new and creative ways to go to the toilet, make meals or get dressed so that you can unerringly care for this vulnerable little being. And still…..The excitement of your little one rolling over for the first time is followed by the terror of them falling head first off the bed and a day in emergency. The excitement of introducing new foods is followed by the terror of choking on a croissant or carrot. The excitement of their first words is followed by the challenge of repetitive declarations of “no” and hunger strikes because if they can’t feed themselves they won’t eat at all. The smugness of them sleeping through the night is balanced by the fatigue of 60 hours straight of screaming and throwing up. Or the guilt that you are the only one with a sleeping bub when all the other mum are struggling and you don’t want to sound like a smug cow. Or all the other babies are sleeping and yours isn’t and are you doing something wrong? Then there is sleep training….let’s not even touch that one. There is the joy of freedom to take a shower unimpeded with the tradeoff being that for the last 3 months we have had some of the most varied and interesting illness possible thanks to daycare (who knew hand food and mouth was so bad?!).
We have all been there but there seems to be a very little conversation about the toll that it takes on us as parents and the internal conflicts that we feel. We perpetrate the pressure of the Instagram perfect image of parenthood, while secretly feeling shame and confusion as to whether we are doing the right thing and being “Good parents” (surely reverting back to bottle feeding is better than no feeding?). As individuals my husband and I have experienced short term memory loss and reduced cognitive function, lack of concentration, flashbacks of the birth and our bubs getting stuck with a dropping heart rate, heart palpitations and panic, being overly alert and wound up, sleeping difficulties, irritability and, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger. These are all symptoms of being a new parent. These are also a comprehensive list of the symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
We have deliberately avoided places and people, thoughts and feelings that may make us feel even worse and at times have been emotionally numb and flat. We lost interest in day-to-day activities and felt cut off and detached from friends and family emotionally. But it is important to note that while of the above sounds like a horrifying mental illness, the experience is normal and ideally balanced by the joys of parenthood. At worst, take hope, the symptoms don’t last! Life will go on, the child grows up and one day you will sleep again. Until then we need to be fair to ourselves.
The learning curve of new parenthood is like nothing else you will ever experience. There are days that will challenge your very identity because now you are growing into a new identity. You are a parent. You are going through a fire and on the other side of this first year you will come out as a new golden if a little unkempt, version of yourself. Your house may be chaos but your hearts capacity for love will have grown. Your boobs and butt may be saggy (men too!) but you will have a family to sit down with. You will have learned a new way to be. You will be stronger. More humble. More informed and hopefully more sure of yourself. You will have been victorious and survived and hopefully thrived through the first year of your little one’s life and your new identity as a parent. Well done.
The only thing that saved us was choosing to be in the moment and practice gratitude for the amazing little person that joined our family. We laughed more than we cried and revelled in the moments of excitement and pleasure that were as much a part of our daily life as overwhelm. If you don’t have kids, don’t let this put you off. Just let it be a prompt that the love and support you show your friends and peers who are new parents is invaluable. Their identity and life as they have known it is under construction and like any renovation, it’s a bit of a mess but it will look fine in the end. And don’t judge when the kid’s nose is snotty or they are screaming in the cafe. Until you are in it you have NO IDEA WHAT IT IS LIKE. Trust me. I’ve been there.
If you are having challenging feelings, it is important to find ways to be calm. Find a mental port in the storm, even if it’s just making yourself a cup of tea or locking yourself in the toilet for an extra minute. Be kind to yourself. And ask for help. If we want to raise calm, healthy, balanced children, we need to set the example. Remember you can’t give what you don’t have, and you can’t teach what you don’t know.
Written by Emmanuella Grace
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