There’s been a lot said and written about that crazy first year of motherhood and all the things that you should be doing. Having been through the trenches myself twice, my learned advice would be to forget about everything you’re supposed to be doing and instead follow my highly comprehensive list of the eight things you should never do.
1. Count the hours of sleep you’ve had – or haven’t had
We’ve all done it, right? I know I have. ‘So I had that half an hour when I fell asleep on the lounge, and an hour and half at midnight… maybe more, because I think I dozed during the breastfeed… then there was a couple of hours from three to five, so that means, more or less, I’ve had… uh… what was I talking about again?’ Either you’ll add them up and convince yourself that you should be feeling better than you do (which you shouldn’t, because five hours of unbroken sleep is not the same thing as five solid hours, as you very well know) or you’ll remind yourself of just why you feel so utterly craptastic. Either way, it’s not going to help the matter. The fact is, that missed sleep has suffered the same fate as your ability to jump on a trampoline without weeing a little bit. It’s GONE. And it’s never coming back. Besides which, why are you trying to do maths at a time like this? Save those few functioning brain cells for something more important, like remembering how to make a cup of coffee.
2. Despair over your post baby belly
Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of your new, babyless belly, once a glorious taut orb, now a strange deflated, jelly-like mass that nonetheless still makes you appear six months pregnant when clothed. But staring at it in horror and poking it repeatedly to see what happens is futile. You can’t will it away, nor should you even think about attempting to hasten its departure with a rigorous diet and exercise regime in those early days when you need every last ounce of strength to shuffle around the house rocking your baby to sleep. Just try not to look at it and rest assured that it will continue to deflate and somehow dewobble itself eventually. Sort of.
3. Compare your baby’s milestones with those of other babies
There’ll always be that annoying mother/baby combo in your mother’s group or circle of friends whose sole purpose seems to be to make you and your baby feel inadequate. You know, one-year-old Hunter who is already fluent in sign language and can read flash cards, while your baby’s latest development milestone is inserting their finger into their nostril. From rolling to sitting to sleeping to feeding to crawling to babbling, your baby will do it in their own sweet time, so there’s no point wasting your energy worrying that they ‘should be’ at a certain point. Rest assured, it’s likely to be no indication of your offspring’s chances of being a future genius. Einstein didn’t talk until he was three, okay? (Something I clung to when my son was 18 months old and had barely uttered a word. Sure enough, by the time he was two he was yammering away non-stop in lengthy sentences and I was ever so politely begging him to put a sock in it.)
4. Estimate how many calories you’ve burnt breastfeeding… and then eat them in cake
I dare say you’ve heard that breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day? Well, yes it can, but it’s an inexact science and also one that, if you let it, can lead you down a slippery slope of Rampant Justification of Over-Consumption of Baked Goods. Yes, it’s a thing. Trust me, I had it. Don’t worry, I’m not saying you shouldn’t succumb to those sweet cravings when they inevitably come a-calling, knock yourself out. You’ve earned it, possum. But don’t assume that it won’t have any effect on the matter of point 2 above. Besides which, remember what I said before? Calculating calories means maths. Maths + sleep deprivation = brain implosion. Save yourself and just eat the damn doughnut.
5. Compete with your partner over who’s had the hardest day
*To be read in the voice of David Attenborough.* Here we find the mother, in her natural habitat, the home. Her offspring has been engaged in a phenomenon known as the witching hour for the last three hours. Finally, the mother hears the long-awaited for click of her partner’s key in the door as they return from work. The mother approaches with arms outstretched… to hand over her wailing infant. ‘Take this, please…’ she whimpers, weak and exhausted. Her partner heartlessly responds by saying, ‘I just need five minutes to unwind, I’ve had a really stressful day.’ It is at this point that the mother’s metamorphosis into shrill, harpy fishwife becomes complete. ‘YOU’VE had a stressful day?! I haven’t even had a SHOWER yet!’ The mother spews forth with five minutes of crazed ranting about the horrors of her day and tension and animosity overwhelm the household, punctuated by the heightened cries of the small child… *end David Attenborough voice*. Yes, when you’re in your own private idahell that is early motherhood, it’s impossible to imagine anyone having a more challenging day than you. But cast your mind back to that previous life when you were at work, and you’ll recall that there was stress there too. A different kind of stress, granted, but stress nonetheless. So while it’s a bit rich that your partner wants time to unwind – after all, that’s what the lengthy commute home is for – try not to dismiss their bad day just because you had one too.
6. Waste time now worrying about future consequences
New mums get such little time to themselves as it is, that it seems like some kind of cruel, self-inflicted torture that we like to spend that time fretting about possible future eventualities that might never happen. We can’t just give our child a dummy, we have to angst over whether they’re still going to be using it at four because we haven’t been able to wean them off it… or if we’re condemning them to braces as a teenager. If your baby happily takes a dummy, I say go for your life. Same with rocking your child to sleep, keeping a baby in your room, moving a baby out of your room… if it works, do it! The perceived consequences are probably minor and the fact is you’ll be far better to cope with them when you’ve been at this whole parenting caper a little while.
7. Read every baby book – and article – you can get your hands on
Knowledge is important, yes, but the more you read, the more you realise that nobody agrees on a single damn thing when it comes to parenting. And not only do they not agree, they’ll make you feel that if you don’t follow their advice, your child will never be, well, quite right. You’ll end up so overwhelmed with contradictory advice that you’ll be unable to do anything but sit in a corner, twitching. Or at the very least you’ll end up engaging in very inconsistent parenting. I found myself lurching on a daily basis from time outs to toy removal to sticker charts to shrieking ‘Santa’s watching!’, then wondering why none of them were working. My advice? Get one good book recommendation from a friend whose parenting skills you admire, and stick to it. And whatever you do, never read the online comments section about anything baby related. Yowsers.
8. Over-analyse the state of your relationship
You’re sleep deprived, you’re hormonal, you’ve just squeezed a small human out of your lady parts or undergone major abdominal surgery and that small human now wants a piece of you 24 hours a day. Showering is rare. Chances are, this isn’t the most loving, romantic and sexy time you’ve ever spent with your partner. In fact, there may be moments (usually while they’re snoring next to you when you’ve just had to wake up for your third breastfeed of the night), when you might feel downright uncharitable towards them. Don’t angst about it. Having a baby is a huge adjustment for everyone and there’s bound to be some fraught moments as you all navigate these unchartered and sleep deficient waters (see point 5 for one such example). It more than likely doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. I mean, I can’t promise anything, but at least wait until your baby (ergo, you) are sleeping through the night before doing anything too hasty.
Have you done any of these? Anything you would add to the list?
Linking up with Essentially Jess for #IBOT