LIZZY: "I felt utterly clueless and fairly useless."
age: 35 years old child: daughter, 21 months old A lot of people think that pregnancy is the most beautiful time in a woman’s life. What was it like for you? I found out I was pregnant about 3 weeks in. It had been something I had wanted for such a long time that it took all of my will power not to scream it from the roof tops as soon as the test showed positive. My partner was very concerned that something would go wrong in the early stages so he did his best to keep me grounded and stop me getting carried away. It felt like an eternity until our first scan (when we’d agreed we would tell people) and by that stage, I’d started to convince myself it was all in my head and there wouldn’t be a baby on the screen, but there was and we called our families that afternoon. I don’t think I really enjoyed being pregnant per say as I spent much of the time on tenter hooks, worrying each midwife appointment would show no heart beat, each blood test would uncover a major issue that when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes I wasn’t really surprised as I felt like I’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop. To be honest, although the tablets and injections I needed for my diabetes were unpleasant, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so healthily. I think I ended up lighter at 9 months than I was at 6 months. It was just nice to have something to focus on and to feel like I was doing something constructive to help my baby rather than just worrying all the time. What did you feel the first time you saw your baby? To be entirely honest I don’t know that I even remember exactly, I just knew I needed her near me. When the doctor suggested taking me to surgery to knock me out and do my stitches I just remember holding her extra tight and saying I didn’t want to be apart from my baby so they did them there in the delivery suite. Yes, it was uncomfortable but I’m so glad I made that choice. How were the first weeks and months for you? I remember vividly the first night we were at home alone with our baby, I was so exhausted and in a lot of pain from my stitches that I just wanted to sleep. My partner had to wake me up because the baby was crying and needed feeding. I felt like a terrible mother for sleeping through my baby’s cries. I’d thought I was supposed to feel in tune with my child and sense her needs but I felt utterly clueless and fairly useless. The next day the visitors started arriving, I felt both excited to show off my beautiful new baby and anxious that I was going to have to share her. Things started well and I managed to enjoy watching our family holding my baby and lapped up all the complements about how beautiful she was and how smart she seemed already, by the end of the second day of visits though I’d had enough. I felt like I’d hardly got to hold my baby and people were talking about doing various (completely lovely and harmless) things with her “in a few years” and my brain went into overdrive and I started to panic. My tiny little baby was only four days old and everyone had her life all planned out. I think people could sense a change in my demeanour and quickly made their excuses to leave. I felt relieved but quite guilty that I’d let myself get overwhelmed and I worried what they all must think of me. The next few weeks were just about us finding our feet, my partner was home so we did everything together which made things easier. He kept us fed while I tried to do the same for our child. I’d decided I wanted to exclusively breastfeed which meant there wasn’t a great deal he could do to help other than offer supportive words and glasses of water. I did struggle at first, she didn’t have a great latch so that was painful and she never seemed to feed for long, she just grazed and was on and off the boob all day which was very tiring. We did eventually find our rhythm and a visit from a lactation consultant really helped with my confidence. Things were harder when my partner went back to work, I was doing everything alone and the responsibility to keep a tiny human alive was on my shoulders. I was determined that he shouldn’t have to get up in the night during the week as he was working so I spent most nights sitting up feeding in the dark and feeling exhausted. On more than one occasion I needed to wake him as I was so tired and was worried about falling asleep while feeding, he would sit with me then take over when it was time to burp her so I could go to sleep. I think it’s important to remember that raising a child is a full time job so it’s just as important for the mum to have quality rest as it is for the dad going “out” to work. If the dad can help then he should, if the mum is breastfeeding then the dad can do the burping or pre-feed nappy change, there are always ways to get involved. Although I was worried about being a failure, asking for and accepting help made me feel stronger as a mum and as part of a parenting unit. To be honest, those first few months are such a blur, everything was new and exciting and scary and challenging and rewarding all at the same time. I’m just glad I took so many photos during those months or I probably wouldn’t remember any of it. Today your little one is 21 months old. How do you feel as a mum today? I feel a lot more confident nowadays, I still have moments when I doubt myself and my abilities but things are definitely easier in a lot of ways. What helped you to get over the hardest time? My partner has been an amazing support to me and seeing his relationship with our daughter blossom has been so beautiful to watch. I was also very lucky to meet the most wonderful group of women in my antenatal classes. We have become so close over the last few years, not a day goes by where we don’t message each other words of love and encouragement. They have been a sounding board for my anxieties and knowing that we’re all going through the same things definitely stopped me from feeling isolated. A lot of future mums have a lot of questions. What do you think they should especially prepare for? Prepare not to do things exactly how you planned. Prepare to be more tired than you’ve ever been and more scared than you thought was possible! It doesn’t last forever, but while it does, prepare to eat a lot of cake.