The first year of motherhood is extraordinary – so many changes, so many possibilities. The First Year Series at Positive Parenting Connection is aimed at giving first time mothers a chance to share their experiences with other readers to inspire, share, enjoy and celebrate the journey of motherhood.
Today I am weloming first time mom, Liza, author and creator of baby/food blog PramSandwich. Liza is sharing all about finding and listening to the mother within.
When my baby was born, suddenly the world was reduced to just him and me. All I could think about those first few days was how precious he was and how I would do anything to protect him. In hospital I lay awake watching him in his crib and waiting until I could hold him in my arms again. I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love this little boy that I had only just met and would already die for. Perhaps birth is the way that it is so that a new mother has the chance to experience what her body is capable of and what she will endure to ensure her baby safe passage into the world.
Our first week was spent in hospital where my partner and I dutifully filled in what we had learnt to do in the hospital handouts and I recorded each feed and how long Finn spent on each breast. I felt a little bit like we were taking an exam where the midwives would point out exactly what we were doing wrong and we would be marked down accordingly. I will never forget the feeling as we carried Finn out to the car that last day in hospital. I half expected a nurse to stop us at the elevator waving our handout and saying that we couldn’t take him home because we had failed the exam.
We drove at a snails pace on the way home, I rode in the back my eyes fixed on our precious bundle. Was he really ours? Did we really get to take him home? When we got home we all piled into our big bed and spent the next few days relaxing and recovering together. Finn fed a lot in those days, as he accustomed himself to his new surroundings. In the comfort of home without nurses waking us up and peering over our shoulders, something wonderful happened. I began to feel like I could do this. I let the parenting manuals, that had haunted me during my pregnancy, rest on the shelf and I connected with the mother I found within me. The one who knew what to do without being told, without googling the answer first. I cuddled my baby, sang to him and let him feed as often as he needed. My partner took to fatherhood like a natural and the three of us fell into a comfortable routine.
A home visit from the maternal health nurse jolted us out of our nest as we were told gently but firmly to remove Finn to his own bed should he fall asleep in our arms. We set up a cradle by our bed and I fed my hands through the bars in an attempt to get closer to my sleeping baby. Sometimes one of us would agree to watch out for the terrible unknown while the other could enjoy the pleasure of falling asleep with Finn snuggled in their arms.
After a few weeks, my partner returned to work and Finn and I had to find our own routine outside our nest. I received a flood of advice from family, friends and strangers. Some advice I welcomed while other “advice” seemed rude and unhelpful, a fellow supermarket shopper for example took it upon herself to tell me that my baby (who had just been fed) was hungry and needed feeding (he didn’t).
We begun mother’s group and while the support was lovely and I made some good friends, suddenly there was a benchmark to compare every aspect of mothering to. Was Finn holding his head up? What was his routine? (“What routine?” I thought.) How long could he sleep through the night? I became confused and the mother within was suddenly harder to hear. Perhaps I should let Finn cry? Perhaps he should have more of a sleep routine? Should he really be feeding this much? I started reading instructional books again. They didn’t help. Nothing I read sat right and no amount of telling myself it was ok could make me listen to my baby “crying it out” and not feel like a monster. So I left the books to gather dust again and begun to listen out for the mother within again. Slowly and shyly she returned. I protected the mother within by shielding her from criticism. When I was asked about Finn’s routines and sleep schedule I replied that it was all going fine and left it at that.
As time went on, I learnt to trust my instincts more and more and the mother within started to shed her cocoon and come out. I didn’t just mother according to my instincts, I shared what I was doing and learnt to be proud of my parenting decisions. I stopped trying to put Finn in a sleep schedule and let Finn sleep in the baby carrier against my body or in our bed. When Finn refused to be spoon fed mush, I let him guide me and gave him soft finger foods to try.
Now that I do share my journey openly and honestly, I have found that actually most people are very supportive and interested. I have also learnt that many other woman parent in alternative ways but don’t readily admit it. Lots of parents co-sleep for example but wouldn’t usually bring it up because the cultural norm tells us our babies should learn to sleep alone.
I wish I had learnt to trust my inner mother sooner, to carry my baby all the time, never let him cry and let him sleep within the safety of my arms. If you are reading this and you are an expectant or new mother, don’t be afraid to listen to your own instincts and question what you are told is the “right way”. There are many right ways and every family is different. Trust that you know what is best for your baby and your family.
Liza Cumming, mum to 8-month-old Finn, writes a baby and food blog pramsandwich , where she shares her parenting thoughts, stories, recipes, cafe finds and love letters.
Would you like to share your first year experience of motherhood with other readers? Leave a comment or contact me via the Facebook page for positive parenting connection.