Letter to my Pre-Mama Self
Hi, so it’s me… well, you, five years from now.
Firstly, congratulations! You are pregnant with your first baby, and I know how excited you are. You are finally going to have a baby, the one you have wanted for as long as you can remember. All those hours spent playing with dolls, babysitting and watching Supernanny on TV have definitely fully prepared you for being the world’s most awesome mother (ahem)…
I thought I might just let you know about a few things you might not be expecting. For a start, I know that right now you are feeling, well- awful. You know you’ve been lucky; unlike so many others you are not throwing up every morning, or feeling constantly tired. And yet even during this time of such joy, you still feel utterly miserable. True you have been a bit queasy and been sleeping at your desk at lunchtime, but that’s not what is bothering you. A dark cloud has descended and you can’t quite seem to blow it away. Don’t worry, it will pass and you will have the most wonderful second trimester. The first will be forgotten…until your next pregnancy.
Those antenatal classes you have signed up for don’t end up being a complete waste of money as you feared, but are actually one of the best things you ever do. That group of complete strangers you meet, with nothing apparently in common except that they just happen to be having babies at the same time as you end up becoming some of your closest friends (yes, really!). Within weeks of meeting for the first time you are discussing your sex life and bodily functions with them, and it’s not even a little bit awkward (and you are not drunk). Over the next five years you will experience more highs and lows than you can imagine, but each challenge you meet will be shared with these friends; sometimes they will be going through the exact same thing, sometimes a different challenge. But as you muddle through together, you will talk, listen and generally make things better for each other. That desert island you sometimes feel you have been left on, they are there too. When you are diagnosed with postnatal depression, it is these friends that, aside of your family, are the first people you want to talk to, and the first people you remember making you feel a bit better.
At those classes you will hear all about things which you think don’t and won’t apply to you. Well, here it is; they do, and they will. You think you already know how to look after babies. Swaddling- what a load of nonsense, you say? Well, it turns out that for six months it’s the only thing that gets your baby to sleep. Co-sleeping-why would you do that? It’s not safe! (I remember you being very clear on that.) Well, a few weeks in, when you are pretty exhausted from waking up every couple of hours every night, you let your son Ridley (SPOILER: it’s a boy – and he’s gorgeous!) fall asleep on your chest at 5 in the morning. You both wake up in the bed three hours later in exactly the same position, leaving you feeling guilty, but brilliant (and rested!). Don’t feel guilty - do prepare for sleeping like that for the next few weeks. Bask in that feeling of all-encompassing love that comes while snuggling your firstborn.
I know you are actually pretty excited about the idea of giving birth, and quite open to the different options available to you. And all the rest of it- all the choices regarding Vitamin K, delayed cord clamping, TENS, managed third stage, inductions or not - don't worry, all will be explained (another reason those antenatal classes were a good idea!) I am pleased to be able to tell you that when it comes to the birth, although you are disappointed you didn’t get Plan A’s water birth, you have an epidural and a really positive experience. Ridley James is born to the sound of ‘Breaking the Law’ by Judas Priest on your awesome labour playlist- we still listen to it now sometimes. The real revelation for you- the bit that completely blows your mind, is that during birth your body just takes over. Your baby knows exactly what he is doing and you truly understand what you are capable of. You think- if no one else was here and it was just me, I could still do this. And wow, is that empowering! You already know that next time it will be different; you won’t ask anyone “How do I push” or seek reassurance. You will trust your body to be the expert it is, and do what it is made to do. The moment when your son is placed on your chest, still all covered in gunk (they either didn’t read your birth plan or just chose to ignore that bit) is simply the best moment of your life so far. You find you don’t even notice the blood and gunk after all; he is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, and even a second more away from him would have been too long. This is the real start of the change you are about to go through.
I know that at this point, in the back of your mind you are very worried about what the weeks ahead may bring. Back at your very first midwife appointment she asked you whether you are intending to breastfeed. You’re only 8 weeks pregnant, this seems way too soon! “Umm, not really thought about it” you mumble, while inside what you’re really thinking is “No way!” You’ve known enough women who have breastfed (your mum, your aunts, many friends) to know it can be pretty tough going. You’ve seen what absolute hell some of your friends have put themselves through to desperately try to make it work, feeling pressured to do it, before giving up at 6 weeks and left feeling crushed and as if they have somehow failed. Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to put yourself through it? Well, you may be very surprised to hear that you do go to the breastfeeding classes. And even more surprised to know you don’t end up feeling pressurised- by anyone, to do it. At the group you meet a very cool woman who presents all the options available to you and is supportive and encouraging and full of great advice. And so fast forward three and a bit years later you’re back there again, but this time it’s because you’re training to be a breastfeeding peer supporter at ‘Boob Group’ (you can’t stop calling it that!). So while breastfeeding the first time around doesn’t work out, and early on you do turn to the bottle, you do wonder whether maybe you should have persisted as you watch your friends feed their babies with such joy and contentment. And next time, you will too. And as I write this, you are still feeding your two year old, and you both love it. How things change.
So while we’re looking to the future, I bet you are wondering what happens? Well you had all your plans for motherhood, and your ideas of how and what should be done and when. And some of them you get to do (a mini festival with a two-week old turns out to actually be a great idea, despite various friends’ misgivings; you dance and drink cider and everyone comes for a cuddle with your gorgeous baby). But something else happens too. Rather than making decisions based purely on what seems to make sense and sound like a good idea, you learn to trust your instincts and follow your gut. But it takes time. You find out you actually want to be with your baby – like, all the time, it doesn’t bother you. The date night you planned for when Ridley was 3 weeks old was, in hindsight, not what you needed then. I can’t even remember what film we went to see. It was fine, he was happy and slept the whole time you were out, but that couple-time you wanted- well maybe just cuddling on the sofa with the baby close by would have been enough, would have been what you wanted, and needed at that point.
During this first year of motherhood you are often left feeling conflicted and guilty (oh, the guilt!) about EVERYTHING. Every single decision you make will be thought out and argued from both sides but you will still feel guilty - why? Simply because an alternative exists. You use the word “should” with yourself a lot during this time; I “should” be able to keep on top of the housework, I “should” be feeling more energetic, I “should” feel happier than I do. So let me tell you now, beating yourself up is just a waste of time, and only makes things a lot worse. You are put on medication (I know you believe it masks the problem rather than helping resolve it, but that first week back at work almost breaks you and with a huge waiting list for counselling you really don’t have a choice). But the group counselling helps a bit, and the CBT makes a huge difference so it is worth those fights and tears on the telephone to get it.
I’ll be honest with you Clair, you don’t end up being the mother you thought you would be. You are not strict and authoritative… in fact it seems you’re a bit of a hippy. And you are aware that you’re changing. Let’s put that down to all the neurological changes you go through as a new mum - just your clever body again adapting to optimise the survival of your offspring. You may not recognise the woman you are today. You hardly wear makeup at all anymore and you’ve cut your hair short- and I can’t remember the last time you bought yourself clothes. But, you are so happy. And the things that make you happy may seem daft to you now, but then the things you obsess about and spend all your time and money on at the moment now seem ridiculous. And yet… and yet without the old you, you wouldn’t be the woman you are today. I have no doubt that as our children get older, things will change again. I can’t imagine what I might look like in five years’ time? Hopefully a little more rested (!), but just as happy, surrounded by my yoga tribe (another spoiler!)
So all that leaves me to say it thanks for the memories. Enjoy the roller coaster of the next few years, and be kind to yourself.
Pregnancy Yoga Teacher & Antenatal Educator, LushTums Bristol firstname.lastname@example.org
Clair has practiced yoga for 12 years. A mum of two young children, she also volunteers as a breastfeeding peer supporter and enjoys helping mothers with the challenges a new baby can bring and assisting them with achieving their goals, whatever they may be.