I recently watched a programme on Channel 4 called, ‘SAS – Who dares wins’, the concept of which is that ordinary citizens go through the SAS selection process, notoriously one of the toughest entrance exams in the world. Recruits are subjected to a week of torturous tasks including fake kidnaps, interrogation, extreme physical exertion and being hunted by an enemy team all on about 4 hours sleep and minimal food.
I scoffed when I watched it, turned to my husband and said, ‘all of that is easy. If you want to test them, give them a new born to look after for a week.’
If you’ve already got children you’ll know what I mean, if you’re reading this while pregnant then I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Life with a new small person is brutal, especially if it’s your first time at the rodeo; the sleep deprivation is akin to torture and most women start this phase of their life with an empty sleep tank. Labours that last for days, noisy hospital wards and poor sleep in the latter stages of pregnancy, (too bloody uncomfortable) mean that just when you feel like you’ve crossed the finish line you get told you need to start the marathon again. What you need is a week laying in a darkened room with a cool flannel on your brow. What you get is an angry baby, (hey! I was comfy in there!! I don’t like it out here!), who will wake you every two hours and cry for what seems like hours on end.
Along with extreme sleep deprivation comes not being able to do basic tasks such as showering, washing your hair, going to the toilet, having a drink and eating anything other than biscuits or toast, (well anything that doesn’t need preparing and can be eaten one handed with a sleeping baby on your chest!) combined with worrying that you’re accidentally going to kill your child, spending hours willing them to sleep and then panicking when they do go to sleep in case they stop breathing when you’re not paying attention.
Below are a few key things to remember when you’re going through this crazy upside down time of your life….
Remember that ‘this too shall pass’
This is your survival mantra. Repeat it often. The key to retaining your sanity is to understand that this isn’t normal life and it won’t go on forever.
I had a very romantic vision of what life with our new son would be like. In it I wore a white billowing shirt, my long hair flowing down my back. I padded barefoot around the house, baby comfortably on my breast while I swept the floor, cooked the dinner and gazed adoringly at my husband, marvelling at the wondrous creature that we’d created.
Reality: My greasy hair was scraped back and almost stayed there without a hairband, I was covered head to toe in vomit and urine (my son’s not my own – thank God for small mercies), I didn’t see my husband as we slept in shifts and my son wouldn’t latch so I was mostly attached to a (noisy) breast pump.
What I failed to recognise is that this early phase of life with a new born is nothing like real life and shouldn’t be treated as such. Get into survival mode and remember things will get better. Eventually the length between feeds will stretch, the length of time that baby sleeps will be longer and at some point you will start to feel like yourself again. I promise.
Use maternity leave to transition to your new life
My son was born early and this threw me somewhat. I was still at work when I went into labour and never got the chance to ‘wind down’. I believe that this is really important. As women we try to achieve so much and cram so much into our day; we are employees, bosses, friends, daughters, sisters, aunties, breadwinners, cleaners, cooks and we strive to be the best at everything and are used to carrying on regardless.
Because I hadn’t started maternity leave I was still well and truly in ‘work mode’ during the early weeks with my son. Even if I hadn’t slept the night before I would still get up when my husband got up for work, wash, dress, put a face on and then sit there at 8 o’clock in the morning wondering what the heck I was doing!
What I should have been doing was resting, staying in bed even if I couldn’t sleep, concentrating on making breastfeeding work and bonding with my son.
If you have the chance to take start maternity leave before your baby is born take it. You’ll be excited and anxious and won’t want to rest, you’ll be heavy and uncomfortable and wishing for it to be over but it’s important to take this time.
Mentally remove yourself from work, your job is changing and you need to change too.
Lie in – even if you can’t sleep, read a book, get a massage, take a walk and enjoy the luxury of a shower or a bath without a tiny person screaming at you! Before you know it your life will be turned upside down and you’ll be glad you gave yourself some time to adjust.
Tell people who tell you to ‘cherish every moment’ to f*** off!
Even if it’s only mentally, (in fact I recommend that it’s only mentally, although if there’s a time in life you can get away with it, it’s now!)
You simply cannot enjoy every moment of life with a new born and it’s harmful to hear that you should.
Before you had a child if I’d have come round and woken you every hour in the night would you have enjoyed that? What if you’d just managed to get back to sleep after listening to screaming and crying for an hour when it started again and you knew you had to wrench yourself from sleep to deal with it? Would you really honestly enjoy being covered in urine, vomit, poo? What if you walked into a new job and they told you that you were in charge of a multi-million pound business. There’s no training, no manual but if you mess up you could cost the company everything?
It wouldn’t be enjoyable. At all.
Don’t get me wrong, there are so, so many magical, awe inspiring moments involved in raising a child and eventually they’re all you’ll remember. But when you’re sleep deprived, tearful, scared, sore, worried and anxious about your baby, how you look, how you feel, if you’re doing a good enough job, what people think of you then the last thing you need to hear is that you should be enjoying it.