Rookie Review: Motherhood, 8 weeks
I initially wanted to write about my pregnancy because I found it a bit difficult to process what was happening as it was happening. But now that I’ve given birth, the pregnancy feels like aeons ago and I can’t remember much about it except that I loved being pregnant (an unexpected plot twist) and that life was so much easier — not necessarily better, just easier — having Poppy inside rather than outside.
I’m aware of what a privilege it is to be able to say I had an easy pregnancy. I was super lucky. I mean, I don't actually think there's any such thing as an easy pregnancy just because it literally wreaks such havoc on your body physically, but for me, it was a pretty wonderful experience. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — that’s all I can say about it so I thought I’d write a review of how motherhood is going so far; keeping in mind I have only been a mother for as long as Poppy has been a baby earth side, hence the title of this post.
THE HARD BITS — it’s a lot, but it’s temporary, but it’s a lot.
Be prepared to be unprepared
Thinking back, it’s kind of strange how focused and preoccupied I was with readying my mind and body for labour, to the extent that I didn’t really do much to prepare myself for what comes after that.
Luckily, Scott and I signed up for antenatal classes and the last session covered how to deal with the next like, 18 years after your baby is born. As you’d expect, it was pretty condensed. And at the time, looking after a baby just seemed so far away, we didn’t really pay much attention. We walked away knowing what to do up till about the first hour and a half after the baby is born. But beyond that, we were clueless.
Do I wish I’d done more to prepare for what comes AFTER the birth? Not really. Honestly, no amount of classes or books or conversations with seasoned mums could have prepared me for the sheer, overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother myself. Adding yet another layer of complexity to motherhood is the fact that it does not happen gradually but rather abruptly — at least for me, that’s how it felt like it happened.
Physically, psychologically, emotionally, logistically, dealing with a newborn is unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I’ve found the best thing I can do is to just follow my instincts and make it up as I go along, trusting that in the end it will all turn out all right.
And there I was thinking my labour was loooong and tiring. (I often describe it as 21-hour HITT class whenever people ask how it was, even though I’ve never actually gone for a HITT class — it looks like hard work.) But caring for a young baby, the non-stop nature of it, the unpredictability, yet at the same time the repetition and monotony of it all, now that’s hard work! Also, you stop sleeping like how you normally would and it feels like the days don’t end.
For me, the first two weeks were actually surprisingly manageable. I was exhausted from labour, but I had adrenaline pumping through my veins. My body felt battered and everything hurt, but I was so in love with my new baby it didn’t matter. I was thrown into a strange new world plagued by jaundice and breast engorgement, but oh what a beautiful universe it was.
Then came the third week and my body just crashed. You know what else came crashing? Some pretty intense hormonal waves. Hello short fuse for difficulty. Hello crying for no reason. Hello darkness, my old friend.
Thankfully, we found some sort of routine by the forth week — and I use the word routine very, very loosely. I was kind of starting to get into the groove of things but at the same time, I wasn’t, really. Because that’s the thing with babies. Poppy seems to have such a strong desire to “keep growing” and insists on developing at such a furious speed, it makes her kind of mercurial. Just when I think I’ve got her all figured out, she changes entirely and I need to upgrade my brain and habits and routine and life accordingly to keep up. Anxiety and fatigue is my new baseline state.
For some odd reason, I’d always imagined breastfeeding to be as simple as bringing the baby to your bosom whenever she’s hungry, which is why I didn’t think to read up on or familiarise myself with the mechanics of it. Spoiler alert: it’s not — it’s complicated AF.
Mercifully, breastfeeding came naturally and easily for Poppy and myself. I attribute it to the fact that she spent hours in the birth canal being like, "What the fuck? Where's my food" And as soon she found me, she slithered up to my nipple and was on it. Even though she had no issues latching and I had no supply problems, we still experienced our share of challenges. To give you some perspective on how trying and hellish breastfeeding can be in the early weeks: I didn’t shed a single tear while giving birth without drugs. But I’ve cried on countless occasions while breastfeeding / because of breastfeeding.
I’m fine with cluster feeding and with Poppy wanting to latch for over an hour because it comforts her. It’s tiring, no doubt about it, but mastitis… man. What can I say? Mastitis is like a creepy weirdo lurking just around the corner. Despite latching her often (basically on demand), hand expressing diligently every 3 hours in the night if she sleeps through a feed, taking 4 capsules of lecithin daily, and not wearing a tight bra, I’d still get plugged ducts and the chills every so often.
The pain and the fear of getting a bad case of mastitis causes me so much distress, I’ve been told by well-meaning family on several occasions to just stop breastfeeding altogether. I’m not an absolutist and I know formula fed babies go on to become robust human beings — I was formula fed! But I didn’t come this far only to come this far. (I’m stubborn like that.) (With this mentality I’ll probably still be breastfeeding Poppy when she’s fifteen. Ha!!!!)
Whenever I’m in a stressful situation, I tend to switch my emotions off and just focus on completing the task at hand. This is how I passed my driving test on the first try. (My dad says my ability to keep a cool composure under stress makes me an excellent fighter pilot candidate. My dad was a fighter pilot. I get motion sickness when I take the elevator in shopping malls. I will not be joining the airforce anytime soon.) (Sorry about the draggy side track; it’s hard to stay on topic having slept only 3 hours in the night.)
It was no different in this instance. Compartmentalization was (is) a large part of how I was (am) able to function in the early weeks of becoming a mother. But then I began to feel that I was not bonding with Poppy because I was just going through the motions. My state of mind was so precarious that when Poppy flashed her first genuine smile at Scott, it tipped me over the edge and I LOST IT.
THINGS THAT MAKE THE HARD BITS NOT SO HARD
I know not everyone has this. I wonder how single mothers cope.
Scott supports us wholeheartedly and no parenting task (like bathing Poppy!) is too tough or scary for him. He puts our baby to sleep when I’m too tired, he wakes up in the middle of the night to help me massage my boobies, he reaches over and holds my hand in the dark to let me know he’s right there with me, he gives our daughter his time and presence, he reads the parenting books and summarizes them into short and actionable bullet points… The list goes on. Gist of the story is, he makes me feel loved and held every step of this transformative journey from husband and wife to parents.
A support network
It is very true what they say about it taking a village. Scott and I are so blessed to be living with my parents who have help at home. We threw our whole selves into caring for Poppy during the first few weeks, we didn’t have the bandwidth to do anything else. They went to the market, cooked us wholesome meals, washed our laundry, took care of household chores; they basically did everything for us, so we could find our feet.
Support can look like anything from a postpartum doula, night nurse, confinement nanny, or simply family and friends. It’s not only the new baby who needs care; women who have just given birth also need care. There’s no shame in that — a huge (traumatic) physical thing has just happened to both mother and child. It took awhile for me to be able to cut myself some slack and just enjoy everyone being extra nice to me.
Babies are so much more conscious than what society will have us believe. And more often than not, they know more than we do, so I’m just following Poppy’s lead at this point.
I was hoping we wouldn’t get a dry baby because it honestly does help to have a funny baby who smiles and chuckles a lot. Only a couple of months in but Poppy is already pretty hilarious, if I do say so myself. We have so much fun together. She thinks I’m hilarious too and sometimes looks at me like I’m the greatest thing in the world. I feel like the luckiest person because she chose me to be her mother.
Motherhood is life-changing. These past 8 weeks have been disorientating, joyful, and intense on every level. Why did no one tell me this? I’m not sure I’d have been so excited or keen to take the leap from looking after beans and papayas to looking after a baby had I known.
Before I entered the world of motherhood, I only saw images of pretty nurseries, sleeping babies, the perfect work-life balance. The drudgery that is the reality of motherhood, the endless list of unfinished tasks, the leaky boobs, and the constant silent scream of the mental load, is seldom openly shared. To some extent I play my own part in this, the pull of biology being so strong that I tune out the bits of motherhood I don't want to see before I myself get there. That said, I don’t think it is possible to understand fully the highs and lows of motherhood without having experienced them firsthand.
Now go give your mumma a hug!