10 things I'd tell my best friend about having a baby
1 Clean sheets = the best present ever
You may have been primarily in bed since you got there but, by the time you are going home from hospital, you will be surprised how completely exhausted you are. Having most likely slept poorly in the last few months of your pregnancy thanks to your over-active bladder
and brain, you then have the exertion of the labour
, followed by the high of meeting the baby and a total inability to sleep. Sure who'd watch the baby?! Factor in visitors, getting to grips with feeding and those lovely six o'clock hospital starts when you finally have nodded off, and it all adds up to one thing. Total wipe-out.
You often hear it recommended to ask friends and family for dinners for when you get home. I would say that if a close family member or friend offers help, ask them would they mind having a go at your bedroom at home the day you're due out. Getting home to a room that's spick and span and slipping in between fresh clean bedclothes will feel like heaven - even if it is only for a couple of hours. [READ ALSO: A-Z of things to do when expecting your first baby]
2 Getting on the road
The first time you are in the car alone with your baby is terrifying. You will fret about their temperature - are they going to be too hot? Too cold? How are they going to manage being all alone back there?
You will then drive like a 90-year-old granny while cursing the fact that you didn't get a Baby on Board sign when you had the chance. And shaking your fist at all the lunatics out there driving over 20mph. Don't they know you have an actual real-live BABY in the backseat!
3 The unspoken terror
The ins and outs of the labour ward are well documented. Between television shows like One Born Every Minute, endless blogs and websites and books, oh so many books, if you do your research, it is likely that you will be prepared - theoretically at least - for what is going to go on during the birth
However, so often, it is what comes in the days that follow that may take you aback. Something as simple as going to the toilet can be such a scary thing. You may have stitches or a tear, or be bruised and sore. You may have developed hemorrhoids during the pregnancy, or during the pushing part of the labour. You really might not be too sure at all about what's going on down there, and the prospect of peeing or, god forbid, straining? Yikes.
So what can you do? Well drinking water and eating well right up to the end of the labour will help. Peppermint capsules are supposed to be great. Pack a few glamorous staples like Anusol and Preparation H in your hospital bag. And the main thing is not to put off going as this can cause constipation, and if you can avoid that at all, well, do.
4 Breastfeeding is natural - but it may take longer than you think for it to feel that way
I naively assumed that I would take to breastfeeding like a duck to water. I'd seen it in the films - the baby would crawl up my belly and contentedly latch on, the start of our wonderful journey, no need to prepare! Alas, it did not happen that way. Problems latching, 'poor supply' as I was told, a baby who didn't seem to have a clue what she was doing (do they not have movies in there?) - it all added up to an awful beginning. One that was made much worse because I felt sure that it came much more naturally to everyone else.
Then, my little girl got a serious infection when she was four days old which necessitated a huge volume of various antibiotics going into her little body via an IV tube. That really made me grit my teeth to persevere, to hopefully pass on some precious immunity to help her, and I know that had that not happened I might so easily have given up, convinced I was no good at it.
Instead, I talked to friends and family who had done it, all of whom assured me that they had had to work at it too. I read everything I could online and got a wonderful lactation consultant to come to the house. Even though I still felt like crying - or actually cried! - during almost every feed, I set myself little targets - another day, another week, another month. And finally there came a day when I noticed it didn't hurt anymore, that actually it finally did feel natural and it was even - dare I say it! - easy!
If you do plan to breastfeed, I would say to give yourself a fighting chance. Go to a La Leche or Cuidiu meeting while you're pregnant. Attend the antenatal class on feeding (I missed that because of work), read the books and get a support system set up in advance. And, whatever else, if it doesn't come naturally, don't feel like a failure, it really is not just you.
5 Your relationship will change
From the labour-room experience to the realisation that you have made this little human being together - look, he has my toes! Your ears! - there is no doubt that your relationship changes after you have a baby. In the early sleep-deprived, panic-filled days, you will cling to each other at night, petrified to make a sound in case he/she wakes again and you will have to decide what to do all over again.
Then, as time goes by, the sleep competition will kick in and you may bitterly keep track of an extra five minutes here or 10 minutes there. (Sleep really is the most common theme of the early weeks - there is just no getting away from it.)
When it comes to sex, you may think 'never again' - and you would certainly not be the first person to think so. Try not to let it become a huge deal though, keep talking, talking to each other, about everything. These mad days and nights are only temporary and, while they may push a faltering relationship to breaking point (you will start to wonder about those reality TV stars you read about who have a baby to 'save their relationship' or after being together five weeks. I couldn't stop thinking about them), they will also make a good one stronger, and watching your partner hop on one foot to get a cheap laugh at six in the morning may just make you burst with love.
6 You will keep changing your mind about things
What to dress the baby in, what to feed them, when to feed them, when they should sleep... You will most likely be flooded by indecision and this is completely normal. In fact, it is only because you want to do the very best job you can that you are like this and not a sign that you are in fact a terrible mother.
And, to be honest, it's not just you because the baby will be doing the very same. Changing their mind at will and keeping you on your toes. They may decide to sleep six hours straight for an entire week - making you think that you have cracked this sleeping lark, 'feck it, this is easy, I should be on that Super Nanny show!' - when suddenly they will start to wake every 10 minutes and get up for the day at four. Mind-changing. It goes with the territory.
7 Honesty is the best policy
There often seems to be a temptation to gloss over things in the baby/motherhood realm. Everyone else seems so together - sure wasn't your auntie's friend's cousin's neighbour at a match with her baby the day after having a candle-lit home birth and hadn't she made brownies for everyone in the crowd. With hazelnuts! - while you are struggling to just survive hour to hour.
The early weeks at home with the baby are hard. Everything you've heard about the lack of sleep and lack of time is true. I once spent six hours hoping to get from the sitting room to the kitchen to get a banana, peel it and eat it. It never happened and, to be honest, I wasn't even that surprised.
Motherhood is amazing and rewarding and tough and tiring. It's not a competition. Tell the truth, particularly to other mothers, and savour the universal nature of it all. If we let it, it can be the one great unifier, the thing that makes us all equal, irrespective of money, status, creed or anything else.
8 Everyone has an opinion
This may not be surprising but what can be surprising is how defensive it can make you feel. Like they're questioning your very ability to raise your child and, if you are jaded and already confused about what you're doing, there's a good chance it might hit a nerve.
There may be people who think they know it all and want to force you to do things their way but most people, we hope, probably just want to help. And, you know what, it's okay to let them. You're only learning and there is an ocean of experience out there; tapping into other people's knowledge doesn't make you any less of a mother, it makes you a better one. Your instincts will guide you here. And, when the time comes, you may be able to do the same for someone else. Less judgment, more support and even more chocolate. A winning recipe.
9 Becoming a mother really changes you
I had heard it said many times and wondered, was it really true? What if I didn't feel that way? Don't worry. It is completely true and it will surprise you how fast it happens.
Firstly, there's the unconditional love. So vast and all-consuming, it seems it could swallow you up, and makes it hard to breathe if you think about it enough.
While your hormones are all over the place during pregnancy, your emotions will remain heightened long after your baby has arrived, and your empathy levels will be through the roof. You will start to think of all sorts of people as being someone's son or someone's daughter, and there will be certain stories in the newspaper/on the news that you just have to turn away from.
In a personal capacity, the really great news is that having a baby helps you become a stronger, more assured version of yourself. Petty concerns that would have gotten under your skin before will seem ever-less important and you may - finally! - start to cast off the insecurities and doubts that tortured you before. Frankly, you won't have the energy for worries of this kind and, combined with your newly heightened empathy levels, this could help you find a sort of peace that may have seemed completely out of reach in the past. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with having the latest designer bag or It dress or even an endless supply of Galaxy bars.
10 Nothing and no one will ever prepare you for having a baby
Lists like this are all well and good and I definitely think that living in the time that we do, the age of information, can only be a positive thing, as we take control of our own experience.
However, like every child, every journey into motherhood is utterly unique. No two experiences are the same. Undoubtedly, however, there are commonalities and that is why we can help each other. Provide a listening ear, a wry, understanding smile, an hour's babysitting. And even, if you're a really good friend, a room-hoovering, sheet-changing hand.