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'It Was Tough In A New Country With A New Baby'

Getting the right support is crucial when you become a parent. Jennifer Riddall talks about how being away from home with a new baby was tougher than she anticipated.

Relocating at 15 weeks pregnant was no mean feat. The move over from England was taxing, but that was to be expected given that the only time I didn’t feel tired or nauseous was when I was asleep. What I hadn’t anticipated though was the upheaval once all the boxes had been unpacked.

READ MORE: How To Survive Those Early Weeks

Wrapped up in the midst of a move, I didn’t think about what life was going to be like in a new country, away from family and friends and with a new baby. In fact, when I was pregnant I’m not sure I thought past the birth at all. Every now and then I would be reminded about becoming a parent – like when my husband got giddy about the wheels and suspension on our new travel system – but I was so caught up with the thought of pushing a baby out that I had neglected to think about the part where I would be pushing a buggy around.

Focus On Life After Birth

This isn’t surprising or uncommon among mums-to-be. The antenatal class I attended was spectacularly informative about labour, but the midwife’s talk on ‘life after baby’s arrival’ was over before I even had a chance to digest the graphic four hours that had preceded.

It’s not just antenatal classes that lack focus on early parenthood. Friends with babies try to prepare you for birth while reminiscing about their own experience; friends without babies ask, with a grimace, how you are feeling about giving birth; while most of the reading material I came across when pregnant was geared towards D-Day.

READ MORE: Your Newborn's First 6 Weeks: Colic, Juandice and Umbilical Hernia

Adjusting To Change

It’s understandable why most of the prep is for labour and it was helpful to read about things I hadn’t considered, but because my birthing plan was not to have a plan (to avoid disappointment), much of this info was defunct.

When you consider that even the longest of labours is over in a flash compared to all the years you have ahead as a parent, there should be more spotlight on life with a newborn. I don’t just mean bathing demos or how to change a nappy either, I’m talking about the less tangible stuff – the feelings, the emotions, the highs and lows; the rollercoaster that we find ourselves on as new parents.

“While having a baby, particularly your first, is the most fantastic experience of your life, it is also very overwhelming,” says Public Health Nurse (PHN) Valerie O’Brien. “You may have spent months preparing, reading books and taking classes, but the reality is still a shock to most. Parents think they will be able to get their baby in a routine, but in fact it is the baby who dictates this in the first few weeks.”

READ MORE: 8 Tips For Surviving The Early Days Of Motherhood

Those early days are a whirlwind – a sleep-deprived haze of feeding, nappies and more feeding. There is no night and no day (the two merge into one), but that’s okay because you are busy getting to know a precious bundle that is now the centre of your universe and reliant on you for everything.

My husband took two weeks of paternity leave during this time, but it flew by in a blur! What I do remember clearly is how I felt the day he went back to work, and the weeks that followed. I usually thrive on challenge but was shocked by how isolated and overwhelmed I felt in my new role.

“Having a baby is a physical and emotional rollercoaster,” says Valerie.

“The initial euphoria can wane if the mother is left to cope alone, so it is crucial for the partner or family to recognise that the mother needs ongoing support in her new role.”

Group Support

My husband has been a rock star, but there is no substitute for your own mum when you become a mum, and being away from so many people (and places) I knew, made my journey into motherhood tough at times.

While my game face was very much ‘on’ when it came to labour (thanks to all the reading), and I know that nothing can truly prepare you for a baby’s arrival, there are steps that can be taken for a smoother transition into parenthood.

Despite being encouraged to attend a local breastfeeding group by my PHN, I never went. If I’m honest, groups of new people scare me a bit (I’m much better at writing words than speaking them), but Esme and I would have benefitted from a breastfeeding group. Plus, those first few moments of feeling shy in a sea of new faces would have been less traumatic than trying to keep my new baby occupied and myself sane during those early days.

READ MORE: Things You Should Know About The First 6 Weeks Of Breastfeeding

My confidence as a mum outside these four walls has grown though and I have since signed up to several baby classes. It’s important to get out and spend time with like-minded mums who won’t judge you for smelling of baby puke. I find it comforting to know I’m not alone and cathartic to swap stories of sleepless nights. The days can be long when you’re home alone with a small baby, so having something to break the monotony makes all the difference.

“You go from being free and independent to being responsible for this tiny person,” said Valerie. “The physical demands can be a huge strain, so it is crucial for mum to have supportive people around her so that she can relax and get to know her baby.”

Whether it’s a cooked meal, putting a wash on or a shoulder to cry on, having the right support is crucial. I didn’t want anyone to look after Esme – it wasn’t time on my own that I needed, I was just trying to find my feet as a new mother and ways to keep us both content. After all, a happy mum equals a happy baby.

Help Is At Hand!

  • A few days after birth, the Public Health Nurse will visit. The PHN plays a supportive role for both mother and baby and can be called on for advice about feeding, sleeping and general support.
  • The Community Mothers’ Programme is offered in some areas of Ireland. This is a peer support group where an experienced mum will visit a new mum and help her with any issues she may have.
  • Breastfeeding support groups are run in all localities and can be an excellent way for new mums to learn from peers and make new friends. Cuidiú and La Leche League are national support groups for breastfeeding mums.
  • Mother and baby support groups are a great way for new mums who aren’t breastfeeding to meet new people. There are also parenting courses that are run during baby’s infancy, such as The Incredible Years, which support parents through the challenges they will face.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask visitors for help around the house while you enjoy bonding with your newborn, but try to keep visits short and to a minimum in those early days.

Are you going through the same experience as Jennifer? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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