So much attention is given to becoming and being pregnant, a portion of attention is given to your birth and very little real attention is given to the expectation of your post partum experience.
The truth is, there is not a whole lot that can anyone can say that will ever prepare you for what parenthood feels like, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Not one person told me in the whole nine months that I was growing my child, that I would meet someone new, and it wouldn’t be my baby, it would be me.unknown
Recently, I had the privilege of supporting another beautiful new family as they uncovered their new roles together. Admittedly, I felt like I let them down; Why? Because I couldn’t find the words, expressions or analogies in our antenatal sessions to give them a realistic expectation of what lay in front of them.
I am very aware of not instilling fear in my clients. So many expectant parents get told “you just wait for the screaming, the sleepless nights, the baby spew, the poo, the this thing negative, the that thing bad…” and it annoys me because that is not all that new parents experience. There are so many dreamy moments that snuggle up next to those nightmares. I have my own experiences of course, but they are mine, so while I use those experiences to show and enable empathy and understanding of what I know new parents are going through, I have never taken an approach of “warning” anyone of what is to come.
To respect new parents, I often talk about requesting and accepting support if they need it and allowing themselves an opportunity to figure out what kind of parents they want to and will be. I have realised though, this still isn’t enough. There needs to be more said, more options given, more balanced truths told.
The thing is, not only is it almost inexpressible, but there are also SO many variables. The experiences a new family feels can be affected and influenced by so much:
- Mums personality, abilities, desires, needs, feelings, expectations.
- Dads personality, abilities, desires, needs, feelings, expectations.
- Bubs personality, health, natural feeding and sleeping patterns.
- Birth experience; was it empowering, distressing, emotional, disrupted, emergency, long, short, comfortable, surprising.
- Post Natal healing; physical, emotional, depression, anxiety.
- Support network availability
- Current pressures; work, financial, global pandemics, family dynamics.
Not every reaction or result can be predicted or expected and sometimes in an effort to protect someone from being bombarded with all the ‘what ifs’ we can leave them unprepared for possible or likely realities.
At times, the unexpected, the untold, the un-forewarned, the newness of self becomes overbearing.
So how can we better prepare the unsuspecting newbies? What can we say about the possible realities that can have a positive impact, that can promote excitement without deception?
The idea of a mini us is so brilliant, so delightful, let them have their happy daydream. It is wonderful to ponder on all the lovely moments that are to come. All the firsts. There is shadows of kindness in allowing people to linger in their bubble of naivety. It’s no more fun or fair to burst that bubble than it is to tell a kid that there’s not a magical bunny bouncing the fields of gold bringing everybody chocolate at Easter. Reality always comes, how much of it do we need to share and show before it arrives.
Do expecting parents want to hear every version of the truth? Can they hear the truth even if it is told. Do we really absorb something that we haven’t yet experienced.
I didn’t. I couldn’t.
When I had my first baby, I expected the exhaustion, the nappies, the tears. I didn’t expect or comprehend the matters of a motherly heart. Not until I was to hold a version of my own heart in my arms in the form of a tiny, perfect, completely useless human. I didn’t expect that my birth would leave me wounded and achy, I didn’t expect that I would feel unsure of myself, uncomfortable with my task, overwhelmed by my own expectations. I didn’t know I would be an amazing swaddling, settling ninja. I didn’t expect I would love being at home all day until the clock struck 3pm at which time the love of home felt like a life sentence of agitation.
I didn’t know what kind of Dad my husband was going to be. I didn’t expect I would feel challenged by his ability to sometimes parent better than me or be frustrated when he couldn’t keep up. I didn’t know I would feel eternally disappointed that I was left alone in the birth suite covered in my own birthing mess while the staff took my husband down to the special care room with my brand new son. I didn’t know I would feel abandoned. I didn’t know I would be so hungry. I didn’t expect I wouldn’t always like the feeling of being a mum.
I didn’t know I would be able to get past all those big feelings and have three more babies. Each one offering new wonder, new challenges, new depths of love.
I know a lot of things now that I couldn’t know before. The thing I know more than any other is that it doesn’t matter how much you know academically; feelings will feel whatever they want, whenever they want without warning, preparation or expectation.
So you’re going to have a baby, what comes next?
Next comes something neither you or I can foresee, but I can make an experienced, educated guess. Next comes awe and patience and love and frustration and fragility and purpose and kindness and rage and exhaustion and success and failure and possibilities and routines and broken routines and forgiveness and sadness and grief and gratitude and yes…sleepless nights, baby spew, poos and crying.
But also, next comes learning to love the newly exposed layers to yourself no matter how raw and unwelcomed they are, reintroducing yourself to the world – to yourself – to your partner. Next comes everything you could never expect and not always want, next comes different priorities and new goals and groundhog days and boredom and busyness and freedom and new levels of weakness and new levels of strength, determination and surrender.
Next may be unpleasant, messy, gritty, cracked, wonky and blurry.
Next may be surreal, extraordinary, calm, sweet, amazing and wonderful.
Next will probably be all of it in different ratios in different moments.
Next has to come and next will also pass.
I can help you prepare for many things, but I am sorry, I can’t not prepare your heart. I can merely ask you to remember to be kind to yourself, say yes to support, sleep when its available, eat all the food, change your mind, try all the things, celebrate the wins, forget about the fails, cry if you want to. Tell your partner all the feelings, let him love you the best he can, let him make mistakes, let him win when you are losing, give him the baby and go and have a bath.
You will mostly always be doing ok but you wont always feel like you are. You will want to enjoy every moment but you wont always be able to.
You may not be the kind of mother you want or expected to be; grieve a little while, acknowledge your efforts, change your expectation and know that all of it is going to be ok.
Welcome to parenthood. Its a big fat magical mess.