Changes

Earlier, I read a post on a Facebook page dedicated to the politics of breastfeeding.  It was asking the question whether people felt that a large barrier to breastfeeding is a modern mother’s expectations of maintaining a social life after pregnancy.  It really got me thinking, not just about breastfeeding, but about first-time motherhood in general.

No barriers to breastfeeding here

Somehow the reality of becoming a mum has become a little warped.  Yes, it is beautiful, it is wondrous, it is awesome, and there is no love in this world like the love a mother feels for her baby.  But it is not always easy, and the woman who spent nine months nurturing and growing this beautiful baby will almost definitely not be the same woman who leaves the delivery room.  Life and you and everything you ever thought you knew before are different with the arrival of a baby.

When I was pregnant with The Princess, I’m not sure what I thought about motherhood.  In fact, I’m not sure I thought about motherhood at all, so preoccupied with pregnancy was I.  I immersed myself in books and magazines and articles, drinking in the information about what was happening to my body, my hormones, my baby, and what fruit they were the size of at any given point.  My quest for knowledge did not extend beyond the early stages of labour; the later stages of labour made me clench every muscle south of my hugely rounded abdomen, squeeze my eyes shut, stick my fingers in my ears, and pretend it would never have to happen to me.

But there’s another strange phenomenon – the conspiracy of silence that mothers enter into when it comes to labour.  On the one hand, some mums are only too pleased to regale their traumatic, near-death labour experiences, detailing each millilitre of blood lost, each agonising contraction, each medical device used to extract the baby from their mutilated vagina, all the while revelling in the agony and horror plastered all over your face.  Horror stories aside, no-one really talks about labour, about what it is really like, what the pain is like, how frightening it can be, and what to really expect.  Even midwives join in with this silence.  When I was 38 weeks pregnant, unable to walk without crutches due to SPD, taking iron supplements for anaemia, weighing ten and a half stone having never reached eight stone before, and the midwife who was writing my birth plan told me that I would get through the first stages of labour with only paracetamol for pain relief, I believed her.  When she told me my body was designed to birth my baby, that there were plenty of small-framed women who have naturally birthed large babies and that I was no different, I believed her.  My mum attempted to prepare me for labour by telling me this midwife was talking utter rubbish and that I had never, and would never again, experienced pain like that of labour, yet I was still taken by surprise at just how painful it actually was.  And how exhausting the whole process is.  Then again, that was just my (traumatic) experience.  The SPD definitely made it worse.  I am sure many first-time mums have a more positive experience than I did.  But I’ll bet it still hurt.  A lot.

I digress.  This transition from ‘woman’ to ‘mother’ is exactly that; a transition.  Life changes with a baby, the creation of this tiny, dependant bundle of loveliness brings with it responsibility, a change in priorities, a change in thinking, a change in life as you knew it.  While I was pregnant, on the odd occasion I did allow myself to think about life with a baby, I think I imagined it would be exactly as it was, just with an extra little person around.  I never imagined it would take an hour just to get the baby ready and the bag packed for a trip out, or that it would take me until midday to get myself together for the first three months, or that sleep would be such a problem, or that this baby might want to feed every single hour.  Not only that, I really never expected to change so much in myself.  Depression and anxiety aside, I became more risk-aware, political issues suddenly became important as I realised that I am an advocate for my baby’s future.  My own health became important, actually that happened once I found out I was pregnant, but I had never really taken good care of myself before – I ate rubbish food as I never had a problem with weight gain, I smoked, and I drank way too much alcohol.  Nights out drinking and dancing with friends or The Boyfriend or my sister used to be my main focus of the week, suddenly I couldn’t imagine anything more meaningless.  Things that I used to get so much enjoyment from – devouring fashion magazines, searching for the perfect pair of jeans, discovering new amazing bands – no longer felt important.  What was important was that my baby was feeding, that she was safe, secure, her needs were always met, she was never left to cry, that she was bright and hitting developmental milestones.  I would choose to read a copy of Juno over Grazia; to buy babygrows and books and Jellycat toys over jeans; to sing Row Row Your Boat over listening to my favourite CDs.

Bye Bye boozy nights out

Some mothers describe this transition as making sacrifices.  Sacrificing time alone in order to feed their baby, or rock them to sleep, or take them to a baby massage class.  Some mothers class this as losing their identity, that somehow becoming a mother makes them less of a woman.  Admittedly, I struggled with this at first.  I wondered where I had gone, what had happened to the me that I had known for thirty years, but eventually I realised the birth of my baby also signified the birth of a new me, me as a mother.  It is senseless to think that life won’t change with the arrival of a baby.  Everything changes with the arrival of a baby.

A very surprising change that came with motherhood was discovering I could actually do the ironing

Which brings me back to the question posed on the Loquacious Lactator’s page about a social life being a barrier to breastfeeding.  My answer would be yes.  Somehow the reality of motherhood, that it not only changes your life but it changes you as a person, does not get portrayed by society.  Our obsession with celebrity culture must have some influence in this; TV presenters, actresses, singers, all expected to be back in the spotlight weeks after giving birth, back to their pre-pregnancy size and shape, not a leaking boob, blob of baby sick, or indeed baby in sight.  Back to work, back to career-woman, back to how it was before.  This is how motherhood is portrayed in the magazines and tabloids, get pregnant, look glowing while retaining unique pregnancy style, give birth, return to normal.  This is not real life.  The more mums-to-be who understand that life changes irrevocably and eternally, that skipping out of the hospital in size 6 skinny jeans and into the pub for lunch for a catch-up with friends is highly unlikely, and not really the ultimate aim of becoming a parent, the less these changes will be viewed as sacrifices.  They are just changes.

Me, knackered, make-up free, mum of two, totally in love with my babies

11 Comments

Filed under Breastfeeding, The (Dummy) Mummy

11 Responses to Changes

  1. This is. A lovely post, so truthful, I feel the same way about breastfeeding and well.. Being a mother in general, you put a really good point across, being a parent needs a reality check from celeb culture! 🙂 xx

    • Thanks for your comment. I think celebrity culture is so huge in our society, admittedly, it’s not something that influences me personally but it does have a big influence over a lot of people, that if breastfeeding and babywearing and taking time to lose weight and countless other ‘normal’ things were reported in the tabloids, it might take a bit of pressure off mums!x

  2. A lovely, honest, down to reality post. We are what we think – our expectations probably define us. Let’s consider changing our expectations, let’s consider our responsibilities and our children’s needs. Let’s all do it together, collectively – we may all be surprised that we can actually welcome the changes, because they herald another level/phase of life. A fabulous and fulfilling phase of life. Shall we all just quit the celebrity pretensions – most of us are mere women, with a job to do and a fulfilling life to get on with.

  3. So true, the changes in one’s life are massive. Social life…what was that? You mean playdates, right? 😉

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  5. I’ll be honest… I completely disagree. I don’t think that having children has changed me in the slightest. I was always very maternal, very responsible and very risk aware. I had no experience of children but it was all innate. I haven’t had to sacrifice anything, I haven’t lost my identity or my free time or my social life. I still have all of those things in abundance. My children are an extension of me. I’ve had no psychological battles and in fact my seasonal affective disorder disappeared once I had children. Perhaps that’s because I have a supportive husband? The only impact to us has been financially. I don’t find any part of parenting difficult or stressful, being a mum is the most natural thing in the world to me and I love every second. I think if anything, becoming a mum has completed me. I know everyone doesn’t feel this way and I think myself insanely lucky that I do.

    I am however – one of those people you mention who has blogged every second of my birth trauma! My first birth was a drug-free breeze and the pain was nowhere near that of what I’d built up in my mind. But my second birth was an agonising hell. That was partly due to a serious illness I had developed in pregnancy that had gone undiagnosed, partly due to being induced and partly due to my stupidity in thinking an epidural would help, when I think it in fact made things a lot lot worse!

  6. I think you make a good point that motherhood is innate, it came naturally to me too and the changes that went on in my thoughts and emotions and lifestyle did come naturally – more naturally than I ever thought they would. Unlike you I was never maternal until I got pregnant. My pregnancy was also unplanned and a big shock, and becoming a mum was not something I ever thought would happen to me, given a history of gynae problems. So my life wasn’t exactly geared up to the day that I would become a mum, and I think that for some, not all, women, the changes that happen, however naturally, are still big changes. I think that you maybe misunderstood me when I said about ‘sacrifices’ – personally, nothing that I do for or with or because of my children is a sacrifice. That’s not how I see motherhood. But I do know women who almost refuse to let life change after children – they have grandparents look after the children every weekend, leaving them free to go away to hotels or to see bands or for city breaks abroad, they spend a day every fortnight in a spa in order to relax, and ensure they have three mornings in the gym (I hope the woman I’m talking about isn’t reading this!!) – and it is as if the children are an inconvenience that have to fit around the ‘grown-up’ time. It is people with these expectations that view the natural transition towards motherhood as a ‘sacrifice’.
    I think I’m rambling, sorry, my comment is becoming another post.
    But also, I agree with you about the epidural – I had SPD and the pain during my first labour was unbearable because of it. The epidural took away the pelvic pain, but having given birth aided only by gas and air the second time, it made me realise that the epidural took a lot away from me, like the natural desire to push.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. I think it does all settle, I feel more ‘me’ now we are beyond babyhood and toddlerhood.
    I am changed but that’s OK. It’s another stage in life, I’ve done other things that have changed me – but motherhood is probably the biggest.
    I think making sacrifices is part of being a parent, it’s such a huge change. Babies need so much – you can’t really not make sacrifices – unless you have a nanny 24 hours a day and then who is sacrificed – the baby?
    I do think there is a view that some women ‘over-do motherhood’ and you can continue to pop off to lunch and pop your child on the side while you do 20 miles on the treadmill etc. I’ve seen women exhaust themselves trying to continue as they did before except with baby on hip or it seems the baby/toddler struggles because he/she is almost always on the edge of an adult activity to suit the parents, with very little child focussed stuff. Motherhood is represented by celebrity culture and even in soap operas so removed from the actual reality – I do think we are sometimes sold a bit of a lie. Who in Eastenders ever had a C-section? Or really represents 24 hours care of a small baby. There is a lack of reality and often in the workplace or in society in general, it’s almost as if you are either a parent or your not and if your not you are such a world away, rather than a collective society with different experiences who support each other – I am going on and on now… will stop.

  8. It’s funny you talk about labor in the way you do. My labor was beautiful and wonderful. It wasn’t at all painful, stressful or traumatic. None of them were. I never was mutilated or anything. I had 3 beautiful and magical births. I guess I need to talk about them – if people thing this about labor.

    Of course, I had home births – so maybe that’s the difference.

    Anyway, I don’t think women really focus on Motherhood during the pregnancy. I always tell people, get your heads out of the book and drum up your women’s wisdom. This wisdom will get you through everything. Cause books mean nothing. What happens to one body or one baby doesn’t happen to another body or baby.

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