No matter how many books you read and people you speak to, nothing can prepare you for motherhood. Georgina Guedes spoke to some moms about what they wished they had known.
1. There’s more than one way to raise a baby
Deedee, mom to Matthew and Lucas, says she was amazed that after all this time there wasn’t a definitive rule book. “I wish I’d been made more aware of the fact that we all just muddle along, and that doctors or midwives or other mothers with strong opinions aren’t necessarily right. Your choices reflect who you are and you’re seldom outright wrong,” she says.
All mothers profess to feeling overwhelmed with advice. Some appreciate it, most resent it, but it gets tricky when you’re looking for an answer, but have no idea of what the right advice is.
“If you don’t know what to do, find someone who you generally feel comfortable with in terms of their views, and go with what they say,” says Ruth Ancer, a Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist in private practice. “There isn’t one way to bring up babies, feed them, and deal with sickness. So find that person – your mother, your paediatrician, a nurse or a friend, and when in doubt, turn to them,” she adds.
2. That the love would be so instant and strong… or not
The first time Heather held her new baby, Sam, she started sobbing uncontrollably with overwhelming love. That’s the kind of bonding every mother hopes for. But later that evening it started to freak her out.
“I realised that for the rest of my life I would be emotionally exposed for loving something so completely, and I was terrified at how vulnerable that made me feel,” she says. Heather had a full-on panic attack and phoned her husband at midnight to come back to the hospital and calm her down.
On the other hand, Angel, mom to Damien, only felt vaguely loving towards her baby, but didn’t have what she describes as “that momma-bear protective instinct” until a few weeks later. “I was very worried, but then it started to dawn gradually and got stronger over time,” she says.
Ancer says that moms can feel anything on the spectrum of emotions when confronted with the life-changing event of holding their own baby for the first time. “It can be anger, protectiveness without love, or detachment. It’s not actually all that usual to feel overwhelming love. Bonding is a lifelong process and can happen at any point or stage,” she notes.
Whether you have positive emotions or negative emotions, the adjustment process is about learning to deal with change.
3. That breastfeeding isn’t the most natural thing on earth
Victoria, mom to Eliott and Charlotte, looked forward to breastfeeding her daughter, but no matter how many specialists looked at her daughter’s latch, it was still a painful process.
“It never stopped being sore, but I was determined to carry on and I’m glad I did, because it was the best thing for my daughter and very rewarding for me,” she says.
According to Jane MacLaren, breastfeeding counsellor and childbirth educator, some moms feel pain during breastfeeding, others simply don’t like the sensation, while others may have psychological issues that prevent them from being comfortable while nursing.
“Whatever the reason, if you’re struggling with any aspect of breastfeeding, it’s important to get help from a breastfeeding counsellor straight away. Breast is best for your baby, so do whatever you can to make it work for you,” she says.
4. That babies sometimes never stop crying
“No number of books you read, stuff you buy or specialists you consult can ever help you deal with a crying baby, because you’ll be alone with that baby at some point and it will just cry and cry and there will be nothing you can do,” says Melina, mom to Callum and Nina. “The desolate loneliness of it all – nothing prepared me for that.”
MacLaren explains that a baby’s digestive system is not mature until 12 weeks, and that breast milk is often digested in 90 minutes, so small babies are often uncomfortable or hungry.
“On the upside, they’re also neurologically immature until around four months. So, you can’t spoil them or teach them bad habits. Do whatever you need to make them happy,” she says. Give them lots of skin-on-skin contact; let them sleep on your chest; and carry them around in a wraparound sling.
5. That the second baby isn’t easier
Gwen, mom to Stephen and Matthew, says contrary to what she’d expected, her second baby wasn’t easier than her first. “My second boy never slept through the night, hated strange environments, hated new foods and screamed from three months until he was a year old,” she says.
MacLaren says that even when the second baby is easy, dealing with two small children is very hard. “Don’t expect that your second baby will be the same as your first, or that it will be easier, because you can’t predict, it really just depends.”
6. That nothing can prepare you for the horror of sleep deprivation
“I partied hard when I was younger, and I’ve always been an early riser, so I didn’t think that I’d suffer too much from the lack of sleep,” says Geraldine, mom to Alice and Benjamin. “I didn’t understand that you never get that lost sleep back, and that it affects you, your marriage, your body, your mothering and your life so negatively.”
There’s nothing that Ancer can suggest to make it better other than to take the help you can get; barter naps with your partner; and appreciate every possible minute of extra sleep you get before the baby comes.
7. That your body doesn’t go back to the way it was
Tracy, mom to Clarissa, was astonished that she still had a belly after her baby was born. “I expected it to snap back into place like elastic,” she says.
MacLaren says that although your uterus shrinks and returns to its original position within two weeks of birth, it takes the rest of your body six to nine months to get back into shape. “Remember that there are many hormones at work during and after pregnancy, and these influence your body’s shape as well.”
She advises eating sensibly and speaking to your gynae about when you can start to do moderate exercise again.
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