It is half past eight and Lily is still sleeping in our bed, though I know the minutes to write this blog post are counted. Over the past amazing last weeks that she has been with us, I have quickly learnt a few things that make life as a new mum incredibly easier. Of course they may not help other mothers, but probably you can take up a few things on the way, so here are my 5 Things I Already Learned as a New Mum.
The one key element of being a more relaxed mum is flexibility. Especially in the first weeks, and because Lily is my first child, it is essential to me to adapt the entire day to her needs and preferences, not mine. She gets to sleep when she wants, feeds when she wants and my attention whenever she needs it. As of now, we don't yet have a real day structure. Some days we get up earlier than others, depending on how the nights went, sometimes she has two-hour windows between feeds, sometimes three. Some days I need to change her nappy every hour, some days she's fine much longer without doing any business.
I think why many young mothers are stressed out and tired in the early weeks may, partly, be because of high expectations that life should proceed as before. I also felt guilty when I and Lily only got up at around ten in the morning, but then again, I'd been up between four and six, breastfeeding her and rocking her back to sleep, so I realised I shouldn't give myself a hard time.
Some days, Lily needs me most of the day and only wants to sleep on my belly. Of course these days can be trying, but they become much less so, when I simply accept the fact this will NOT be the day I do household chores, write blog posts, call friends, etc. On the other hand, there have been days (few, I admit) where she is perfectly happy to sleep in her cot for hours and I get to do more things done. By accepting that she is my sole priority and that my job is to look after her needs and that everything else comes second, I feel much less stressed about piles of laundry, an untidy kitchen or the fact that I spent most of the day reading while she is sleeping on my belly.
Even during my time as a nanny I noticed how life with children becomes incrementally easier by adapting a flexible mindset - and with a little baby who cannot express her needs verbally, even more so. Over time I will surely introduce some sort of more rigid structure, but for now we just take on every day as it comes.
2. How to do things one-handed
Over the months of my pregnancy and the last two months with Lily, I have become an expert in doing things one-handed or picking things up from the floor without bending over. Especially now as Lily is still so little and cannot fully support her head yet, I've had situations where I slowly wound my foot around something to gently lift it off the floor. It is the same for eating. When Lily is still content in her cradle chair, I quickly spread butter and jam on all my slices of bread, so I can take her out and eat one-handed once she's had her fill of being left sat in the cradle. In the beginning I sometimes made the mistake of only preparing one bread at a time, but while you can eat a slice of bread one-handed, you certainly cannot spread butter and jam on it with just one hand, so preparation is key.
3. To seize opportunities when they present themselves
This point ties in with flexibility. I don't know when Lily has her next major sleeping window where she's happy to nap in the cot or our bed on her own, but when these rare windows come around, I make sure to make the most of it. I can sleep, read or watch telly when she sleeps on my belly; however, I can't do the laundry, tidy up, write blog posts, work out or do admin stuff that easily when she wants to be close to me all the time, so I cram these things in whenever I can. This blog post, as I wrote above, comes into existence as she happily sleeps in our bed.
According to what most media outlets suggest, young mothers are always on the brink of terrible exhaustion, but I must honestly say that I feel quite contrary to that. This image of the ever-tired parents will probably kick in when she starts teething and cries for the better part of the day, but so far I have experienced young motherhood as extremely empowering. Ever since Lily was born, I value the moments to myself much more and then feel much more enthusiastic about doing chores, writing or even filing invoices. Being her mother has elated me not only emotionally because she is just the cutest little girl we love so much, but also because I have felt a surge of energy ever since her birth that I haven't felt for years now. I want to create, do, cook, bake, etc., also to be a more productive and happy mum for her.
4. Happy mum, happy child
So, let's talk about happy mums because I feel we do far too little. As soon as the little ones pop out, it's all about them, but happy mothers are just as important, as a baby can only be truly happy if the mama is happy, too, right?
I was very lucky because my wonderful husband took off three weeks from work and while I catered to Lily's needs, he catered to mine. In the first weeks I didn't need to cook, do any household chores and he would bring me whatever I needed when I was sitting on the sofa with Lily latched on (he still does that and keeps being the most wonderful man on the planet).
In the early weeks, I didn't want to part with Lily for even a second, but I quickly had surges of overwhelm and now I try to hand her to Jakob for an hour in the evening at least, so they can bond and I get some time off. Just taking a half-an-hour shower while knowing she's with her loving father is heavenly bliss. The other day I even did a little dance routine in the evening while he took her to bed and I felt a little like "Angie" again, not just Lily's mother.
These little windows are important for both me and Jakob, as he gets to spend quality time with his daughter after work and I can recharge my batteries. However, I want to distinguish these windows from "me-time", as I, personally, don't see the need to be away from Lily and think the notion of continuing on with life as before where I met friends in the evening or had "date night" with Jakob in some restaurant really unnecessary at this point. We wanted a child and the minute she's not in my arms I already start missing her. "Date night" is me and Jakob lying in bed, Lily between us asleep, and we can read, talk and even cuddle, but we wouldn't even want to leave her with someone else for hours to go out. We don't see her as an extra outside our marriage, but as part of a new constellation that constitutes our family.
Still, the half hour under the shower is much needed :-)
5. You get as many opinions as you ask people
One of the most frustrating things about being a mother for me is that everyone seems to have an opinion - and they differ widely. My mother says I have to do it like this, my midwife says something else and the doctor disagrees with both. It is quite irritating when even the medical experts don't seem to have a consensus about your child, so in the end you just have to trust your guts, I suppose.
However, when it comes to your child's health, I find it rather hard to just "trust your instinct", as it is so often proclaimed by alternative mothers who still refuse to vaccine their children because back in the 50s people reacted badly to some injections. For some issues, like medical health, I am just not enough of an expert to simply decide what's best for my child, so for me the key is rather to find a doctor whom you like and who makes sense to you with his/her suggestions and then trust this doctor when it comes to medical opinions.
Apart from medical advice, I, however, wholeheartedly agree that you should trust your instincts but not be afraid to ask a midwife or doctor if you're unsure. I feel many young mothers (me included) are so overwhelmed with advice and opinions from others that we don't dare to trust our own instincts. What really helps me in these occasions is to watch the cows and their calves outside my window. These mother cows are so udderly (sorry, I had to) relaxed that I reassure myself that nature has its hand in motherhood and I am programmed to know what to do, so that's some relief.
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