From the team at Capsule
Preparing for a baby? Short of setting an alarm for every two hours around the clock, routinely throwing milk on all your clothes, not brushing your hair for days or weeks on end and waiting until your cup of tea is cold, there’s not a heck of a lot you can do to actually prepare you for what life with a newborn is like. But, there definitely are things that can help, for what is one of the most insane and wonderful experiences ever.
Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences. We’re looking at everything from fertility, trying to conceive, pregnancy, the fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, children’s mental health and teenagers, fertility issues and everything in between!
COMMENT: I have never been good with plants – I’ve either swung between not watering them enough or completely overdone it and watered the poor things to death.
And, outside of the pets I had growing up, the fact I’ve been a renter most of my adult life has meant that I’ve been too wary to adopt a cat or dog friend (it used to – and still does, actually – blow my mind that when I rented it would have been all good to bring a baby home, but a cat would have meant I’d be out on the street?!?).
Thankfully though, despite what the movies have told me, being a good plant or pet owner seems to have had diddly-squat to do with being a parent of an actual human baby.
There’s plenty of other things that I thought might have some bearing on my ability to be a good parent, or that could help prepare me for having a newborn that also ended up having zero impact. Like the fact that I thought my years of suffering from insomnia during my twenties might help me during those sleepless nights with a baby. It did not. I just discovered that there’s a big difference between not being able to sleep, and being completely desperate and willing to sleep but having an external force (a screaming child) denying of you drifting into delicious sleep.
Even the fact that I was already a step-mum did not prepare me for having a newborn. Ditto all those books/podcasts/online courses I read and watched to prepare me for a baby – particularly the ones on breastfeeding. I mean, there were a few helpful tips, but a lot of it is just on the job training and the fact that babies are not ‘one size fits all’ kind of creatures makes it veeeeery difficult to get advice and support that will be specific to your creature’s specific needs, wants and sleeping patterns!
1. I gave up caffeine
I know, I know, this one is ridiculous and obscene, and you hate me and this story already. I get it! But please, stick with me for a sec – because, yes, I still drink caffeinated coffee every now and then (I mean, I am still a sleep-deprived parent after all!).
I had been against it for years, but a few years ago I switched to decaf coffee after the zillionth health professional told me it would be a good idea for my thyroid (I have the auto-immune disease Hashimoto’s Thyroditis).
It was hard – but honestly nowhere near as hard as the two-week withdrawals I had when I gave up cheese, but that’s a whole other story. It was also made a lot easier by drinking decaf, which meant I could still have that ritual of drinking a morning coffee.
Anyhoo, here’s where it plays well into having a baby: my body no longer expects to have a full caffeine coffee in the morning and no longer relies on it to feel human.
This is life-changing when it comes to having a baby because when you have a truly s… night’s sleep, you can opt to have a real coffee in the morning, and heck, it actually works like I imagine coffee is meant to.
Instead of just bringing you to a state of not feeling any worse for not having a coffee, or stopping you from getting that headache if you miss your morning brew, it actually gives you a hit of much-required energy. You actually feel good (for a while) and can function. I highly recommend it.
2. We all went through lockdown
There have been some days in this journey when I’ve looked back and tried to work out the last time it was that I left the house and actually talked to someone in the real world (outside of my family members I live with).
If I didn’t count talking to people on the street during one of my many, many walks out with the pram to try to get the baby to sleep, in those early days it sometimes could have been days – even a week at times.
Now, when you’re used to having dozens – maybe even hundreds – of interactions every single day in a workplace, going to zero can be a haaaard adjustment.
But, I guess the good news about having been through lockdown is that thankfully, you and I have now had a lot of practice at spending time within the same four walls with the same bubble of people.
And turns out, it’s excellent training for having a baby! We know from that, what a difference a daily walk, or calling a friend when you feel a bit weird, can make to your life.
Especially since, unlike lockdown, you can actually combine the two and meet a friend for a walk when you’re sick of being cooped up.
3. I got made redundant
Losing my magazine editor job, one week into the first NZ-wide lockdown due to Covid-19 in 2020, actually wasn’t the first time I’d been made redundant. The first time I was only 20 and working at TVNZ when our whole website got shut down.
It was my first full-time job and first taste into the world of ‘you-may-lose-your-job-at-any-moment media’. But still, when you’re 20, your job is such a small part of who you are, it didn’t really dent my confidence.
When it happens in your late thirties and you realise that you’ve built so much of your identity based on what your job title is, it’s a whole other story.
Although, in my case, it ended up being one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Honestly.
Because I realised that to the people I care about most in the world, what my job title is, is actually one of the things they find the least interesting about me. No body I love actually cares what I do for a job.
It made me look at who I really am, what is really important in my life and what I truly want my life to look like moving forward.
Even still, when I got pregnant, I worried about how that might make me feel in the future. So much of what I heard from people I know, from stories I’d read and just general chit-chat was about how lots of women struggle with their identity after having a baby and a lot of women can’t wait to get back to work to feel like themselves again.
Now, I know that I am very lucky in that my work is very flexible and I can do it from home, working around my family’s needs (I’m writing this with the baby monitor propped up next to me).
That means I get to be adult/thinking/working Alice for good portions of my day, and have done since my son was about three months old, so in a way I have been able to have the best of both worlds.
But, I credit being made redundant with helping me transition into this phase. Because work is no longer my identity. Being a mum, isn’t my identity right now either. I love it, and it is so very much a huge part of me, but I now know that I’m the sum of many parts – not just one singular thing that makes me, me.
4. I saw a therapist
I’ve written about it before, but years ago I went to see a psychotherapist because I’d had a bad relationship and was worried about future relationships – what if history repeated itself? What had I learned that I could take with me to avoid a bad situation again? Why had I stayed in a bad relationship to start with?!?
I thought I was going in to talk about that specific relationship and instead opened up a whole can of worms of my life history that was at times confronting, but overall, incredible.
Since then, I couldn’t recommend therapy more. It isn’t cheap, and meant making sacrifices to make it happen (and I feel very lucky that I was still able to afford it!), but it was so worth it.
I spoke to that psychotherapist when I got pregnant, because so much of what I read about having a baby, included info about how all your relationships are likely to change and some interesting things may come up. There’s nothing like having a baby to make you re-examine your own upbringing, and it can be surprising what comes up.
Addressing things on my own time, rather than having them potentially forced on me when I had a baby, was definitely the kinder way of doing things.
And, when I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety, I could quickly identify them, plus, I already had someone on speed dial to call!
5. I had solid friends
There are some friends we have who we tell the whole, no holds barred, truth to. I discovered that these are the friends you can often need the most after you have a baby.
My friendships have come to mean a huge amount to me in the last decade or so – they’re people who’ve seen you at your worst and best – and although I haven’t always been brilliant at it, I’ve done my best to try to keep those friendships solid and cared for.
And thank God.
Being a new mum can be weird and when you meet other mums and dads who are at the exact same point of the journey as you, it can be amazing. They can share all the weird things their baby is doing that concern/annoy/terrify them and you can share all the other tips you’ve heard from your midwife/podcast/internet or things you’ve tried yourself, and then you bond over the fact that babies are mysterious and weird and also somehow the most loveable things on the planet.
But then you can also have other mums and dads who prefer to turn things into a competition and tell you how their baby has slept through the night since six weeks, said their first words at five months, and at a year old they’re already walking around, preparing dinner for the family and deciding which university they’d like to enroll in.
I mean, I’ve always been glad for them if that’s what their baby is up to and they’ve luckily never had a ‘what-the-hell-am-I-doing’ and ‘what-the-hell-is-my-baby-doing’ moment, but… hearing about it so much can make you question if you’re doing something wrong or if your baby is doing something wrong?
Having friends who I could text and call and ask the strangest questions to, has been a lifesaver.
Or to just have a sanity check with.
Also, one of my friends – a mum-friend – once said to me that she actually prefers going to her non-mum friends for parenting/life advice, which at the time I didn’t quite understand, but heck she was on the money with that one. Sometimes you just need an outside, non-prejudiced by their own experiences/fear they might have done it wrong themselves, perspectives.
Good friends are godsends.