For those of you about to embark on this journey – congratulations! And those of you who, like myself, are re-familiarising yourself with your work and career – I feel you!
Nothing can prepare you for the rollercoaster that is becoming a parent for the first time. Like a rollercoaster it’s exhilarating, entertaining and fun. But (also like a rollercoaster) you are bound to find the experience anxiety-inducing. You might find yourself wondering, ‘Is this ride safe?’ ‘Help!’. But unlike a rollercoaster, you can’t get off it.
The early months go by like a blur. It is round-the-clock nursing on demand coupled with eating lactation cookies and binging on The Sopranos, Big Little Lies and Russian Doll. It is endless liquid explosive curry-poo, dribble-soaked bibs and stale milk-smelling bras. It is mainlining coffee, feeling like your eyes are two burnt holes in a blanket and not having any grasp of the concept of time. It is worrying about baby’s reflux / breathing difficulty and travelling to the hospital at 3am only for baba’s symptoms to completely resolve within two hours. It’s feeling that cortisol spike, the stress hormone spreading through your whole body when, on one of your once-frequent coffee and cake dates with mum friends, baby has an absolute meltdown. You try to keep your cool. Nurse her. Damn. She won’t latch and you’ve flashed everyone. Your milk sprays all over the cafe floor. ‘Should I stay or should I go now?’, you wonder, ‘I’m a mum and this is a baby. Crying. That’s what babies do. Screw the patriarchy etc. Society needs to catch up. Oh. Okay, baby is definitely not quitting.’. Exit. Stage Left.
But it’s not all bad. It is also those tiny toes and the quiet serene time with just you two (or you three if your partner is on leave too). Cuddles. It is mastering breastfeeding through the torturous initial weeks. It’s knowing only you will do. It’s getting up, dressed, fed, packed and out the door at a decent time (go you!). It’s spending time with people who matter. Going on long walks. Being in nature. Feeding the ducks. Batch cooking baby food. Burning that food because you’ve forgotten it was even on. Weaning. Dancing to ABBA in the kitchen. Watching baby coo and delight at you jingling keys. It’s about doing things you might not usually have the luxury of doing. All the cuteness. The little tiny butt. It’s about seeing those milestones. It’s about seeing you and your partner grow. You surprise yourself. It is hard. But it is also an amazing thing.
Cutting to the chase, as I prepare to return to work I’ve taken stock on some of the things that I’ve learned and how I’ve grown since becoming a mother. The featured picture is of me wearing baby and a strong red lip, in this pic I felt a bit more like me, after a few weeks of pretty much housebound newborn chaos. Funny how some lipstick makes you feel a bit more ready to face the world.
1. You’re stronger than you think
Women are awe-inspiring beings. Our physical and mental capacity is incredible. University of Michigan research stated that childbirth is “arguably the most traumatic event the human body can undergo”. Not only that, but the article likened it to major endurance sports. Only you don’t have a professional training plan for it. You might be a bit broken down below and most definitely mentally and emotionally spent. It is a physical and emotional trauma. It feels like you lose a bit of yourself but you gain so much more and enriches you and your life. Remember what you have achieved. You are made of strong stuff. You’re joining generations of women who have been there and done it too. I also feel like this has been a transformational experience for my relationships. I have enhanced empathy and I don’t feel like I’m as uncompromising as I once was.
2. It’s just a phase
Or ‘This too shall pass!’. One of the mantras my mum friends recite is ‘It’s just a phase’. Everything is just a phase. I still find that helps so much when I feel admittedly annoyed with a heavy teething phase or growth spurt. If it turns out that whatever it is is not a phase, then do seek appropriate advice and help.
3. Don’t judge or give unsolicited advice
Yes, we should all support each other on this journey called life and share experiences but I feel like this point should be re-enforced. As you start to find your groove with parenting an infant, it’s easy to sometimes become or come across as a bit militant: ‘Oh, we would never dream of using disposable nappies’ , ‘Humphrey only eats organic’. I use disposable nappies and have fed my girl too many of those pre-made sachets because, guess what? I value my time! Remember that everyone has different parenting styles and might feel a bit rubbish for not saving the planet with eco-friendly nappies or whatever. In short, practice a healthy amount of self-awareness.
4. Slow down
This is advice I wish I properly took on board while building my career in my twenties. But I was on a mission in the competitive creative / media sector which thrives on presenteeism. I’m 32 now. It was oftentimes a stressful flurry of working longer than is healthy, of not enforcing personal/professional boundaries, of anxiously ruminating over emails and interactions late at night.
You don’t need to achieve everything today. Just prioritise the key things and tick them off. Slow down your thinking and your process. So much time is wasted by rushing. Be focused and do things with intention. Listen carefully and think. I’ve been doing this for a while now. I don’t claim to be perfect but, I feel like it’s really helped me achieve success and approach major life challenges with positivity.
Become aware of your breath. ‘Inhale peace. Exhale tension.’ That’s my yoga instructor’s mantra. I think this should be considered a DIY bio hack. And it is proven: oxygenating your blood improves performance. Check out this research paper ‘The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human’ If it becomes too much to bear – leave the room and come back. It helps sometimes.
6. Trust your instincts more
In the first few weeks I was obsessed with logging each and every feed, nappy, temperature, sleep etc. Although apps are useful, I would say check in with yourself more and trust your instincts. I wish I did sooner, because I was absolutely fine. If your gut is telling you No, there’s probably a good reason for it. We’re all guilty of relying too heavily on technology; the pink noise playlist on Spotify, the sleep-inducing light show magic dog, or whatever your weapon of choice. Sometimes it’s good to strip it back to the bare essentials. It’s all about striking a healthy balance between digital and physical.
So that’s my two cents’ worth. There is so much more that could be said.
You are (or will be) an amazing parent. You’ve got this. And you will be an excellent, adaptable and successful professional. It’s all about having a growth mindset.