Alexandra Hunter on how to survive the early days – and trials – of motherhood
The thing about parenting is, it is literally impossible to understand how hard it really is until you are in the thick of it. I remember thinking about the realities of having my own baby before Seb arrived, and I thought it would be wonderful, relaxing and frankly a bit of a rest from my previously rather hectic life and work. How absurd. When you first hold your first baby, you’re on the back foot already; exhausted either from surgery or labour, too often both, and with no clear manual for what will be the most stressful and rewarding job of your life. Add hormones to the mix, plus lack of sleep and a lot of pain, and it really can seem almost impossible.
Having always wanted a baby, I assumed I would be a brilliant mama from minute one; that it would all come naturally to me and that my baby and I would wander round in a cocoon of love for a year. The reality, needless to say, was very different. I wish I had asked for more help from the outset, but I have never been very good at asking for help – I thought asking for help would indicate to others that I was failing.
When the health visitor first came to the house, I had been crying all morning, exhausted and with a hormone shift due to my milk (rather ineffectually) coming in. Rather than crying on this kind woman who was there to help, I stopped crying before she arrived, put on my make-up and told her I was fine, everything was going brilliantly. When she left, I started crying again. I had an irrational fear that if I told her how I was feeling, she might take my beautiful baby away from me.
Being a new mama is hard; it’s a shock to the whole system both mentally and physically. I had always been capable and competent and suddenly I wasn’t.
I remember a day when Seb was about six weeks old. All I wanted to achieve was to remove my old nail varnish and hang out the laundry, but didn’t manage either. My partner came home and asked me if I’d had a lovely day and again, I couldn’t stop crying. I hadn’t had a lovely day. I felt like I was failing where millions of other women found it easy and that I had lost myself. At which point, my mother was flown in like Mary Poppins and, with her help, I started to find things a little easier.
When people came to visit us in the early days I would frantically bake a cake for their arrival and talk about how delightful everything was. What I should have done was allow no one in the house who wasn’t prepared to take over, feed me and put the kettle on themselves. A close friend lived nearby and when Seb was two months old she came round and told me to leave the baby with her and go out for three hours. She insisted. She did this every week for months and it was heaven. I went swimming and sat in cafés reading magazines that weren’t about babies and began to find myself again. I now try to do this for friends who live locally when they’ve had a baby, as I know how imperative help is.
We might not all have a village, but we all have people who love us and who would be happy to help. Ask for help – it doesn’t mean you’re failing. You’re not: you’re doing brilliantly.