I’m sitting across the table from a friend who is gently rocking the pram of her four-week-old baby. She’s barely left the house since the birth but she’s happy and is looking fresh and bright considering she didn’t sleep for the best part of last night.
“He’s feeding every one-and-a-half hours. When will he start to feed less and get into a routine?” she asks wearily, expecting me, the mother of an almost-toddler, to come up with some good news. “Give it a week and he will be sleeping through the night,” she wants to hear. I smile warmly and tell her she’s doing everything right. I agree with her, it’s relentless and there will be tough times, but I tell her she will turn a corner eventually, ride the waves of exhaustion and take each day as it comes. “But why did no one prepare me for this?” she asks. Hmm, good question.
Perhaps there’s an unwritten rule: new mothers should not, by any means, scare the living daylights out of first-time mums-to-be. When I had spoken to the same friend at 40 weeks of pregnancy, I was championing her natural birth, I was sharing tips on how to naturally induce the baby, but I most certainly wasn’t telling her: “I don’t know why you’re stressing about the birth. Once you’ve pushed out your watermelon-sized baby, that’s when the baby poop really hits the fan. You won’t sleep a full night ever again, you most probably won’t be able to sit down properly due to post-birth stitches, and on the second night of his life he will scream the hospital down and you’ll be asking your partner ‘What have we done?!’”
Trust me, pregnant first-timers don’t need any additional angst and secondly, my friend would likely never have spoken to me again – no one needs a negative Nancy in the last stages of pregnancy - right?
But then are we doing new mums a disservice? Actually, shouldn’t we be sharing our warts-and-all tales of crying and sleepless nights? I recall day five of being a new mummy and texting a mum friend, “I’m in baby heaven, but gosh I’m exhausted, she is VERY awake at night!” Her reply, “Yes, they are nocturnal, for around six weeks…” And you’re just telling me that now? I knew there was sleep deprivation, but had absolutely no idea it would reach that level.
As the months have rushed by in a whirl of overtired meltdowns (my baby’s and mine), chubby cuddles, trapped-wind wails and resettling a babbling baby night in night out – the troubles of the first few weeks of motherhood begin to slowly fade away.
Do we choose not to overshare because now that we're no longer headfirst in the newborn fog we've forgotten the bad times? Have we purposefully wiped that part of our mummy hard drive? The long lonely days, the haze of jet-lag (or rather baby-lag) that haunts us for weeks on end, the never-ending days and nights of nursing, the early-evening crying fests and the constant nagging worry if we're doing it right?
Is it our job to share our woes, or should we let parents discover them for themselves? I talk to my husband about how we didn’t have a clue about early parenthood, and how we muddled our way through and survived it. And anyway, even if every parent friend of ours had told us all of the above, would it have even sunk in? Or would we have listened and naively thought, "Our baby is going to be different."
As I watch more of my friends enter motherhood, I’m not going to be one to quash all of their daydreams of newborn snuggles while unicorns float by. But I will be a part of the support system for them when reality hits home. I will be there to answer the questions when I can. I will invite them around for breakfast and serve them tea while I cuddle their baby so they can put their feet up for five minutes. And for now, while they’re pregnant, I will be the one to tell them nothing beats being a mother, sleepless nights and all.
Photos: Jade's own