Words: Charlotte Philby
Image:
Barney Beech

Having a newborn is one of the weirdest times in your life. One minute you’re grinning, the next you’re weeping. One moment you feel you can conquer the world, the next you remember your body was recently ripped to shreds and you can’t actually move. All the while you’re getting to grips with this tiny creature who relies on you for everything – and you may feel ill-equipped to offer them anything at all. Welcome to parenthood. Being a mum doesn’t get less confusing, but the sense of bewilderment does at least, eventually, become more familiar. In the meantime, here are my tips for getting through the testing first weeks of motherhood.

Call on people
Now is the time to call on friends. Someone wants to drop off a batch of lasagna? Say “thank you very much”. Or hoover your hallway? “How kind.” The most important thing is to surround yourself with people who will bolster you so that you have the space to heal physically and emotionally from the stress of birth, while regaining the stamina to look after your baby. Having a newborn can be an extremely introspective period of your life, so much so that it can feel overwhelming to have to deal with the rest of the world. Sod’s law, this is exactly when long-lost friends and relatives you haven’t heard from for 12 years suddenly reappear announcing their intentions to call by, catch up and have a “squeeze” of the new arrival. Lovely as that is, it can all feel a tad overwhelming.

Chances are, you might – at least temporarily – feel like slamming the door on the rest of the world while you work out your new role as the person in joint-charge of this tiny new human. Then again, you may want to embrace loved ones with open arms and take all the help you can get (and why not?). The rule of thumb is this: do whatever you want. Don’t feel obliged to see anyone or do anything; but if you do decide to have people over, suggest they bring food. And maybe offer a time-frame, like: “It would be great to see you. How about popping in for 20 minutes on Thursday?” No-one will resent being asked to chip in, in fact they’re likely to relish the opportunity to help out. You’re a mum now, it stands to reason that for the next 25 years you will be called on to do everything for everyone. So seize this moment and delegate.

Don’t over-stretch yourself
It’s tempting to try to do too much, in a bid to prove to yourself (and everyone else) that you are capable of mastering what is surely the hardest job in human existence. But being a parent is about accepting your limits and sometimes throwing your hands up. The most important thing is that you don’t burn yourself out. Cat-napping is the best (and sometimes the only) way to stay on top of the inevitable exhaustion that comes with having a new baby. If, like me, you find it impossible to sleep in the day no matter how shattered you are, instead lie down whenever you have a moment and gather your thoughts – just having a rest will help. Even if it’s in the middle of the supermarket.

Remember: No-one knows what they are doing
This is very important. We live in a world where we are used to fixing problems, where we are programmed to believe that if we try hard enough we can create solutions. But life isn’t always like that. Indeed, no amount of trouble-shooting will prevent the inevitable moments in parenthood when you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing, and that is OK. Successful parenting is about remembering that we’re all flailing around, madly looking for answers – only some people do a better job of looking like they’re winning.

Let it be
This one relates to what is written in the previous paragraph. And it is easier said than done, but hear me out… There is nothing like becoming a parent to make you feel loss of control. From now on, life, I’m assured, life is an occasionally joyful scramble of fear, anxiety, guilt (as well as all the good stuff). But the fact is, we are now responsible for a new life; and people – not least babies – are unpredictable, and there are some things we can’t control.

Nonetheless, this is a hard fact to stomach; nonetheless the fact remains – maybe the only way to deal with baffling situations is to ride them out. How many new mums and dads have asked (or furiously Googled at 4am) the following questions: When will my baby sleep through the night? How can I get my baby to feed more in the day and less at 4am? Why does my baby cry more than everyone else’s? WHEN WILL I NOT FEEL INSANE? The lucrative baby industry is built on such dilemmas, in fact. Yet, while publishers and product-makers have made billions of pounds convincing us that there is an answer to each of such worries if only we would subscribe to the right method or purchase the appropriate product, the truth is that sometimes babies are just a bit weird. Like adults, they all have their quirks and while it’s always worth speaking to friends or consulting a doctor if you’re worried – often it’s just a matter of allowing yourself the space to let a particular phase pass. Because most phases with kids are finite. Although admittedly in the midst of the madness, it can be hard to remember that.

Try to laugh
Having a new baby puts enormous strain on even the strongest relationships. Exhaustion, anxiety, the physical aftermath of birth combined with your probable lack of interest in sex, can converge to create a ripe environment for serious tension. One of the best ways to tackle that, if you can, is to see the funny side. Remember you’re in it together as a couple, and try to be philosophical about that. Because it does get easier, and more rewarding. Being a single parent, not least at the beginning, is certainly no picnic either. Seek out like-minded mums through local support groups and friendship networks. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of camaraderie.

Ignore everyone
There is nothing like popping out a baby to give the world and its wife carte blanche to comment on every aspect of your life, particularly your baby-raising choices. To save yourself from spontaneously combusting with rage, nod and smile, and then ignore everyone (bar, perhaps, relevant professionals whose advice may be worth hearing – and this article, naturally) and do what you think is best. There is nothing like mother’s intuition. Finally, those people who tell you to “enjoy every moment, because it all passes so quickly?” when in reality the most you can manage at any given second is to stop yourself from falling sleeping while crossing the road? You can legitimately kick them. If you can muster the energy.

@philbycharlotte

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