You can’t really prepare to be a mum and nothing can really prepare you for what motherhood throws at you. Best advice I ever got: “Expect the unexpected!” This is a realist’s guide to expectant motherhood, which might – or might not – help you keep your sanity after birth and beyond.
Your newborn will not look pretty on the first day or two. S/he spent almost ten months swimming in cloudy liquid (with bits), then squeezed out through an impossibly narrow canal filled with gooey, maroon juices. And there you have it – that puffy, purple-coloured little alien with a hairy back is your little prince(ess).
As soon as you arrive home, you want to go straight back to the hospital. You are convinced there is something very wrong with the baby’s soft spot; you are freaked out by the rotting belly button stump and constantly fear you are going to drop the baby in front of the home-visiting nurse.
There are moments when you are so sleep-deprived, depressed, anxious and overwhelmed that you will feel you want to run away. Get a cleaner, book an occasional babysitter, run away with your partner for a little while and spent time alone. However, sitting in the nearest café to your house while someone else minds the baby for an hour, you find yourself scrolling through baby pictures on your phone and can’t wait to get back home to him/her.
There will be many tears. And mostly not for joy, but out of frustration, hopelessness, self-doubt, loneliness. Welcome to motherhood! There will be projectile vomiting, massive pooping, nappy rashes; milk, cream and powder everywhere. But these too shall pass. The baby will eventually stop crying, start smiling and – much later – sleep through the night and cover your face with kisses.
Not everything will go according to the wholesome lifestyle plan you promised never to deviate from. Breastfeeding your baby might not work out; one day you will finally give in and turn on the TV so your toddler stops screaming for a few minutes; your four-year old will blackmail you into buying that chocolate-covered doughnut with glitter sprinkles. Despite all this, kids can grow up to be well-adjusted adults who adore their mum.
A lot of the time you have no idea what you should do and are pushed to your limit every day. You frantically leaf through baby books, ask Dr Google questions like, “What to do when the baby does not break wind for more than four hours?”, or wait for the elusive maternal gut to kick in, and nothing helps. Other times you will feel so confident that you lecture other parents on sleep-training their babies and setting boundaries.
All those expensive, life-saving baby gadgets you spent ages researching take so much space, and so much time goes into cleaning and putting them together, that you decide to sell them on Done Deal and book a spa treatment with the proceeds.
When your child starts crèche and you go back to work your heart will break. And then you will experience an overwhelming sense of relief. You will cry every morning after drop-off for a few weeks, but in the office you will be a stronger, ultra-productive professional than ever before becoming a mother. Of course, you’ll have two jobs by then and juggling those every day will not be a breeze.
They say the first few weeks are the most difficult ones. The baby is on a sleep-feed-cry-poop-pee repeat cycle, but at least you know what to expect. You can take the baby everywhere, go shopping, enjoy reading quietly in your favourite café, converse with friends … Fast forward about ten months, and you can’t really go anywhere without a mountain of milk bottles, food containers, water, treats, twenty favourite teddies, sunscreen, insect-repellent, bottom cream, nappies, two changes of clothes and antiseptic wipes. You will not be able to talk to your friends anymore, and they will not want to hold the baby while you quickly run to the loo because the s/he screams when touched. Enjoy the first few weeks!
You will be known as “X’s Mummy” to half of the people you know. You will introduce yourself as that when calling all the places that have to do with your child. Your partner will call “Mummy” sometimes, and you won’t know whether he refers to you as his child’s mum or he sees you as “The Mummy”. You will always be “Mummy”. Until you become “Granny”.
You will not be able to do much other than caring for your baby – and sometimes yourself and mostly one-handedly – during your maternity leave. This is not the time to redecorate the living room or repaint the kitchen. There will be sleepless nights, you will be mostly exhausted and dizzy, look dirty and dishevelled, feel fat and irritable. Take time to do nothing, nap when the baby naps, eat well and healthily, try to shower every day and go out of the house looking half decent.
But at some point you will get to grips with the tasks at hand, one-handedness will become a cool lifestyle feature and one day you will walk out of the house looking and feeling like a yummy mummy.