Nobody Told Me It Would Be This HardWednesday 1st of May 2013 | Category: Baby News | Written by: Siobhan Thomas
Shakira, the Columbian superstar confessed last week that she is finding motherhood harder than anticipated. ‘Nobody told me it would be this hard. It takes a lot of energy from you.’ Shakira went on to contradict the notion that the difficulties of caring for a newborn are a well-kept secret by saying that ‘It is also not as horrible as everyone tells you.’
She’s talking perfect sense of course, but only those who’ve had a baby can really understand that. Nobody can prepare you for what is so hard about having a baby, and nobody can prepare you for what is so great about it. In many ways you are likely to have your expectations disappointed on one hand yet exceeded on another.
What’s really so hard?
Now, I don’t want this to be a ‘where do I start?’ article. That getting to grips with early motherhood is hard ought not to be shocking, off-putting or overly negative. But some things are hard, and some of those things are harder than many of us anticipate.
Let’s begin with the physical side. Labour, childbirth and c-sections are exhausting, no matter how well it goes they will leave you tired and sore. It can be even worse for those who labour some of the way and then undergo an emergency section. Most new mothers find climbing the stairs hard, have to sit on a cushion or feel like they’ll never make it to the end of the street and back with the pram. Stitches heal at different rates for different women and many bleed fairly heavily after the birth. But you’re not home to sleep it off for a week, you have a baby to look after and frankly the whole childbirth bit is very bad physical preparation for starting life as a 24/7 carer! We have more detailed information on recovering after giving birth and recovering after a caesarean section and it’s worth a look if you are concerned about your own recovery.
Whilst trying to recover from the birth mums sometimes find breastfeeding painful or uncomfortable, again you can find out more about this in our articles on getting started with breastfeeding and common problems with breastfeeding. Some women have to deal with the embarrassing issue of post natal incontinence or struggle to get used to the sight of their post-baby body (whilst your pregnancy bump crept up on you slowly, the unfamiliar deflated tummy, wobbly bits and inflated boobs happen almost overnight they can be very hard to accept).
Exhaustion is something that most people, thankfully, don’t fully appreciate until they’ve cared for a newborn baby who can’t tell night from day. Of course some babies are better at sleeping than others, in addition, some mothers are better at taking opportunities to rest than others. On the whole though, there is something quite unique about the sense of desperation that you can feel during the night when it seems they never allow you more than 3 minutes with your head back on the pillow.
On the surface there ought not to be any surprise when it comes to sleepless nights, but perhaps what gets to so many of us is the surprise at how hard they actually are - if everyone else is managing then how can I be finding it so hard?
This leads us on to the emotional difficulties with a new baby. They affect women to varying degrees but lots of women notice some change in themselves emotionally - whether it’s due to bonding difficulties, self imposed pressure, worry about their baby or simply through the exhaustion of ‘putting on a show’ to others that you’re finding it all a breeze.
Why can’t people prepare us better for this?
For starters, it might seem like a fairly negative introduction to motherhood, people preaching about how hard it all is. And for other women is might also be an admission that many aren’t prepared to make. Lots of women genuinely do find it easier than others, and for women who had children a long time ago (maybe our own mothers) they have often forgotten quite how hard it all is. What’s more, I think I actually was warned a lot, but I figured that I was an intelligent, healthy and energetic person very keen to get going with a baby. I don’t suppose I really believed that it would be that hard for me.
I'm not sure how much of it I would have understood pre-children but the hugely popular blog post on mamami '14 Steps to follow before you decide to have children' is as accurate as it is amusing. And the occasional comments from stuffy people who miss the point of the post only goes to show how important it is to keep your sense of humour!
I loved becoming a mother; I was lucky enough to bond quickly with my first child and couldn’t get over how amazing the whole thing was. Simultaneously (like Shakira) I couldn’t get over how flippin’ difficult it all was either. I was affected by a lot of the things I’ve mentioned above but a couple of things stood out for me. Breastfeeding was really painful in the early days, I had told myself that I would only do it if I could manage it and that I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself. When I found it hard I was actually really upset, I felt inadequate and frustrated with myself. It wasn’t because of pressure from midwives or other people, it was because I wasn’t meeting my own expectations. As it happened, I persevered and eventually it was fine, but the real pain I experienced wasn’t something I was in any way prepared for 6-10 times a day.
The other key thing for me was the cumulative effect of sleepless nights. I coped pretty well in the early weeks, joked about the fact that the baby took an hour to wind after each half hour feed and was generally upbeat about my unpredictable and totally insufficient sleep patterns. But as the weeks went on the lack of sleep started to really affect me, I couldn’t think straight holding a conversation, I filled the car up with the wrong fuel and I became increasingly emotional and sensitive. It seemed to take me hours to get out of the house just to meet someone for coffee and I was constantly in awe of other women who were juggling newborns with older children, school runs and general family life. I felt as though people expected me to be less tired 7 weeks after the birth, like I ought to have ‘got the hang of it’ which only made me feel more inadequate. I genuinely believed I would not, could not, have another. But the reality is that those feelings were short lived, and gradually from about 2 months in, I became more confident, more organised and more laid back.
By the time the baby was 9 months old I was (intentionally) pregnant again and I coped so much better the second time around - because only by past experience had I been able to prepare myself.