Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Fog: Birth of a New Life

"A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for." Anon

The time has come. The moment you have been waiting for has arrived. You've been ticking off the weeks, days and hours, counting the minutes between contractions - or you've found yourself in theatre gear - ready to meet your baby. In one moment, your baby is still enveloped in the darkness within; the next moment, it is subjected to 100% sensory saturation. You breathe a sigh of relief; feel emotion encircle that moment in time. It is a moment that is forever imprinted in your mind. A flood of complex thoughts, feelings and emotions; coupled with a sense of completion mixed with the start of something new. It's not just your baby who is experiencing a new life: the entity of you as a family unit are a new life in which you are to move forwards together, feeling your way as you go. 

The following hours are filled with love, tears, euphoria, laughter, relief, pain, stress, sleep-deprivation, exhaustion, phone calls, text messages, visitors, medical intervention in one form or another... the fog of new parenthood is slowly descending around the new family. Gradually, it seems, the old life has faded away, and been replaced with something unknown, something new, awkward and a little-bit-massively scary. This fog has the ability to bend time, where two hours can feel like a day ago; it can change thought processes, where a seemingly simple decision (jam or marmite on your toast? Tea or coffee?) can feel like a confusing moment when the answer isn't as clear-cut as it could be. The fog sucks every aspect of life into a twisted, dense cloud of matter and emotion, to be cleared momentarily, only to build up again as soon as a challenge presents itself. Every decision suddenly feels like a huge responsibility, and is daunting even for the most practically-minded, clear-thinking, confident person. 

So much emphasis is based on the moments leading up to the birth, partly because it is almost indescribable to someone who has not stepped into the fog of brand-new parenthood. All that can be done is to read, educate and inform ourselves in whatever way suits us - be it through literature, through antenatal classes, television or through our family and peers - to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I've heard women say, "Why did nobody tell me how difficult this was going to be?" For me, my inward answer is, "because it's too difficult for us to hear before we've been through it". For many, just getting through the labour safely and holding their baby is as far as the mind is willing to travel. 

So many of us feel we have failed in some way: Either related to the labour; or feeding; or not changing a dirty nappy "quickly enough"'; or responding to a cry; or leaving the baby too long/not long enough between feeds; or sleeping through a feed;not realising the baby is hot/cold; or not being able to get dressed for an entire day because of a fractious, crying baby; or not getting out of the house all day because frankly, you're too tired, still in your pyjamas, or you think you look terrible; or because every time you put your baby down to go to have a shower they start to cry and so you have to go through the entire feed/shhh/nappy change/singing routine without wanting to cry, yourself - in the hope that at some point between now and your baby's first birthday, you'll get to have a shower, and brush your teeth. 

I personally find it hard to ask family and friends for help unless I have a problem. I'm hardwired to get things done no matter what. I don't see asking for help as a weakness, I see conducting my life without help as the norm. But that's me, and I can't change that, even if it isn't the easiest way of doing things. I hated the thought of anyone other than my husband being around in those early days where we were able to bond together as a family, and treasure those moments quietly, without fuss, scrutiny or judgement. Having had two caesareans, I found it highly irritating and frustrating that I couldn't "get on" with things - having to rest was hard, but it is what I needed, and what my babies needed. Here is an interesting article about how mothers are cared for in non-Western cultures, after birth.

I believe that the gentlest way of getting through the first days after birth, is to put no expectations on yourself, your baby or your partner. Live moment to moment. Sleep whenever you can - even if you feel you want to carry on - force yourself to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Eat well, drink plenty of water, indulge yourself with something that gives you a feeling of well-being, remind yourself how amazing your body is to have grown, carried and delivered a baby. If things aren't going according to plan, surround yourself with the support you need to overcome any difficulties. Remember that your hormones are going through highs and lows, and that by day three or four, you'll possibly be experiencing euphoria and sleep deprivation in combination with some stress; and possibly trauma of your birth experience; all in combination with the sudden realisation that you've hit the ground running.

But in my opinion, the best gift a prospective parent can give themselves, is kindness. Kindness for themselves, and their partner. It is this kindness that will nurture you in those early days and weeks after the birth of your baby. The kindness of remembering that you don't know what you don't know; so how can you get things right straight away? Your baby can only cry to let you know that something isn't right - even the baby doesn't know what it actually is that doesn't feel right - so how can you, as a brand new parent, expertly identify what that need is? 
The kindness of recognising your limitations - and your success - and allowing yourself to take things moment by moment. 
The kindness of knowing that things will change. You will get to a point when the fog will start to lift, the tiredness will ease, the confidence will build, and you will look back on those early days with wizened eyes. 

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About Me

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I am a mum to two children, a registered nurse, a trainee breastfeeding counsellor, reiki practitioner, photographer, and generally into keeping things natural. Going back to the basics in life, respecting nature, the planet, and each other. Teaching this to my children and others who are interested. This blog comes from a good place, and is intended to give the reader an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and make an informed choice. I welcome constructive comments and would like it if you could share (acknowledging me as the source) and follow the blog. Many thanks!