Reality check. I was recently interviewed by two health professionals about my thoughts on motherhood.* They asked me all manner of questions but there was one that prompted me to recall, with such potency, the reality of life with a baby.
If you were being completely honest with a pregnant woman, what are three things you would tell her about that first year with baby...
1.your body is forever changed.
It takes about a year for you to conceive, grow and birth your baby. It will take about a year to return to some semblance of your former self.
It's around the first birthday mark that I really feel my feet on the ground and recognise, once again, my self. My body has changed drastically in each pregnancy (I gained about 24kg with Che and 20kg with Poet) and it really does take me an entire year to feel like me again. That said, whilst I return to my pre-baby body weight, I have never returned to my pre-baby body shape. I wear the marks of pregnancy on my hips, belly, waist, breasts, thighs and bum.
I really struggled with the enormity of this change after Che was born and I admit, most of that first year was spent wishing I would fit back into my normal clothes. But time and age is a wonderful healer and despite my struggles I can see that for me, personally, it was a leap into womanhood; physically, mentally and emotionally.
I know my experience is not a universal one but I honestly believe that regardless of appearances, most women agree that growing and birthing a baby is an experience that changes your body; your perception and understanding of it and, most of all, your belief in its ability to do truly wonderful things.
2. babies don't sleep through the night so don't get attached to the idea of it happening any time soon.
The western concept that babies should sleep through the night baffles me. However, in my naiveté as a first-time mum I got carried along with the crowd and counted down the nights till I was, once again, enjoying a full night's sleep.
The absurdity of such a hope!
In my experience, the anticipation of Che sleeping through the night only caused angst and stress. And whilst there were a few nights where I got eight hours of uninterrupted slumber, they were rare (and usually preempted a drastic change in his development). I can't tell you how relieved I was when I let go of the idea of a full night's sleep and accepted that, for the time being, he would wake, I would feed him, and eventually we would drift off to sleep again. A full night's sleep is, for many, an unrealistic goal and the sooner you leave it be, the better you'll feel (and the more soundly you'll sleep).
Remember: babies wake because they're hungry/teething/cold/hot/adhering to the sunrise, toddlers wake because they're thirsty, three-year-olds wake because they wet the bed, four year olds wake because of nightmares...
3. your relationship with your partner has to change and the transition can be challenging.
Regardless of how long you've been together and how deep your connection is, a baby will change your relationship in an entirely new and often confronting way.
It's never, ever a smooth, quick or easy transition but the key to maintaining a strong relationship in the first year of parenthood is to acknowledge that change is occurring and that that change is normal, natural and necessary.
For me, there came a time when I wholeheartedly accepted that Daniel is never, ever going to understand what it's like to be a woman who has just given birth. How can he? Likewise, he will never fully comprehend the deep, indescribable exhaustion that comes from breastfeeding and the ramifications of such physical, mental and emotional weariness.
Light-bulb moment and saving grace.
The adjustment that needs to happen to a family unit with the arrival of a baby (and subsequent siblings) is all part of that first year. It's a balancing act that's new and exciting and often, your relationship with your partner takes a back seat as you muddle your way through sleep deprivation and the reality of raising a human.
Yes, it's pretty easy to lose sight of yourself and even easier to lose sight of each other. How to re-connect? Give yourself time to settle into new parenthood (think months, not weeks), be patient, talk, argue, recognise your limits, don't place high expectations on yourselves (individually or as a family unit), take afternoon naps and, if you can, schedule time together (think a shared meal, a block of chocolate and a movie, a glass of wine). Grand gestures of romance aren't necessary; small tokens of self-care and love will get you through.
And then, once your youngest is three, you can consider a romantic/dirty weekend away (that's how long it took us).
*the podcast will be one of many that you can listen to come late-March as part of a pregnancy and birth forum. I'll keep you updated!