Tuesday, February 03, 2015

the first year after baby

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! 


  1. "Grand gestures of romance aren't necessary; small tokens of self-care and love will get you through"

    So true Jodi. I wish I had heard these 3 bits of advice when my kids were little, It's so hard in those early sleep deprived days when you're fumbling through everything that is involved in baby rearing to get any sort of perspective. And it's so true that once you let go of that whole 'every baby sleeps through when they are 8weeks old' scenario, that you just accept that interrupted sleep is just part of the package and start to enjoy other precious moments rather than living in constant lament that you're somehow doing something wrong because your baby doesn't fit that mould.

  2. So true! We were blessed with an appalling sleeper in our first son - once I stopped googling solutions and listening to well meaning advice life became a lot easier. And my body will never ever be the same - but would I do it all again? Of course! And we are - baby no 2 due in a matter of weeks. Such good and timely advice - thank-you ! There are a couple of passages from this blog I'm going to copy out to pin up and remind myself of in those first few sleepless intense weeks. Good luck for the rest of your pregnancy

  3. Beautiful Jodi! All so poignant and so true. For me,motherhood has taught me to totally trust my intuition, that no book or person, knows my baby like I do. I especially love your thoughts on sleep. I feel just the same and it's so wonderful and reassuring to read. Much Love, Sophie xx

  4. Beautifully detailed and every one of them rings true. Thank you for putting motherhood into words like you have. It's a special job for sure.

  5. All wonderful and very true advice....Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

  6. I do remember with my first born he was a few months old and it was cold in Melbourne and my husband (now the ex) was happily sleeping beside me while I was trying to stay awake to breast feed this little baby. I remember night after night and my baby didn't have day time naps (being a first time Mum it was a huge learning curve) so there was no down time for me and I remember thinking if I had $1M in the bank I would pay it just go be able to go to sleep at 10 pm at night and wake up at 7am in the morning...how when that was taken away from me that I longed for JUST ONE NIGHT........... all of this was because of complete and utter exhaustion as a first time Mum and with my 2nd baby it was a breeze because I knew what to expect and I was confident. As long as you make sure you lay down read a magazine or watch a movie while they nap instead of running around mopping the floors, you'll have the energy to get through the night...in those early days, floors can wait another week. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

  7. I think you really nailed it with these three points! Looking back now though I think it's just a huge learning curve that every parent has to go to (almost like an initiation into parenthood!), because no matter how much people try and tell you before hand, you never quite understand until you've been through it. So did you find it much easier the second time around having this precious knowledge?

  8. I wish you wrote this before i had my first because every word is 100% true!

  9. I can see how each of these points would be true. I'm going to be trying for a baby in the somewhat near future and will have to try and prepare for the realities of mommyhood. Thank you for this honesty!

    Circus & Bloom

  10. You could not have had better timing with this post. I am currently raising my first, who is just nearing 7 weeks, and I have been struggling to accept these truths. Two nights ago my son gifted me with 6 1/2 hours of sleep and I can't believe how caught up I got in the notion that he might continue to "sleep through the night" from here on out. It's ridiculous, really. I'm ashamed to admit that last night, when he woke every 2 hours, I was quite angry about it and would have given just about anything to stay curled up in bed. I've lost my sense of stability and have found it rather difficult to find/accept a new perspective so, I can't thank you enough for posting this. Will definitely be re-reading your words to get me through.

  11. i find so much encouragement and solidarity in honest advice such as this, thank you.

  12. This is hugely helpful. I read so many things about the sleep habits that babies SHOULD keep, but some don't seem to be too realistic. I know there are some babies that sleep through the night (apparently, I was one of them!), but from what I've seen and heard, most don't. And I'm trying to accept that now at about 5 mos. pregnant, so there are no surprises once the baby is born! I love reading about people's first year experiences. They're all so similar in some ways and different in others. Really interesting stuff!

  13. No 3. is particularly poignant and under-reported. So many people think that having a child is romantic and that it will bring you closer together - and in many ways it does, it solidifies a union in a way nothing else can - but at the same time it stretches and strains a relationship. Not least because how disparate your lives can become and because it is just so hard for your partner to recognise how challenging being a mother or being pregnant is physically.

    I really believe it's important to talk about how having a child will change your relationship so that people know that the times that are tough are not the times that you should question your commitment to each other but to communicate and relate and share with one another. Bringing up children is a gloriously wonderful and privileged thing to do but there is no doubt that it can shift the planes of a relationship and being open and honest about this will save so many relationships from failing at a time when they really actually need each other the most!

  14. can't add much more, you've said it very well! it helps a lot when you accept beforehand that things can happen or change one way or another... and also not to put your expectations to high, like you said with sleeping through etc..., it just causes unnecessary stress... I remember that it helped a lot while I was expecting my first when a collegue told me, withouth reveiling to much about her giving birth, which I found very sensitive as I think there is nothing more horrible for expecting women to hear horror stories about giving birth, listen giving birth is hard, a lot of work and it can and will hurt, but concentrate on your breathing and the relaxation techniques that you've learned, that way you don't focus on the pain and it'll make things a lot easier... and I did totally concentrate on my breathing etc and it totally helped, but above all her advice really took away my panick, as it was the first time, of the pain factor.... so yeah, thanks for your article, I think it is very helpful for a lot of women, especially first time mums! and all the best of course for the last weeks of nesting for you :)! cécile


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