It seems like no time at all since I was waiting for the arrival of our second son and only yesterday that he met his big brother for the first time. I feel sure our eldest was much more impressed by the new train that his little brother had brought with him (thankfully the logistics of this went unquestioned) than the squishy, pink face that gazed up to meet him. Time moves in such a strange way when you are looking after small humans. Minutes can inch forward on a rainy afternoon at four pm and then before you know it, the week has gone and you are starting all over again. Time flows with a different kind of urgency; needing to get someone asleep or fed but no need for deadlines or meetings. My youngest son’s birth was quick, intense and beautiful. And those three words seem a fitting description of the past year, the first year, of Noah’s life. Some moments it can all be too much; there are too many emotions and tantrums and tears. Getting out the door can seem one of life's most daunting tasks. But before you know it, you are in the swing of things. You find a routine. You not only get out the door but everyone makes it home in one piece. As I come to the end of maternity leave for a second time, I think there are some sentiments that hold true whether you have a one week old or a one year old.
This too shall pass
I am pretty confident that I was told this often during my first maternity leave. But it never really felt true. Sure the sleepless nights did pass (at around 15 months….) and I began to feel more confident but sometimes, on some particularly difficult days, it felt like I would be the mother of a small baby forever. That I would be surrounded by milky vomits and nappies and the need for naps indefinitely. I obsessed over small things. The length of feeds and phrases like ‘drowsy but awake’, when to switch car seats and the perfect bedroom temperature. Should he be having a bath each day? Which tog sleeping bag? The questions seemed endless. What I realised second time round, is that many of those questions just don’t matter. That even when you find the perfect bedroom temperature or sleeping bag, it probably won't change the outcome anyway. (You can trust me on that one, we tried everything to make our firstborn sleep!). But whether your challenge is sleepless nights or toddler tantrums, it will pass.
Your baby will decide
As a midwife, I often tell women that we can write the perfect birth plan but our babies may have a completely different idea when it comes to their birthday! And I think birth is the first glimpse into how much our children are in control! This has been a huge learning curve for me. My two boys have very, very different personalities. During my first maternity leave I felt like I was failing in a lot of ways. I questioned myself all the time. With my second son, I really didn’t do very much differently but my two boys were so different in how they behaved. One slept and one didn’t for starters. My point is, many of the things we worry about (like sleep, feeding, weaning, milestones) can’t really be controlled by us. It is down to our babies and their own individual temperaments and dispositions. Nothing much we can do to change that.
So I know I just said that babies are basically in charge but what I mean is that you can’t change the baby or child you have. So don’t question yourself. Our children are not perfect. It doesn’t mean you have failed or done something wrong, it just means they are human. Don’t waste energy forcing your children into a mould they don’t fit or worrying about things you cannot change. Don’t worry if they cry in public or it seems like all your other mum friends have it sussed. They probably don’t. You are the best mum for your baby and you are doing an incredible job.
When you are in the season of newborn craziness, it’s so hard to see beyond it. I often feel that just as I gain confidence with one thing, something else comes my way. You get to grips with a baby and then all of a sudden there are toddler tantrums and potty training and questions about the population size of Tonga. And before you know it, you are so focused on explaining the difference between the left foot and the right foot, you have forgotten that what came before it has passed. You are getting more sleep. Your child starts saying words like sultana and airplane. They can drink from a proper glass (mostly). Your terrible drawing skills are now being called into question. So you may be in a season that is hectic and exhausting, a season that can sometimes feel a bit dreich and thundery. But there is always sunshine around the corner. And until then, put your wellies on and splash in those puddles.
Look after yourself
When you are focused on the wellbeing of a tiny human, your needs often come last. It is only once you get to the park that you realise you are still wearing your pajama top underneath your (weetabix stained) jumper. I know this because it happened to me only last week. And I no longer have a newborn to blame it on! It’s so easy to be flippant about ‘self-care’ and ‘taking time for yourself’ but your needs are just as important as your small humans. Now, go and finish that cup of tea!
Photos by Gillian Morton Photography - gillianmorton.co.uk