What an odd statement to make, many of you may think, and for me during my first pregnancy, that would have been muttering the unthinkable.
So, let me tell you why, with lots of hindsight, I now urge you to do just that – NOT prepare.
I love being prepared, I like to feel that whatever is coming my way, I am equipped to always do well. So, motherhood would of course be my biggest challenge. So when the size of my belly confined me to the sofa more and more, I thought it best to fill my time with parenting books.
I learnt all the techniques for making breastfeeding work and getting my baby to sleep, how to establish routines early and I even ventured into the world of weaning.
The nursery was ready, my hospital bag was packed, my elaborate birthing plan written, breastfeeding planned and sleep routine for baby chosen. Done, I was ready! Just waiting for the nesting instinct to kick in, so that the house could be cleaned in time for the new arrival.
My labour was induced due to blood pressure concerns, so I even had a time and day when the birth would take place. With my usual efficiency, I had a textbook 8 hour labour and delivered our gorgeous baby boy. It might be worth mentioning here, that my elaborate birthing plan went straight out of the window with my first contraction after having my waters broken. My husband was still pumping up the birthing ball when I rather unkindly told him that I wasn’t going to move off the bed until the baby was born and to get me some pain relief immediately. He made the mistake of advising me that my birthing plan explicitly stated that I did not wish to have any pain medication. I am pretty sure I heard the midwife chuckle to herself at that point and then pointed out to him that
‘mum’ was making the decisions now.
Yes, she was!
Anyway, back to my son, he was just beautiful. I was overwhelmed by a wave of love and equally hugely frightening responsibility for this tiny human being. Suddenly nothing mattered more to me than to take care of and protect him.
The first night in hospital was hell.
He was hungry and somehow the breastfeeding just wasn’t really working. I didn’t sleep a wink. The first two weeks at home with him were just as much a blur as that first night, and all I remember was trying to breastfeed him and rather unsuccessfully at that.
After a long discussion with my husband and tears from both of us, we decided that breastfeeding just wasn’t going to work and to put him on formula milk. At that time, this was the hardest decision I had ever made, and somehow I had just never entertained the idea that breastfeeding wasn’t going to work. It was the best for my baby, so of course I would breastfeed. The thought of giving him formula milk at that time had become close to poisoning him in my mind. I felt such a failure. All the other mums around me were breastfeeding, so why couldn’t I. What was wrong with me?
Putting Max on formula milk was the best thing ever. It was so lovely to see him finally getting what he wanted so desperately. He thrived on formula milk, well with the exception of developing a milk intolerance, but once we got him on the milk that he could tolerate he thrived.
So now to the topic of sleep or in my case lack of sleep.
Somehow getting to sleep was rather difficult for our son from day one.
I would say that at the age of 5 he became a better sleeper.
Getting him to sleep was a nightmare. We followed a regular night-time routine, we tried controlled crying (horrendous) and lots of other methods which I must have blocked from my memory, as I can’t really remember, but all unsuccessfully.
Eventually, he got better at dropping off but as a toddler started to wake up several times a night. When he could get out of bed, he would come walking into our room. One of us would get up, walk him back to his room and go back to bed. Sometimes 10 times a night. This went on for years. It was exhausting and nothing seemed to work.
Weaning was another struggle.
Getting him to eat anything solid was near impossible.
I can’t exactly remember when it was that I gathered all the baby and parenting books that I had accumulated, threw them all away and stopped watching all the so-called experts on TV, but at some point, I’d had enough.
I didn’t really learn much useful stuff from any of them and that wasn’t for want of trying. All they did in my case was make me feel inadequate as a parent. Here I had all these tips and tricks, yet I didn’t manage to implement any of them.
I am sure there are lots of useful books out there and that many people find them incredibly helpful, but if you should struggle, like me, to make them work, please know that you are not alone.
Getting all these books out of my house felt so liberating. I knew that I wanted the best for my kids (I’d had our daughter by then too) and I felt this inner power and wisdom and decided to parent my way, to trust my instincts and to do what felt right with the support of my husband, of course. He played a really active role in raising our kids.
Well, for me, it was the best decision I ever made. Parenting is tough and you often fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best, but when you trust yourself and follow your instincts, then no matter what, you can say I did my best.
My kids are both teens now (16 and 18), we had our struggles and rough patches and there were times when I really felt out of my depth and worried, but we got through it all.
They are both turning into beautiful and confident young adults, who I love to pieces.
Looking back, I wish I had chucked these books sooner. Especially in that first year of motherhood, I wasted precious moments trying to be the perfect mother, when I could just have let things be as they were rather than waste time trying to be someone else and judging myself.
So, if I can give you just one tip based on my very personal experience, then it’s to forget the books and trust your instincts. Don’t have expectations of yourself as a mother. How can you plan for something you haven’t experienced yet and by the way, having a second child is nothing like the one before either but I feel that will be one for another blog …
Public Engagement Director
She looks after our marketing and in particular our social media.
Stefanie sometimes writes personal blogs for us about her experience of motherhood and raising to two teens.
Whether parents ourselves or not, I’m sure many of us can relate to Stef’s experience.
When faced with a new challenge – especially something as life-changing as motherhood – we are also faced with a huge amount of uncertainty. Though we’re all different, and therefore to a lesser or greater degree, it’s a natural tendency to want to be prepared; indeed, to want to know what’s going to happen. But the reality is that the future is always uncertain, and although we can prepare ourselves through reading and learning, there is no guarantee – far from it! – that things will turn out as expected.
And actually, it’s embracing the ‘not knowing’ that gives us access to our own innate strengths and capabilities.
Advice books might provide useful information and enable us to be mindful of those things we can control
– such as having a bag packed for hospital, ready to go – but ultimately our experience will be our own, and books can’t cater for all experiences and eventualities.
So how do we cope when faced with the unknown?
As Stef relates her journey through motherhood, and the realisations that she comes to along the way, it’s interesting to hear attitudes of mindfulness emerging.
We first hear about Stef’s acknowledgement of what she’s feeling – both the emotions arising as a result of the mismatch between the books’ advice and her own experience, as well as the deep sense that she wants to do her best.
This empowers Stef to trust in her instincts and do what feels right – acknowledging that no one has all the answers and we can only ever do as best we can.
Approaching things with a beginner’s mind means Stef can really observe her own experience and listen to her innate knowledge, which helps her to make decisions that feel right.
By letting go of expectations of herself, choosing not to judge herself, and no longer striving to be the perfect mother,
Stef brings compassion, understanding and patience to both herself and to the experience of motherhood. And discovers that not knowing can be a pretty OK place to be.
Embracing ‘not knowing’ doesn’t mean abandoning all plans.
In fact, it can be very beneficial to have a plan A, and a plan B, and C… Yet, no matter how prepared we are, all our best-laid plans can go out the window.
When we acknowledge this and bring our attention to the resources we have within us to cope, whatever might happen, that’s when we begin to feel prepared by not being prepared.
Letting go of specific expectations of what will or won’t happen, and other people’s ideas of how we should be, enables us to live in the present, as our true selves.
At the same time, as we begin to live more mindfully, letting go of specific expectations, we may find a greater, more general expectancy develop: a sense that we can cope no matter what.
Alison Easton BA(Hons) HPD DipCHyp
Alison is NISAD’s Director of Clinical and Creative Development
She will draw on her long experience as a clinician to provide support in our new ELK.Health online clinics and is a substantial, and much valued, contributor to the creation and development of ELK.Health's #CertainAboutUncertainty, CalmBaby, NoWeigh and Type2.Club programmes.