“Trust your instincts” they said, trying to reassure me as a first time mum. Well I can assure you of this, when I was new to motherhood, my instinct wasn’t very strong at all. In fact my ‘inner voice’ was pretty much silent. “You’ll know what to do” they repeated. But did I? Sitting in a newborn haze, staring at a tiny being napping on my chest, I’d wonder “what now?”
My instinct did tell me this much: I wasn’t struggling with PND. My baby easily latched on. We were bonding. I was very lucky with that, but I knew what I felt was fear. Fear of doing it all wrong.
Mother Nature is very generous. She gives us around nine months to prepare our bodies and minds. But the reality of motherhood doesn’t truly hit home until that little human launches into the world. In my case after 25 hours. With the help of forceps.
But Mother Nature can also play tricks on us. Hormones – a whole heap of them. Weeping with sheer exhaustion, relief, love, pain, worry, hunger. Oh the hunger! The best thing I ever tasted was the cuppa and hot buttered toast after labour. But then it was time to be discharged. I was officially the chief carer of a little baby. My son. My very longed-for child.
How would I describe that first night at home? It went surprisingly well. Apart from not feeding him because he didn’t wake up (I assumed he would if he were hungry…!) Suffice to say, the midwife checks over the next ten days were welcomed. I didn’t know what to ask, so I just answered their questions to me: “Yes, he’s feeding. Yes, we’ve seen meconium. Yes, my milk has come in. Yes, my stitches have dissolved.” I ticked their mental health questionnaire, hovering over the question about feeling anxious. Of course I was! But is that not normal? Am I overly worried? Should I say something? No. Best to just stay quiet, I thought.
Life as a family of three changed the day my husband went back to work. It’s fair to say the bubble burst. We were now a daytime family of two and my anxiety took to a whole new level. I don’t naturally turn to others to ask for help and, being honest with myself, I struggled to know what I even felt so unsure about anyway. I had a bond with our NCT ‘friends’ who were in the same boat, but I didn’t yet feel I could turn to them. Our WhatsApp messages consisted of ‘Baby arrived safely’ texts. Accompanied by a gorgeous photo and a name announcement (we’d all played our cards close to our chest on that, in case anyone took our name before each baby was born!) Without a shadow of a doubt I’d turn to that group of girls for support now, but not back then. We were all newbies. None of us really knew what we were doing.
Next milestone: the six week check up. That’s when I learned about the ‘well baby’ clinic run at my GP surgery every Tuesday afternoon. Straight away I booked us in. There wasn’t anything wrong with my son, nor with me, but I instinctively knew I should go. When we arrived, the entire waiting room was full to the brim with new mums, tiny babies and massive prams. Some babies sleeping, some being bounced and shushed, some being fed, others just gently snuggled in. Some mums, like me, had gone on their own, others with partners or grandparents. Based in Willesden Green, there was a wonderful diversity to the families and I suddenly didn’t feel alone or anxious anymore.
In fact from that day it all started to make sense. I realised I was a fully fledged member of the New Mums’ Club – a secret order only revealed once you’ve given birth. I suddenly became aware of people in a way I’d never noticed before. A mum walking her baby at the same time each day to push them to sleep. A dad at a check out, squeezing a bag of nappies into the already full shopper of his pram. An exhausted mum, juggling a tray of coffee and cake whilst steering a buggy round the cafe with a screaming baby in her arms. Pre New Mums’ Club, it never would’ve dawned on me to simply make eye contact with any parent, just to shoot them a reassuring smile, a virtual high five or a kind look of “I feel your pain, but hang in there!”
The term ‘winging it’ is batted around a lot these days in reference to motherhood. There is no manual, and let’s be honest, sometimes there is no instinct. Not initially anyway. Learning on the job is the name of the game from day one, and it continues as we enter unknown territory for toddlers, teens, adolescence and well, even into adulthood! You’ll feel uneasy, you’ll question your methods, you’ll compare yourself to others and you’ll feed that underlying fear of failing. But you are not alone! There are millions of us all trudging along the same path. So next time you spot one of us in need, reach out, connect, lighten the load by whispering the secret code of the New Mums’ Club: “No, I haven’t got a clue either…!”