Forget ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’. These are the gems I really needed to know as a fresh first-time mama.
Words: Rebecca Hanley
1. You won't recognise yourself after you give birth
Now, even though I’m a writer I’m going to steal somebody else’s words for this bit, as I think she summed this up so beautifully that I’ve never forgotten it. One of the books I devoured when trying to put words around my experience of morphing (ok, crashing) into early motherhood is The Motherhood by Jamila Rizvi. It’s a collection of essays from prominent Australian women about their first few months of motherhood and, in the introduction, Jamila writes of her own experience:
“They warned me that my world would be turned upside down. They lied. My world is not upside down because an upside down world implies that it’s still the same world from a new angle… Dinner parties hosted on the ceiling… that sort of thing. My world is not upside down. It’s gone forever.”
In the early months after I had my first baby, Violet, four-and-a-half years ago, I felt like I was suffering whiplash. One minute I was gleefully (if somewhat frantically) swanning about Sydney, enjoying the creative high of a career in magazine publishing and jumping from Bondi brunches with girlfriends to 90-minute yoga classes (who has 90 minutes?!) to dinners out on the regular; the next I was… breastfeeding on my couch.
All day. Every day.
I talked about how many loads of washing I’d done, wrote and edited ‘sleep schedules’ in the notes section of my phone and texted them to my partner (sorry, Mike!) and occasionally looked up to wonder, who is this strange woman walking around my house, wearing my clothes, and sleeping in my bed?
These days, I know they say that when a baby is born, a mother is born, too – and I wish someone had told me that the dawning of motherhood would be something of a becoming for me, too. I wish someone had mentioned the word ‘matrescence’ to me back then, to honour the experience for what it was to be – a messy, unexpected, shocking, thrilling, wildly beautiful ride.
2. It will be the most beautiful time of your life
Where exchanges like this conversation I had recently with my four-year-old, Violet, while sitting on the ouch together will melt your heart over and over again:
“Mum, this is a pot of happiness.”
“What’s a pot of happiness?”
“It’s something that you can see. You get one if someone hugs you or kisses you or does something nice. Or if all your friends are together you get one.”
“Do we have a pot of happiness now?”
“Yes, because you’re smiling and laughing.”
“Yes, a pot of happiness means you’re smiling inside. If you think badly, you can’t get one. But if you have a sleepover...”
“Yes. That’s the biggest pot of happiness you can get.”
3. ...And also the toughest
When I scroll back through the notes section of my phone from early 2017 after my first daughter was born, I see written in capital letters, ‘WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME?!’ Yep, it can come as a shocking realisation that parenthood is a wild ride, and nobody exactly tells you the ‘full picture’ when you’re expecting.
I felt almost cheated that none of my parent friends had divulged the ‘hard stuff’ in terms of what I was getting myself into (although in hindsight, ‘You won’t sleep for years’ is hardly polite baby shower chit chat).
So just know that if you’re having a tough day, week or month, know that it’s not just you. You’re not alone, the world’s best-kept secret is that this mum-ing business is universally hard, and you’re doing a $#%*ing great job.
4. You won't believe the love you'll feel
Ok, this one people did tell me. And what they say turned out to be true: you will come to know the headiest, heaviest, biggest, deepest, most expansive and utterly pure, to-the-moon-and-back love you’ve never felt before.
But the thing is, they missed something. This love probably won’t come like you expected it to. Instant heart-emoji eyes the minute your baby is placed on your chest aren’t a given, and, while the fairytale meet-cute between mama and baby does happen for some, often in reality it’s more of a slow burn.
For me, I felt mainly shock and exhaustion for the first couple of days after one of my girls was born. Gratefully, I was bowled over a rush of feel-good, mushy-eyed feels and fell head-over-heels for my new baby on day 3. My other new-mama experience was very different, and instead of a rush of love it was more of a gradual building over a period of months, not days. I fretted about this and googled ‘mother-baby attachment’ endlessly, overflowing with guilt that my tardy lovey-dovey feels would damage my babe in some irreversible way.
Spoiler: these days she’s just fine, her daycare teachers tell me she’s kind and smart (but I could have told them that) and I love nothing better than feeling her little hand reach for mine.
5. You're about to enter a timewarp
Once you produce offspring, time becomes a little bendy. A day at home with a four-month-old can feel like a decade, yet you’ll buy a size 000 onesie for her, and barely have folded it away in her wardrobe before she’s suddenly in Size 1’s.
So, I’d tell myself to stop hoarding the ‘special pieces’ for fancy events or birthdays – and I’d adorn those cherubs in their fancy schmancy baby finest for every trip to Woollies, just because.
6. These really will be the best days of your life
Forget the giddy excitement of girls’ nights out on the town, the unbridled freedom of overseas jaunts and the big career achievements you’ve ticked off so far. Despite (and because of) all of the above, there is a moment in time where every parent stops; takes in the chaos, sees the glitter caked between the floorboards and the mashed banana smeared on her top, breathes in the heady giggles of the tiny human she actually made (yep, you never get over that) and just wants to press PAUSE on the whole thing and stay here forever.
Yep, take it from Future You (aka someone who spent her early weeks of motherhood crying into her Ikea feeding rocker and secretly googling ‘When does being a mum get easier?’) – as soppy as it is, this one really does come true. Despite the drudgery and the tears, slowly, when you’re not looking, a knowing settles in your bones that this, right now is the best of times.
I’m not going to tell you to savour every moment – in fact there is many a moment in my 4.5 years of motherhood I’d definitely rather forget – but as the days become, not always easier but definitely a little less upend-y, one day it dawns on you that in the not-too-distant future, you’ll look back at this day and yearn to transport yourself right back and do it all over again. And in fact, you will (you’ll stop at two babies though, because you decided then that your pot of happiness was happily, overflowingly, full).
7. George says 'Dinesaw'
The day-to-day tapestry of my life is now regularly peppered with things I never would have been able to predict, like being woken up at 5.55am with a ‘nose massage’, endless discussions about Peppa Pig and co., having bowls of soup upended on the floor so my one-year-old can jump in a ‘pupple’, and discovering that a game of hide and seek can bring about the biggest belly laughs, ever. I don’t wish anyone had told me about those things, though. The surprise is half the fun.
How about you, mama? What do you wish people had told you before you became a mother? We’d love to hear, so please do share below. You might just help another mum who needs to hear your thoughts today.
Bec Hanley is a freelance writer, head copywriter at Little Birdie Copy and mother to two beautiful girls, Violet and Daisy.