When you’re a first-time mum, there are so many lessons to be learnt during that first year. Hell, even when it’s your fifth babe, you spend year one learning all kinds of things you were sure you already knew.
You’re given all this advice from the media, books and your 86-year-old neighbour. Sometimes though, all you really need is the truth, some honest advice from women who have recently been there.
You don’t need to hear that post-birth stitches don’t hurt because you’re in a love bubble, because that’s utter bullshit. You don’t need to hear that breastfeeding is natural, because that doesn’t actually help when it’s 2am and your babe won’t latch, and your nipples are cracked and bleeding.
You don’t need to be told that being a mother is a privilege, because sometimes you’re going to feel like your kid is an asshat, and that is totally normal (anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves – just ignore them).
So here are some lessons that we, a group of mums who have just made it through the first year of motherhood, have learnt. We promise they’ll actually be useful, and not tips like giving booze to your newborn to make them sleep. Seriously, tell your elderly neighbours to back away when they approach!
Lessons from the first year of motherhood
1. It’s not easy. It really isn’t.
“I’ve learnt that motherhood isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. My boy taught me that even though you’ll feel exhausted, drained and defeated, you’ll find strength you never knew you had”.
Motherhood isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always come naturally. Emotions are high, hormones are out of balance, sleep is non-existent, husbands are frustrating, and babies are crying. Sometimes it just f-cking sucks, and that’s OK. Whether it’s your first or fourth child, every new mum struggles sometimes. It just seems to go with the territory.
We’ll let you in on a little secret though, it does get better. Sometimes it gets better on its own. You get past that horrific first six weeks, and you find your groove. And sometimes it gets better with the help of psychologists, antidepressants, support groups, lactation consultants, doctors, and loved ones.
Another not-so-secret secret, they’re so worth all the crap. You might look at your little babe who has been screaming for four straight hours and not feel that right now. But we promise that you won’t always feel that way. There will be a moment where they smile at you, or reach out for you, or fart with hilarious timing, and those crappy feelings with disappear. Why? Because you’re a strong, kickass mumma bear, and you’ve got this.
2. Make time for you.
“Take ‘me’ time. It helps me to be a more relaxed and focused mama. ‘Me’ time is good for you and thus good for your babe”.
You’re actually really important. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure you take the time to fill your cup! Let’s be honest, most of the time it’s mum who is doing most of the baby-related stuff. If you’re breastfeeding, that’s a huge emotional and physical toll on your body. It’s you who has the hormones that are balancing out, and it’s you who has the torn up vagina/abdomen from childbirth. It’s almost always you that babe wants comfort from, and who they want to be attached to 24/7.
Finding time for yourself is vital, not only because it helps you to find balance and be more centred mother, but also because you matter too. You’re a person before you’re a mother, and it’s important that you’re not buried underneath all the stress, vomit and exhaustion.
It might be a half hour massage in the plaza, drinks with friends, a solo grocery shopping trip, or an uninterrupted poo. Find what you’re comfortable with, and go for it. Chances are your baby daddy would love some one-on-one time with your babe anyway. And if he doesn’t, f-ck it. It will do him some good to be thrown in the deep end.
We’ll say it again. You matter. Don’t forget that on those really hard days. You’re loved and you matter.
3. Make time for your partner, too.
“Make time for your husband. No matter how hard it is, nurture your marriage/partnership as well. It also is going through a lot of changes and things will change. Don’t be afraid of it”.
Relationships are really hard work. And having a baby is going to change that relationship. A lot. Not necessarily for the better or for the worse, but it will change it. Making sure you put time and effort into it is really important. This will sound lame, but think of it like a garden that needs watering. Occasionally it also needs some fertilizer (sex) thrown on, too.
Make time for date night, even if it’s just dinner on the verandah when the baby is asleep. Turn the television off, put your phones on silent (because honestly, nobody actually turns their phones off), and spent 10 minutes each night talking about your day. Communicate what you need. Men aren’t psychic, and as much as we would like to, we can’t be pissy with them for not providing what we need when we haven’t actually verbalised it.
For most of us, we are parenting in a partnership, and it’s important to nurture that along with ourselves and our babies.
4. Slow down.
“Slow down and enjoy the little things. The days are long but the years are short”.
We get it. It sounds so lame when people tell you that they grow up really quickly, and that you should make the most of the little things in that first year. But honestly, it’s one of those cliché pieces of advice that is actually spot on. They do grow up really quickly.
Don’t feel guilty if you’re house isn’t spotless, and there is washing that has been run through the machine four times because you keep forgetting to hang it out. Just sit there and enjoy watching your babe grab their toes. That shit is adorable, and you are going to blink and they are going to be running. Those moments that seem so small, they are the moments that matter.
You are never going to regret leaving the folding for another day, but you are going to regret not soaking in as much of that first year as you possibly can. Some days it’s almost impossible, especially if you have other children to run around after. But when you see an opportunity, seize it and soak it all in.
5. Every baby is different.
“As a mother of two, I have learnt this time around that every baby is different. I thought I would know it all by having done the whole new baby thing before. Boy, was I wrong”.
People seem to think that once you have a baby, you become an expert. Wrong! Whether it’s your first babe, or your 15th, every baby is so different and needing to be parented differently. Think about you and your siblings, are you all exactly the same? Unlikely. And if you answered yes, that’s pretty f-cking weird.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to have your shit together just because you’ve done this before. Some babies breastfeed easily, some don’t. Some sleep through early on, some don’t. Some projectile poop onto windows, some don’t. Each of your babes are going to need different things from you and at different times. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re entitled to feel just as lost as the first-time mum sitting next to you.
No two babies are the same, not even twins. They develop at different rates, they learn things at different times, and they have individual personalities. Don’t worry if that baby at playgroup is walking while your little one is still barely butt shuffling along the group. They will get there. Just at different times. And that’s OK.
“As a first-time mum I learnt that babies cry just because they want you. And that’s OK. Patience is key to living through the first year”.
Sometimes you are going to have to take a step back. Especially in those early months when you’re not even getting enough sleep to function as a human being. And we can totally imagine that you’re reading this and finding the word patience laughable when, if you’re being honest, you are seriously considering murdering your husband for getting skim milk instead of full cream. But trust us, it’s the key to getting through it.
Listen to your mind, and learn where your breaking point is. Make the effort to recognise when you’ve had enough, and tap out. You might make an agreement with your partner, on those really hard days, that you play tag team. Each of you can tag the other one in when you need to go outside and be alone for a while. There is nothing wrong with that.
There is nothing wrong with sitting your baby down somewhere safe, and walking away for a few minutes. Sometimes, it’s those moments that actually make us good mothers.
7. Mumma knows best.
“I have learnt NEVER second guess my judgement, to always stand up for myself and advocate for my child without feeling guilty for doing so”.
A lot of people are going to say things, and do things, that will cause you to doubt your mothering. Unfortunately that just seems to come with the territory. And it is also unfortunate that it’s something that happens the whole way through motherhood. So it’s up to you to trust your mumma instincts, because it’s rare that they are wrong.
It could be something as simple as knowing when they are tired before they actually show any outward signs. We say simple, but there is nothing simple about babies and sleep. It could be noticing that they are having a reaction to a particular food and pushing the doctors to test for allergies. Whatever it is, don’t second guess yourself. You are your baby’s mother. You carried them, your birthed them, and it’s almost guaranteed that nobody knows them as well as you do. Have some faith in yourself and your ability to be the mother they need.
Don’t be afraid to push doctors either. If something doesn’t sit well with you, get another opinion. Their word isn’t gospel, and you can challenge them. We actually encourage you to. A good doctor will never mind.
8. Let them lead.
“Follow your baby’s lead, they know what they need more than we ever could”.
Even though they can’t actually verbalise what they need just yet, your baby is trying to tell you what they need from the very beginning. Imagine you’re trying to communicate with a ridiculously drunk person, and they just keep vomiting on you. Well, that’s pretty much motherhood in the first year. But even though they can’t say what they want to say, they are still trying to tell us. We just have to try and listen.
Some babies start solids early, and some need extra time. Some need a bit more comfort from their mum, while others seek independence. Some babies need to be cuddled to sleep, or patted, or fed. Others are content just being put down and left to play and fall asleep (I know, I know – it’s hard to believe babies like that actually exist). Some babies need their own room at four months, while others need that extra comfort of having their parents close for much longer.
We all go into motherhood with ideals. It’s not those ideals that create great mothers. Instead, it’s the ability to listen to your child’s needs and mould your parenting choices around those needs. That is what makes an amazing mother.
9. Every mother is different.
“Everyone mothers differently and are mothering different children. It is important to be respectful and understanding”.
This lesson is as simple as that. Just like every babe is different, every mother is different too. There is enough pressure on women in society, without tearing each other down in the parenting department too.
We need to respect each other and the choices we make for our children. It’s as simple as that.
10. If they want to be there, they will be there.
“Those that want to be in my life, will ALWAYS make effort to be a part of it and that first year of motherhood is the strongest showing of who is in it for the long haul”.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in that first year, is that some relationships won’t last having a baby. It sucks, as we really wish that it wasn’t the case, but it’s the truth. Some people just don’t stick around. But the people who do, are worth their weight in gold.
In those first few months, accept every single offer for help. It might be your mother-in-law offering to do a load of washing, or your friend bringing around food for the freezer. Just say “yes, thank you” and go back to getting your baby to latch. Those people are the f-cking best, and there is no harm in accepting their help. You’ve just had a baby, and you’re tired, and who the f-ck likes doing laundry anyways?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to those same people and ask for help. Some people won’t offer because they’ve been told they should give a new mum space. Send them a text and tell them what you need. The people who matter will jump on the opportunity to help you out.
As for the people who don’t stick around, and don’t care – f-ck em’. It’s one of the shittest parts of becoming a parent and having a baby, but trust as when we say that they never really mattered. There are no excuses, it’s really as simple as that the people who want to be around will always find a way to be there to support you.
11. We’re all up shit creek without a paddle. But we are there together.
“None of us really have a clue what we’re doing – we are all just winging it”
Not one of us really know what we are doing. We listen to our mumma instincts when they present themselves, but otherwise we are just feeling around in the dark and hoping we don’t step in something, or on someone. It can be utterly terrifying. But even in the terror, you’re not alone. We are all in the same boat.
There are going to be dark patches. We haven’t spoken to a single new mum who hasn’t experienced some form of darkness in that first year. For every woman, that darkness presents in different ways. From feeling exhausted, to feeling like you want to die. But in those moments, it is important to remember that you aren’t alone. You might feel like it right now, but you aren’t.
There hasn’t been a mother alive yet that has felt positive about every moment of that their child’s first year. We would all love for that to be the case, but it just isn’t reality. Sometimes they are buttholes, and sometimes you just want them to detach from your nipple and go to sleep. There will be times when you want to be really far away from them, but not far away at all. And you’re not alone in that.
So on those shit days, and on those days when you just feel lost and feel like you have no idea what you’re doing in this whole motherhood gig, remember you aren’t alone. Call a mum friend if you have one. Or follow this last lesson, because it’s saved each of us.
12. Find your tribe.
“Find a mum tribe and love them hard. When you feel like your babe will never sleep, it’s nice to know you’re not alone, someone else is also awake at 2am”.
Find your tribe of mums. It will be one of the single greatest things you ever did. Go to playgroup, and find some rad mums to hang out with. Join a mother’s group, and catch up with them once a week for coffee or a walk. Or do what we did, and find an online mother’s group.
When one of us is struggling at 3am with a baby who hasn’t slept all night and won’t stop screaming, it’s a pretty beautiful thing to be able to chat with another mum in exactly the same position. We are spread out over the entire country, so the time differences means that there will always be someone else who is awake and who will listen.
When one of our mums lost her own mother, we rallied hard. We got meals delivered so she didn’t have to cook, and bought her a night out with her husband for when she needs to let her hair down. When mums haven’t been able to breastfeed, donor milk has been organised. When shit has gone down, wine and penis chocolates have turned up on doorsteps.
Your mum tribe is your greatest asset in that first year. Find that tribe and love them hard.