After twenty three months on a rollercoaster ride, my toddler is still alive. Now if you are wondering why that is such an achievement, try handling a baby for forty eight hours straight. Once you’ve managed, times that by three hundred and forty eight and then we will talk! Now that we are on the same page, we can both admit that I am a now a fully qualified and seasoned mom with nearly two years of experience and anxiety to my name. It has not been an easy journey to say the least; stomach bugs, influenza, needles … oh let’s not forget the blood, emergency room visits and temper tantrums. With all this well embedded knowledge, it would be very selfish of me not to share my most valuable lessons with anyone who is thinking of having kids, currently has a bun in the oven or recently brought a little beauty into the world.
- You Will NEVER sleep properly again
It seems a bit cliche to start with this one, but it is one of the most important lesson that I only truly came to understand when Gabby turned one. People always tell pregnant women to sleep as much as possible before the baby arrives… such an ironic statement because let’s face it, pregnancy in itself is one heck of a journey and sleep does not quite make it onto the ‘to-do’ list. From struggling to find a comfortable position to lie on, to feeling jabs in your ribs each time you finally settle down, Let’s not forget the constant waking for bathroom breaks (my personal favourite) and the anxiety that comes with harbouring a growing parasite – I mean human – who could choose to make an appearance tomorrow during your two hour presentation!
Now if any of that sounds bad, try dealing with a screaming new born at three am, less than an hour after you finally rocked her to sleep following a forty minute breastfeeding session… They say sleep when the baby sleeps, but in my experience the transition from a full eight hour evening to two hour long night naps (because that cannot be considered real sleep) is far from acceptable. It isn’t that scary if it only lasts a few weeks at a time, months at the most, right? Wrong! I remember thinking that once Gabby turned one, all the long nights would be a memory from the past, but almost two years into this journey I still find myself waking up several times during the night to make sure she is covered or to find out why she is whimpering in her sleep. That is in addition to the several three am hand holding sessions which mostly involved me begging her to go to sleep. I have been warned and will warn anyone who doesn’t know this already; sleep will never be the same again. Well maybe when they have finally moved out of the house and are fully self sustained!
2. Self care is extremely important
I’m not just talking about brushing your teeth and hopping into the shower once a day because that would just be ripping a page out of “How to Human” – the fictional book co-created by every parent out there. Since I passed that stage of self independence before my fifth birthday, this one is a bit more to do with emotional and physical needs. During the first few months as a mom, I used to focus all of my energy on taking care of Gabby, working tirelessly around the clock to ensure that everything was on schedule, refusing to go out and meet my friends, avoiding telephone calls and messages from my family and simply carrying the little baby around with me everywhere. Looking back, I can fully understand why my husband sent me to see a psychiatrist… I had lost my sanity!
Postpartum depression affects roughly one in ten of all new mothers and is caused by the hormonal imbalances that are caused during the forty week gestation period and is more likely in women that have a previous history of depression. I happened to be a lucky addition to the “baby blues” club and quickly learnt that there is nothing to be ashamed of. I was and still am the best mother to my child especially because I took the time to focus on my personal needs so that I could be emotionally present for her. In my case, the main solution to my problem lots of exercise so I could drown my sorrows in a pool of endorphins … although I my psychiatrist would probably give all the credit to the antidepressants.
3. Once you have a child, you will learn to block out surrounding sound
We’ve all seen it before, a mother in a grocery store calmly reading the labels on the cereal while her toddler frantically hurls himself to the floor and lets out intimidating screams. I’m sure we have all wondered why the parent does not just shift her attention and console her child, immediately pairing such thoughts with judgement for her parenting style – or lack thereof! Well I must admit that until having a child of my own, the sound of a baby whimpering was enough to set me on edge. Twenty two months into this journey, I like many mothers, have developed a super power which enables me to filter the sound of cries and only hear when my toddler is truly in pain.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is always important to give the right kind of attention to your child in order to prevent any long term psychological effects and this is a skill that is only truly developed once one is actually faced with raising one. A mother’s natural instinct is to shower their child with love and affection and to attend to their emotional needs as close to 100% of the time as possible. Although the intent is positive, it may lead to serious problems down the line. According to the CDC, ignoring a child is a useful tool for dealing with tantrums and misbehaviour as children love attention and may continue to behave in a certain way if it has successfully drawn attention in the past. This is something that my husband and I have managed to identify and are constantly working on perfecting.
4. Say goodbye to privacy!
My husband and I have never really kept anything private from each other but when it was just the two of us, I could soak in the tub quietly for an hour or catch up with social media whilst sitting on the toilet. It’s amazing to think that such simple things have now become luxuries with the presence of a full time toddler police, or a new “body part” as I like to consider her. I never quite understood why all the mothers used to walk around in the gym locker rooms with everything hanging loose as though they had never heard of personal space or privacy. Well, after nearly two years of having two little eyes peeking through the shower door, or small little hands handing me a block of toilet paper at a time, my concept of privacy has been downgraded to escaping into a train of thoughts whilst actively ignoring her temper tantrums.
5. Daily baths dry out the skin:
Have you seen the article of the man who hasn’t bathed in over sixty years? Well that’s not what I’m alluding to so please let me explain. What I’m referring to is the daily bathing of babies and toddlers. Little Gabby came into our world with extremely sensitive skin, often developing rashes which we later found out to be eczema and, unlike other babies, hers didn’t seem to get better without topical creams. One thing we learnt was that the less we washed her skin, the less her eczema flared up, so we initially bathed her every three days, which progressed to every other day as she got older. Now that she is an active toddler rolling around in anything she can find, this is no longer practical although we are still able to wipe her down and moisturise without using any cleansers. Research has proven that while daily bathing is the modern day norm, the human skin benefits more from irregular cleansing as this allows for the natural oils to replenish. In the case of babies and toddlers up to two years old, their bodies are covered in sebaceous glands that serve not only moisturise the skin but also have antibacterial properties.
Phew! With all of that off my chest, I think I’ll have some camomile tea and call it a day. Good luck to any new parents reading this!