The first six weeks …
When my daughter Ava was born I fell madly in love. But that beautiful baby girl nearly unravelled me. She never slept. EVER. And I began to lose my mind. I will never forget those first six weeks. A few months ago I was asked to write a letter to myself. What would I tell New Mum Me? If I could go back and give myself some advice, what would I say?
This is what I wrote…..
I want to cry for you.
That’s not helping, I know. I should start by saying “You look great!” or “Didn’t that kitchen reno turn out well! Smart thinking going for the pantry with the slide-out shelves!”
But you look exhausted. And overwhelmed. Plus you have – for the first time in your life – not one but two cold sores on your face from stress and lack of sleep. You look like shit. (Sorry).
Oh God, I want to cry for you.
Because this first six weeks with Ava – your first baby – is hard. No, hard doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. Let’s go for brutal.
When they placed her in your arms for the first time, you were flooded with love. Remember? I remember. You heart was bursting and all you could think was “I’m the one who gets to take her home!” as though you’d won some amazing raffle prize.
You were the happiest you have EVER been. You still are, but girl, right now you are also on the verge of collapse.
That beautiful little baby girl never sleeps. EVER. Well not for longer than 20 minutes anyway. During the night she cries and cries and cries unless you or Brad are walking her around the house. And you, my beautiful girl, are slowly beginning to unravel.
I want to cry for you.
Because you are mentally and emotionally drained. You’re trying so hard to follow that EASY routine (Eat Activity Sleep Your time) but that little baby is having none of it. She wants to feed every forty minutes. Her naps are brief and her crying? Her crying, crying, crying is breaking your heart.
I know all of it. I know that you have to wear her in a sling on your chest day AND NIGHT. I know how petrified you are to go to bed each night because you’re so tired you’re worried you might fall asleep while you’re walking around and around and around the lounge room and what if you drop her?
You’re madly Googling colic and intolerances and routines and crying babies for answers. These past few days you’ve been driving yourself mad wondering if she’s allergic to your breast milk. Your low point was this morning when you went into the chemist with this little baby strapped to your chest (she’s ALWAYS strapped to your chest), tears streaming down your face as you stood at the counter wondering what on earth to do. Brace yourself because in a few days a friend with a newborn includes you in a group email where she raves about how her daughter is already sleeping in loooooong stretches. You read your friend’s email and burst into tears.
I want to cry for you.
Because it’s really, really hard. We are living in Townsville with no family for hundreds of kilometers, all of your friends are back in Brisbane and you have a husband working nightshift as an obstetrician. You are so in love with your beautiful baby girl but so overwhelmed and so very tired. You feel so alone. It’s just you and you have no clue what you’re doing and you’re terrified you’re doing everything wrong.
So what I want to say to you is this: that little girl who never sleeps, well you wont’ believe this but she becomes an AMAZING sleeper. Better than that is she grows into the most glorious, enchanting, curious, hilarious young girl.
She is pure joy. Well, most of the time.
When she’s four-years-old you will routinely liken her to Stalin, Idi Amin and, yeah okay, Pol Pot but that was only because she gets a particularly severe haircut at the time and stamps her foot at you a lot. That’s also the year she whispers to you that she longs for Peter Pan to come to her window so she can fly with him and Tinkerbell to Neverland.
These days that little baby who always cries is the eight-year-old little girl who always smiles. Your days are spent unpacking playground dramas and reading Harry Potter together in bed when her little brothers have gone to sleep.
Her favourite place is still your lap. Her eyes search for you in every crowd. You bake gingerbread together and swim in the pool and go out for milkshakes and colour-in. She is funny and clever and kind and fierce. And messy – her Lego obsession is OUT.OF.CONTROL. But she is everything you ever wanted or hoped for in a little girl.
And those first six weeks are like some distant land.
So right now, that’s what I want you to know. Right now is hard but you can do this. At the 10-week mark that little pork chop starts to sleep (not through the night that’ll take a year… but in a few weeks she’ll start sleeping in much, much longer stretches). You will relax and so will she.
You’re going to make mistakes (after a visit to the park with your mothers’ group you put her to bed only to discover hours later she has an enormous brown leaf stuck to the roof of her mouth. Well done, you.) but EVERY new parent makes mistakes.
What I’m saying is – you’ve got this. HANG IN THERE.
Because in the coming weeks and months as the fog lifts and you feel more like yourself, you will truly see that being someone’s mum is like the best song you’ve ever heard. The best party you’ve ever been to.
It’s the beaming smile, the lit up eyes, the utter joy your 8-month-old baby has when you walk into her room first thing in the morning. It’s the lying together in the dark having a cuddle in bed with your four-year-old whispering about tomorrow and whether Madeline McKenzie is really going to bring a lizard to kindy.
It’s the puppet shows and the dance concerts, the netball practice and the stories. It’s the crayon pictures – where you’ve been depicted with pink hair and your head is strangely 18 sizes too big for your body – that will crowd out your fridge door. It’s the cuddles and hugs and kisses. The “you look so beautiful mama” comments when you know – actually – you’re so tired you look like your passport photo.
It’s the rituals and the traditions that you get to create or continue for your own little tribe. Her habit of saying “Hold my handle” or asking if fairies are inside the traffic lights turning them from red to green.
It’s the fact that this little person trusts you implicitly, loves you unconditionally and BELIEVES in you more than you would ever believe in yourself. It’s the continual moments and chances to show Who You Really Are.
It’s all of that. And then some.
Now sucks. I get that.
Is motherhood easy? Nope. Nopety-nope-nope.
But it is amazing. Just wait. The song, my dear girl, is about to begin.
In a few weeks it’s Mother’s Day and a new book is being launched. “The Motherhood” is a collection of stories written by Australian women about what life is like with a newborn. The stories are funny, raw, tender and beautiful. Contributors include Jamila Rizvi, Zoe Foster Blake, Em Rusciano, Clare Bowditch and me plus a dozen other wonderful, authentic Australian women. If you know a new mum or a mum-to-be — this book will help them feel LESS ALONE in those hazy, often difficult first few months. Flowers for a new mum are nice. But this book is the literary equivalent of a mothers group and a big hug. I think it’s going to help thousands of women.
You can pre-purhcase The Motherhood here: http://bit.ly/2DvVbep
If you’re struggling with life with your baby and the world seems bleak — you are not alone. Please know that. Call PANDA for help. PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline
1300 726 306 9am – 7.30pm Mon – Fri (AEST/AEDT)
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.