One of the inspirations behind creating this blog was reading frequent “Things no one tells you before you become a parent” lists and being utterly disappointed with the information provided. To me it felt like these lists didn’t contain anything I didn’t already know or assumed. And there were so many things that I have expreienced over the last 15 months that I wish someone had told me about beforehand.
So in the spirit of sharing truthful experiences here is my own list, 15 things no one tells you before you become a parent.
1. Sleep. You won’t get any. What’s that I hear you say? “But Truth Mummy, you said you would tell us things that no one has told us before. Everyone always tells us we won’t get any sleep , we know this. Tell us something new!” Well my friends, trust me when I say that until you have had a child, you simply don’t understand just how sleep deprived you’re going to be. Think of it this way, have you ever had to stay up all night? Perhaps you’ve left an assignment to the last minute, you’re pulling a graveyard shift, that job application is due tomorrow, or you’ve gone on an all night bender. Think how tired you felt. That bone tired feeling where all you want to do is get to bed. You’re brain has long ago checked out, your body feels like a dead weight, and once you do finally get to bed you feel like you’ll sleep for 3 days straight. Now add a baby to that feeling. A baby that sleeps for 20 minutes at a time, that requires feeding every two hours, that cries non stop for what seems like hours. Seriously, the idea of sleep will literally become a distant memory. When I gave birth I was so sleep deprvied, and I remember reading that it takes an average of 6-9 weeks for a baby to settle into a sleeping habit. I remember feeling akin to almost suicidal in that first week thinking, “How the hell am I supposed to cope like this? For the next 6-9 weeks?! I’m literally going to die” I kept asking people about it, and everyone would say the same thing, “Don’t worry, it gets better” or “You get used to it”. I remember counting down the days until I got to that magical 6-9 week mark. Unfortunately for me, it ended up being a mythical mark, with Stormaggedon deciding to take until around 10 months old before sleeping through the night on a permanent basis. As you can imagine sleep became the be all and end all of my life. It was more important to me than everything. More than food. More than showering. More than sex. I’d have traded in that first born child that I’m supposed to love so damn much just for one decent nights sleep. So if you’re reading this as a first time parent to be, I beg you to appreciate your sleep while you have it.
2. Breastfeeding. Or as I like to call it: LIES, ALL LIES! I will be devoting next week’s blog to this very topic, but wanted to quickly touch on it now. The number one lie that people will tell you is how wonderful it is, and how it helps you bond with your child. I pictured beautiful calm moments, sunshine streaming in the window, gazing down at my son beaming with love. The reality is 90% of the time I was mainly bored, that this was just feeding my child and I didn’t feel anything at all. No bonding, no ultimate love, just “Well, I’m feeding my child again” type attitude. 5% of the time I did feel that absolute love and peacefulness gazing down at him. They were wonderful moments that I will cherrish forever. Then there was the other 5% where the feeding went on for literally hours and I was feeling so drained by the end that my brain wanted to explode with anger and I wanted to hurl my child from my breast across the room, whilst screaming “Don’t come near me again!” Luckily I never did, and in the end I started to recognise these moments and learnt that I could just extract him from my chest. It was no longer feeding by then, only comfort sucking, and eventually by around week 10 he found his thumb as a substitute.
3. Poo. This will become your main topic of conversation. You will become obssessed with it. The frequency, the consistency, the colour. You will regale everyone with many a story about your child’s poo. My child can’t digest carrot, it just come the other end still whole. It’s been three days since I fed him peanut butter, but it’s still coming out. How annoying it is to clean up. The time that it ended up on you. The smell, or the surprising lack of smell. Did you know that if your child is exclusivly breastfed, their poo will tend to not have an odour. It’s only once formula or solids are introduced that the classic poo smell will enter your world. Then it will be everywhere. You will smell it all the time. There will always be that one poo that you just can’t seem to find. For months I was convinced every time I sat down on the courch I could smell poo, and became obessed with checking my child’s nappy. There was never (or almost never) anything there, so I just felt like I was going crazy (actually it turned out we had a rat living in the house. We saw it one night running around and after a madcap chase involving trapping it in the bathroom, it was eventually caught and released back ino the wild. And luckily the smell left with it). And don’t even get me started on how disgusting you feel after you’ve had to clean the poo out from underneath your fingernails. And the mystery of how it ended up on my leg as I wandered through the house for at lest 15 minutes before I noticed will never be solved.
4. You will talk to everyone through your child. One of my first outings after giving birth was to visit my husband at work with Stormaggedon. Although I never spoke to him in baby speak, I would “reaffirm” everything that I said to him. Example, “We’re going to go out and visit Daddy today at work. Yes we are. Yes we are!” Imagine my horror when I realised I was actually speaking to my husband’s work colleagues exactly the same way. They were trying to ask me questions like how I was coping, and I was answering back like I was talking to Stormaggedon. It took me another 3-4 weeks to snap out of it. I highly recommend participating in stimulating adult conversation at least a few times a week so your brain doesn’t turn to mush.
5. You will sing everything. I’m not just talking a constant string of nursury rhymes. I’m talking you will sing everything you’re doing. There will be no tune, it’ll just be whatever comes out of your mouth. I’m talking, Marshall from How I met Your Mother type singing. Utter nonsense, jibberish, and made up tunes. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a radio, or an iPod or something that will play a constant stream of music. Unless you like singing, in which case carry on.
6. You will forever refer to yourself in the third person. Example, “Mummy has to go upstairs and brush her teeth now. Then she has to put the clothes away”. This will never stop. I’ve consciously been trying to stop for months now. Unless I think about it, I still refer to myself in third person. And not just when talking to Stormaggedon either. Unfortunately.
7. You’ll marvel at watching them figure out the world each and every day. Watching your child is almost like watching a drunk person try to navigate the world. It’s both hilarious and frustrating at the same time. Like trying to feed themselves. Spending ages trying to grab a piece of food, watching it continually slip through their grasp, gradually lifting it to their open mouth, tongue hanging out in anticipation only for it fall out at the last second, wasted on the floor. It’s funny, but frustrating. You just want to pick it up yourself and put it in their mouth, but know if you do then they’ll never learn. My favourite moments are when you witness a milestone. One day they can’t do something, or don’t comprehend something, and the very next day something has clicked. At about 2 and a half months my son would lie in his cot, and on the bars next to him there was a jingly soft mobile. He would accidentally hit it with his hand as his limbs flailed about and it would make noises. I can still remember the day when that went from accidental to on purpose. At 12 months he received duplo building blocks for his birthday. One day he would pick the blocks up and just place them back down again, not realising how they actually worked. Then the next day he deliverately orientated them in his hands so he could build with them the way there were intended. It’s amazing to watch them see the world come into just a little bit more focus every day.
8. You suddenly realise just how hard it is to do the little things. Actually I have to say that as a newborn, it’s really not that problematic. Unless of course you were like me and worried that your child will catch the measles the second you step out of your front door. But apart from that, when they are little and immobile it’s still relatively easy to do the little things. Then they start to crawl, and stand, and notice when you’ve left the room. And all of a sudden you’re screaming out from the toilet that you’ll be back shortly, just give Mummy 5 damn minutes to do a poo! Damn it, you’ve run out of milk. That’s ok, just pop down to the shopps. Oh wait, you have to pack a nappy bag, and schedule the shop in around a nap, and also wait around for him to do that poo that he hasn’t yet done today, and don’t forget to bring a toy for amusement. Now you’re finally there, and come to think of it you need a few more things too. But there’s no space in the pram, so you’ll just have to manouver the pram through the cramped ailes whilst kicking a shopping basket acrosss the floor ahead of you. Again all the while pleading with your screeching child, who was totally fine 10 minutes ago at home but has decided now is the best time to chuck a tamtrum (most likely because he’s done that poo he refused to do when you were at home), to just calm down, we’re only here for another 5 minutes!…yeah good luck with that.
9. People will give you well meaning advice, and you will hate them. One of the most annoying pieces of advice you will get is “Sleep when the baby sleeps”. At first this does actually sound like good advice. But in reality, it’s not as practical as it seems. Especially a newborn who in those first few weeks will most likely not sleep longer than maybe 45 minutes to an hour at a time before they’re awake and demanding food again. Plus no matter how tired you are, you might be one of those people who simply cannot sleep during the day. Even if you do draw the curtins and wear an eyemask , your circadian rhythms might just be too powerful. And frankly driving your car at 100 km an hour down the highway is not the best time to chuck on cruise control and catch a few Zs if you notice your bub has dropped off to sleep. I swore at the time if I heard one more person say that to me I was going to bite their head off. I would say “relax and rest while the baby sleeps” is a better option.
10. Everything in your house will progressively go up higher. What’s that, you think that chest of drawers with some trinkets on top will totally be out of reach? Guess again sucker. Currently we have purchased 4 different wall storage units and removed at least 5 different pieces of furniture that used to belong in the living room and placed in the study (which is kept permanently shut) so that DVDs, books, photo frames and trickets don’t end up strewn from one end of the house to the other. All our DVD cases are gone now. We currently have close to 300 DVDs stowed away in those giant CD cases. The ones with the multiple pockets. And you know that saying “This is why we can’t have nice things anymore” Yeah, the cause of that is your baby.
11. You will be a confused emotional wreck. It’s the end of a really long a trying day. Perhaps your child is teething. They’re grizzly, they’re clingy, they won’t leave you along, and will scream like you’re murdering them because you’ve dared to leave them alone for 5 minutes whilst you go to the toilet. All you want to do is put them to bed so you can have something to eat, have a shower, down a glass of wine and wind down on the couch with some bad TV. And for one moment, you might get to forget that you’re a parent and you have to do the same thing all over again tomorrow. Yet as you sit there trying to focus on the program you suddenly realise, “Oh my God, I miss him! I wish he was awake right now so I could cuddle and kiss him, and play just one more game.” Seriously, what the hell is up with that! Thanks a lot Emotions! It’s this primal ache, probably motherhood at it’s peak, so you decide to creep into his room and watch him sleep for a few minutes. And there he is peaceful and beautiful. Suddenly the line from Tim Minchin’s song “Lulluby” flashes across your brain: Your love for them grows the closer to dead they look. And you couldn’t agree more.
12. You will struggle to ask for help. I don’t know what it was about me, but I thought that I had to do it all on my own (well, including the help of my husband). I felt that if I asked for help I would somehow be a failure. As a mum and a person. That somehow having a child meant I was an ADULT now, and could no longer rely on my own mummy to wipe my nose, tie my shoes and tell me everything was going to be alright. If you are reading this let me say IT IS OK TO ASK FOR HELP!!! It has nothing to do with feeling like a failure or being too proud. Becoming a parent is damn hard work. Your world has been turned upside down. You have this tiny thing who yesterday wasn’t here, and today is now demanding all of your attention and energy so it doesn’t die. It is very difficult to suddenly know exactly how to take care of it. Maybe your natural parenting instintcs havin’t kicked in yet. Maybe they never will. People need to stop perpetuating the myth that suddenly everyone will know how to parent the second you have a child in your life. You become so focused on taking care of that baby that suddenly you forget about yourself. You forget to eat and shower, and forget about housework. No it’s not necessary for your mum to come move in with you with, but I don’t think I would have coped nearly as well had it not been for my mum coming over every day to make lunch, keep things a little tidy and take the baby when I needed a break. So ask for help, from friends or family. I’m sure most people would be willing to lend an extra hand here or there for an hour at a time. And if you’re lucky enough to still have your mum in your life, give her a giant hug, thank her and ask her to tell you that everything will be alright.
13. You might not be able to figure out what the cries mean. One of my biggest fears before giving birth was that I wouldn’t know what each of the cries meant, and that I wouldn’t know what I needed to do to help my baby. Were they hungry, tired, too cold, too hot, in pain, just need a cuddle, etc? Every single person I would speak to would tell me, “Don’t worry, you will figure out what the cries mean. Almost 15 months later and I can tell you now I NEVER did. Absolutely could not tell you in those first 6 months the different between an I’m hungry cry and I need changing cry. It drove me crazy for quite a while. I’d feel guilty thinking that I was a terrible mum. But my husband (and every one else) would reassure me that was defintely not the case. In the end I just figured outhow to attend to him in other ways. Watching his body cues, or just creating my own schedule. He’s fine now, obivously. But even now he’ll cry about something and I still won’t know what he wants. I thoroughly suggest process of elimination – nappy, hungry, thisty, tired, etc. Pain does become significantly easier to detect, so don’t worry too much about that one.
14. You will say and do awful things. Sometimes you will hate your child. Sometimes you will wish you could give them back, or that you didn’t have them. That you desperately want your old life back. You’d do things differently. You’d go out more, take more risks, travel more, eat out more, sleep more. You suddenly fantasise about doing things you’ve never contemplated doing before, or in fact never did because you hated doing them. It’s because the option has now been taken away. We always crave what we don’t or can’t have. And that’s ok. Because you can always do those things again one day. Personally, I can tell you have said some terrible things.I have threatened to kill myself to my child if he didn’t stop screaming. When trying to wean him onto a sippy cup I would become so frustrated with his refusal that I would hurl the sippy cup across the room whilst yelling at him. I would yell at him that he would die if he didn’t learn to drink water. And when he was still waking 2-3 times a night at 7 months old, at 2am in the morning awful awful thoughts would creep into my head. All of a sudden those parents you read about in the news who have killed or injured their children suddenly don’t seem so horrible or despicable or insane. Suddenly you know how there were probably feeling, their motivation, their pain and you understand and feel really sorry for them. Then the cold light of dawn hits you and the feelings melt away. Florence and the Machine rings out in your head”…it’s always darkest before the dawn…” It was around the 7 month mark when all the above starting to really get out of control AND I realised I was suffering quite badly from post natal depression. I ended seeing my GP for help and was referred to a counsellor. I’ve actually just finished my sessions with her, and feel so much better for it. I’m a better parent, and my child is better too. I think a lot of the time it’s easy to shout and say awful things because you know they won’t remember it. And even though I’ve developed a lot of new coping skills, there will always be a time when I get a bit wobbly and lose my temper. Because what parent doesn’t do that every once in a while. We are allowed to be human. In the end if you feel you aren’t coping, that you aren’t enjoying your child, or feel like you hate them, or feel like you’re going to physically hurt them, or you just find yourself crying all the time, then please do get some help. Call you GP, or Beyond Blue or Lifeline. There are options out there. All of my counselling session were fully covered by Medicare, and I had 10 sessions in total. And remember, every single one of us at one time or another has wanted to shake their child. The important thing to do is put them down and walk away. Their cot is the safest place for them. Put them down and sit in the car for 10 minutes while you can have a cry and calm down. I did that on many occasions. But above all, ask for help!
15. Ok, so this last one I’ve saved especially until last, because I guarantee that no one has ever admitted to this, so if you’ve gone through it like me, then you can rest assured, YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE! Breastfeeding can sometimes turn you on, in a bad way and it makes your brain scream. Let me explain. Ladies have you ever needed to pee in the middle of the night, but you’re in such a deep sleep that the urgency to go isn’t enough to wake you up? What happens instead is your pelvic floor muscles are working so hard to hold in your bladder that suddenly the muscles start to contract, and you have an orgasm. It’s not a pleasant one. It’s actually quite painful. But it’s an orgasm none the less. The breastfeeding issue used to happen when Stormaggedon would comfort suck. He’d be sucking for a really long time, usually 45 minutes. What’s happening is the nipples are being stimulated. So that’s sending signals to the brain. And my brain is stupid, and decided to send sexy time signals down below. But at the same time I knew I was breastfeeding, so it felt like my brain was crashing around inside itself trying to stop the signals. It made me want to jump out of my skin. This is where the 5% of the time where I got really angry and wanted to hurl my son across the room comes from. Luckily after a while I figured out what was going on, so I would remove him and leave the room.
So there you have it. Have you experienced any of the above? Is there anything that I’ve missed. Comment below and let me know your thoughts. Until next week.
EDIT: Just thought I’d add in a disclaimer here. OF COURSE I love my son more than anything in the world. I love him with a passion. With a deep primal love. I would hurl myself in front of a bus to save his life type love. I would never ever do anything to hurt him, physically or emotionally. I am however extremely lucky to come from a wonderful family and have the support network that I needed to help me, and to recognise that when days got their darkest that I needed to get help. I am in such a good place at the moment. And my son is wonderful and thriving. He is fed, clothed, loved and is frankly an extremely happy baby. So if there was anything that I did in the beginning that may have “scarred” him, he is most definitely not showing any signs of it. My posts are to be read with a very tongue in cheek attitude, and when I do get a little serious or edgy it is merely to highlight the taboos that most mothers feel like they can’t talk about, and for them to know that if they are going through the exact same things THAT THEY ARE NOT ALONE!