From the moment I announced I was pregnant, people both parents and childless friends alike revelled in telling me how much my life was going to change, and I was no longer going to be able to do things that I want to do. “You’ll never see a movie at the cinemas again”, “say goodbye to spontaneously leaving the house”, “Just popping down the shops for a few things will become a 3 hour ordeal with your screaming child in tow”. Sometimes they were said in jest. Other times they were said in all seriousness, like a warning foreshadowing the inevitable doom I was about to face. Occasionally they were said by smug arseholes after you’ve just voiced your very worried concerns to them about how your life is going to change completely and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to handle it. Yep thanks, that smugness is SO TOTALLY helping my state of mind at the moment. Guess I’ll just go home and cry again in the foetal position again for the 10th time this week, for all the support I’m getting from you! And admittedly, I myself have also been that douchebag to my own yet-to-be-parents friends. Usually after they’ve complained about not having time to do this or that. “Oh you want to talk about not having time to go out! Let me talk to you about not having time…”
So for those of you who are currently expecting, or have just had your little bundle of joy and are suddenly faced with the prospect of never leaving your house again, I can totally sympathise. So here’s the thing, and I will be completely honest with you. It’s going to be really tough for the next few months at least. I mean, definitely for those first four weeks, when you’re so tired you literally can’t tell if you’re awake in the real world. The house won’t have been cleaned for a week, you probably won’t have eaten for about 8 hours straight because you simply forgot, and you’ll find yourself on the toilet not quite remembering how you got there, thinking to yourself “Is this real life?” And I have to say, if you’re driven somewhere and you find yourself at your destination thinking “I literally have no memory of how I got here”, I fully suggest re-evaluating whether it’s safe for you to be behind the wheel of the car at the moment. But I can ASSURE you it does get better. It may not look like it at the moment, if may seem FOREVER away, and in some moments it really is, but there will come a time when you become YOU again.
So for those of you needing some advice on how to wade through the nappies, and the purees, and screaming, and the teething, and the sleepless night, and the endless worries about everything and anything, read on for my handy hints and tips.
1. Please come to the acceptance that it is OK to let your baby cry. Just for 5 or 10 minutes while you re-group. Put them in a safe place, on their back in their crib and seriously just go sit in the car for 10 minutes. Block out the world. Cry a little yourself. Even scream if you need to. God knows that I screamed a lot in those first few months, and sometimes I’m sorry to say at my son. The frustration is normal. But after you’ve tried to investigate why your child is crying (hungry, nappy, tired, burping, hot, cold, just needs a cuddle, etc), and they’re still unable to be soothed, then go take a moment for yourself. It is not selfish. Let me say that again for the people in the back. IT IS NOT SELFISH! It is NECESSARY. You need to be calm and in control, and that will not happen if you’re completely wired with stress and anxiety because you feel like you can’t leave them when they cry. So now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the difference between a newborn crying and a toddler crying. Toddlers will usually cry because they’re frustrated, or want something, or in the case of my son, because something has not gone their way. Sometimes it’s actually quite funny, like the time last week when my son starting crying because the balloon he was playing with wouldn’t stay in the air. Other times it’s frustrating, like when I’m trying to get dinner ready and my son just wants attention. Moments like that I just explain to him calmly and clearly what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and I’ll come play later. Or I explain that sometimes we can’t always have our way or get what we want when we want it. It doesn’t always work. After all, he’s only a year and a half old, he’s not really going to understand what I’m saying. But the framework is there so that when he is old enough to understand, it’ll be easier to get the message across (at least that’s what I’m HOPING will happen). So now that we’ve established the crying is ok part, let’s move on.
2. Start off with little things. Think back to what you really liked to do before you became a parent. Maybe even think about things that you took for granted. Was it going out for a quiet cup of tea? Doing the grocery shopping? Just going for a short drive in a scenic area? Or a walk? Having a swim at the beach? Gardening? Painting? Once you’ve made a list of things then think about ways on how you can incorporate them back into your life. Pop the baby in the pram and talk a walk to your local cafe and sit and have a piece of cake for half an hour. Or if you don’t like the idea of leaving the house (and sometimes it’s like that because sometimes the effort can be more than it’s worth), wait until Bub is asleep, make yourself a cup of tea and go sit out the back looking up at the sky or the trees and think of nothing. Don’t think about the baby, the nappies, the mortgage, the next meal. Don’t lament your old life, or worry about the future. Just focus on tea and the sky and your breathing and nothing more than that. Get yourself one of those adult colouring in books, and just go for it when they’re asleep. One of the things I did when finding “Myself” again was to leave Stormaggedon with they hubby, and do the grocery shopping by myself. And maybe sneak five minutes to do a bit of window shopping beforehand.
3. Make sure you keep contact with your friends and relatives. This can be such a hard thing to do sometimes. Either you’re bombarded by people who won’t leave you alone, or you’re incredibly lonely because everyone thinks they need to give you space. I know sometimes reaching out to people can be extremely difficult, especially if you have social anxiety. But just a little thing every now again to remind people you’re alive, and that your whole world doesn’t necessary revolve around your child. A text, a Facebook PM, an email, a letter in the mail (how exciting are those now a days!), or a phone call can do wonders for your self (re)-awakening. And for those people out there reading this who don’t have kids (and I know there’s a few of you) who have friends who are parents, please remember us once in a while. Send us that little hello, or ask if we’d like company, or if we need anything. I know sometimes we might not respond right away, or would need to plan a catch up three weeks in advance, but we love it when you reach out. Please don’t stop. We love you and miss you. A lot!
4. If you are in a relationship, remember that you are a PARTNERSHIP. It’s no ones’ job to clean or cook or look after the baby. It’s BOTH of your responsibility. Talk to each other. Ask for help or assistance. “Hey, if I vacuum today, can you look after Stormaggedon for an hour while I have a lie down this afternoon?”, “Hey I cooked dinner last night, can you cook it tonight?”, “I’d really like to go out with my friends this weekend, would you like next weekend to yourself?”, “Am I helping enough, sometimes I feel like I’m not helping enough and I don’t want you to feel under appreciated” Nothing annoys me more when I go to work and I hear conversations about how one partner has gone out every night that week without even asking or telling the other partner, and they were just expected to look after the baby the whole time, or when they complain because their partner asked them to clean and do chores while they did something else, or their child asked them for the 50th time that day to help brush their doll’s hair. There seems to be a lot of bitter people in unequal partnerships at my work, and it frankly just makes me really sad, yet incredibly lucky and grateful to have my husband in my life.
5. Aim for big. Plan to go to the movies. Maybe plan it three weeks in advance, but plan it still the same. Decide that you’re going to go out one afternoon with your friends and do it. Plan a short get a way with your partner. Get yourself a support network of family or friends, get them to mind the baby. Sometimes people don’t like the idea of “subjecting” their child to someone else because of their behaviour. They don’t sleep well, or are a fussy eater, or have been throwing tantrums lately. You know what I jokingly said the other day when someone asked me about my child’s behaviour for his baby sitters? “For the next three hours, it’s not my problem”. We had a laugh, and although some people felt I was being incredibly cold, here’s the thing: I got home and my son wasn’t any worse for wear. They’re still a happy child coping with life. And even if the person who was looking after him was frazzled in the end (FYI, they weren’t) the lucky thing they get to do is to leave after the three hours. They haven’t just spent the last 20 months with my son 24/7. Give yourself peace of mind by getting a person you completely trust to look after your child, and start getting back out into the world. Go to dinner, take a day trip to your favourite beach, take time out in the art gallery or museum, or go on that shopping spree with your best friend.
6. Start to include your child in the things you love. It’s so great introducing your child to the things that make you happy. Don’t forget you can take your child out with you to the movies, or that restaurant, or your favourite museum. Forget the judgemental stares of others. Yeah, they’re e,titled to their opinions of children should be seen and not heard or how dare you bring your child into their presence when they’re trying to eat their lunch in peace. Yep, totally entitled, and you frankly shouldn’t care one bit abou them. Bring your child into the world with you. You deserve to. They deserve it. Let them experience your culture and passions and favourite things. And maybe, just maybe they’ll grow into a person who WON’T tell you that you’re a lame dork for loving Doctor Who. Because isn’t that what everyone’s dream is in the end?
And if anyone has been following this journey with me, you would have seen from the beginning that I had a lot of trouble thinking that I would ever be NORMAL again. Well I can say that I’m back at work. I’m back at tae-kwon do training. And for the first time in three years I’m back acting in a stage play again, currently rehearsing for Jesus Christ Superstar with Queensland Musical Theatre (playing at the Schonell Theatre UQ St Lucia, Brisbane from 8 to 12 June 2016 *cough*gratuitous plug*cough*). And on top of that I see my friends, I spend time with my husband, and I still am totally in love with my son, and am still being there for him when he needs me. Yes sometimes things don’t always go to plan, like illness, forgetfulness, and generally things out of your control. That happens. And no, I’m not trying to boast about my great life. Yes, I do have a great life, but a lot of it is hard work and requires a lot of planning and communication, and I am extremely lucky to have the network of supportive family and friends to help me along the way. But I assure you that you can be YOU again. It won’t be exactly like it was Before Baby. It will in fact be even better. You are a superhero. You are you. And you are great!