Spoiler alert! It's f---ing hard.
If you had asked me one year ago what I thought the next year of my life would look like, I probably would have painted a much different picture.
It's true what they say, nothing can prepare you for parenthood.
From the moment my daughter was born, nothing was as I imagined it. I remember telling my husband in the birthing suite "we'll have an hour of skin-to-skin contact and then we can invite our parents to come and meet her, so maybe around eleven PM."
In reality, I didn't hold her for some time after she was born. The cord was around her neck and she was struggling to breathe. So I lay there, helpless, my obstetrician stitching me up, as a doctor and nurse rushed her away.
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It's not lost on me how lucky we were and although she did spend a couple of nights in the nursery, our little girl was going to be fine.
My expectations were next challenged in the form of feelings. And I want to preface this by saying that of course I loved my daughter from the moment I met her but those first days/weeks/months of motherhood were much more complicated, mentally, than I'd thought it would be.
Why didn't I look at her the way everyone else seemed to look at her? Was I broken?
Let me paint you a picture¡ you've just been through a huge trauma, you're sore, bleeding, you're hormonal, the milk comes in and your breasts feel like they might explode, your hospital room and/or home has a revolving door, people coming in and out, you're sleep-deprived, and then on top of that, you're now solely responsible for keeping another human being alive, feeding on demand, burping, changing dirty nappies, soothing and then doing it all over again, and again, and again.
It's rough. And while everyone's experience is different, I personally couldn't be happier we're out of the newborn phase - it was not the beautiful love bubble I'd been sold. Not even close, not for me anyway and I envy those of you who enjoy it.
My hope, by sharing my experience, is that another new mum might feel less alone because at the time, I was convinced there was something wrong with me. Why didn't I look at her the way everyone else seemed to look at her? Was I broken? It was around the one-month mark I decided to seek support, especially since I had a history of anxiety and depression, and I couldn't recommend it more.
What I soon found out was that how I was feeling was actually more common than I thought and at some point, without really noticing, it changed. Suddenly I was looking at her and I wanted to 'gobble her up.'
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I also wish someone had told me about baby acne. And I bring this up because a close friend of mine recently had a baby and, like me, thought she was the only mother to ever encounter baby acne. My daughter's acne was awful. It covered her face, it was in her hair, on her chest. Thank goodness for my sister (who's a nurse), she patiently responded to picture after picture, day after day, from a paranoid mother convinced it was something more sinister¡ fears which were reinforced by the fact I hadn't seen a single baby on social media with acne. None of my close friends had babies, so something must be wrong, right?!
Of course, it was simply another phase that would pass. And it did, pretty quickly.
Her poor sleep pattern on the other hand is a 'phase' we're still navigating. It has its ups and downs for sure. Some nights are worse than others. It's funny, I used to think because I'd always had broken sleep, I'd be able to cope well. Boy, was I wrong.
There's a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. It will test you and your relationship. My hubby and I have had some of our biggest blow-ups over the smallest of things, simply because we're overtired.
It's brutal. And as for 'sleep when the baby sleeps'¡ it did not happen. Anytime she was down I was either a. catching up on chores or b. too wired to fall asleep and so by the time I wound down and started to doze off, she would wake.
Having a sick baby is equally brutal. In her first year, my daughter had COVID and RSV. My hubby and I were along for the ride with COVID and I've never appreciated my own mum more. Thinking back to her nursing three sick kids, while also being sick herself¡ the woman deserves a medal! As do all the mothers, fathers and guardians fighting sickness while caring for sick babies.
One of my biggest lessons - you do what you have to, to survive each day. So many people are ready and waiting to share unsolicited opinions - "this is how you should do this, this is how you should do that" - at the end of the day, if your baby is happy and it works, who cares. For example¡sometimes the only way I could shower was to put bub in her bouncer on the bathroom floor with the vibration on and on one occasion when the battery died, an electric toothbrush did the trick.
I've got no problems enlisting the help of my friends 'The Wiggles' from time-to-time. I've spent entire days with her strapped to my chest, hell, I even had her attached to me at four-weeks-old, at my sister's hens.
Of course, it's not always easy to drown out the outside noise. I'm often worrying about what people think or what I think, they think. I'm sure most mums can relate to going red-faced, convinced people are staring at you when your baby is screaming in public.
In fact, there was a time when this fear actually prevented me from taking her places. I even relied on others to do mundane things such as food shopping because I was so scared she would cry in public and I wouldn't cope. But when I look back now I think 'so what if she cried at the shops/park/cafe?
I've never noticed a crying baby and thought poorly of the parent, what's the worst that would've happened? You pack up and go home. So if this is you, I suggest you bite the bullet! Because the more you do it, the more confident you'll become - that I know from experience.
Returning to work was another learning curve. I went back when bub was around four months; it was hard but we're building a house and bottom line, we need the income. We're lucky we have our mothers and my sister, who've been able to care for the little one, rather than us paying for daycare.
Initially, I thought it'd be easy. Bub would be with close family so what was there to worry about? Turns out, a lot¡ she was so young, what if they can't soothe her? Will she love me less? What if she doesn't take a bottle? What if she gets hurt?
I was breastfeeding as well and as a reporter we aren't always in the office, so pumping on the road became the norm - I'm talking anywhere from the toilets of a courthouse, to the car on a stake-out, sometimes I'd get so busy the day would pass and I'd pay for it with swollen breasts. Although being back had its challenges, I've found there are also aspects that are easier than being at home with my baby.
For example, I can go to the bathroom in peace. If it's quiet, I can duck out and grab a coffee, have adult conversations. All in all, I think it's made me value my time with her so much more.
We're very fortunate to have both our families close by. With their help I've been able to take time out to go to the gym, go for a drink or dinner with friends, all of these small things that make me, me, I've been able to do (for the most part) so if you do have family or friends willing to lend a hand, take it! I know it can be challenging, I can't count the number of times my inner critic crept in and told me I was a 'bad mum' for taking time for myself.
It's quite the opposite, you'll be a better mum, if you take time out for you¡ even if it's 10 minutes. You deserve it.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing for me personally, is how much I enjoy being a mum. I was one of those women who believed she didn't have a maternal bone in her body and yet, here I am, one year on, absolutely loving it. I love watching her grow and learn. The sound of her laugh. Her face when I hand her vegemite toast. How much she loves the outdoors and swimming. How much she loves my husband and he loves her. The way she pats and gives Billie kisses (our staffy).
And I find myself, for the first time ever, actually doing the work to improve myself, work on my mental health, all because I want to be a better person for her. I want her to experience the best version of me.
So there you have it, my first year laid bare. Hopefully, there's a thing or two you can take away and feel better off or less alone for it.
And please, if nothing else, hear this - you're doing a great job!
Brittany Hoskins is a reporter for Channel 9 News in Perth. ?
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