Friday night and the bathtub water was running, the laundry pile had finally reached Everest proportions, and the house was filled with the sound of my infant son strength training his lung capacity for the past 45 minutes, his cries only superseded by those of his exhausted, overwhelmed mother.
Welcome to my new normal.
Nine months in now, and I look back on those difficult first few months with a survivor’s grim pride. Being a first-time parent is one of the most life-changing, world-altering, capacity stretching experiences you could ever go through…equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, but ultimately, entirely worth the challenging process.
Most mothers find themselves adrift during those initial days, feeling as though they’ve lost their identities, wondering whether their lives will ever be the same again. I remember feeling too like I was becoming a victim of some surreal post-pregnancy identify theft – that the confident woman I was before was slowly being hijacked by some anxious, angry stranger.
I spent far too long caught in this crisis before taking my own baby steps towards getting my groove back. What I share now are some of the lessons I’ve learnt in the hope that they too might help you reclaim your lives (and your Friday nights!) back.
Don’t Come Down So Hard On Yourself
Cut yourself some slack! It isn’t easy juggling the demands of a new life, especially with sleep deprivation and sore nipples in the mix, you know! Realise that you are a wonder woman – that if you’ve previously survived that insane 24-hour deadline at work, that heart-shattering breakup, that health scare… there’s nothing you can’t do! Give yourself credit for the fact that you are still learning, as your baby is, to grapple with the changing world around you- and these lessons are not learnt overnight. You’re doing amazing, Mama!
Learn How To Say No
The first few weeks are going to be filled with an outpouring of well-meaning friends and family dropping by for visits and dispensing often unasked for advice on how to get the baby to fall asleep and how to slim down that bulging belly of yours.
This can get overwhelming, to say the least when all you want to do, really, is to curl up in bed for a few stolen moments of blissful alone time before the baby wakes up for the umpteenth time!
So learn to put your foot down and say no when you need some personal space. Your friendly intruders will understand, and ultimately, want to see you getting the R&R you need and deserve.
And on that note…
Learn How To Say Yes
Yes, to an extra pair of hands, especially in those early days when your house looks as though a hurricane went through it! Remember those friendly intruders? Well, they should be more than happy to extend a helping hand – they love you and just want to help ease your burden any way they can, so don’t feel reluctant to saying yes to their offers to help with the housework, or babysit the bub.
Just put the to-do list aside for a second and focus on getting some rest and being treated like the queen you are.
Remember Who You Were Pre-Pregnancy
I remember how nervous I was the first time I stepped out by myself, sans baby. Confinement had certainly made me feel confined in every sense of the word, and like a prisoner out on parole, I was now unsure about the world around me.
My loving husband had bravely volunteered to hold the fort in my absence, encouraging me to head out and have some quality me time. I went to a local shopping mall, sat at my favourite Japanese restaurant with a steaming bowl of ramen in front of me – and cried at the pure joy of being alone. After that cathartic moment, I felt much of the resentment and fear that I had been carrying dissipate as I rediscovered myself.
Finding some time for you is crucial to being a happy mum. It’s not selfishness, it’s sanity! So find a helpful family member, friend or someone you can trust to watch over the baby and go pamper yourself! Head out for a nice massage, a head-clearing run, a mani-pedi session, a long overdue haircut…whatever it takes to make you feel more like your old self again.
In the weeks and months to come, make it a point to get out of the house, learn something new and set aside time to do what you love to do. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for this!
Never Forget Your Priority Relationship
In between the millionth Insta-post of your new treasure and regaling anyone who will listen about your baby’s first smile (or was that just gas?), it’s all too easy to lose sight of your relationship with your partner.
Reconnecting with your partner is crucial and one of the best things you can do for your child to create a happy home environment. Amongst the things that have helped me and my husband were enforcing an early bedtime for our son (so that mum and dad could have some alone time), going out on the occasional date night (or afternoon!), and making a conscious effort to engage with each other on non-baby related issues.
After all, your partner was your numero uno during all those pre-baby years – and it’s good to remind yourself of that, even as you both journey together through parenthood. Remember; your baby is meant to complement, not consume, your relationship.
Know When (And How) To Seek Support
Your little one suddenly decides to go on a breastfeeding strike. Or starts crying the second you step out of the room. Or wakes up one day with a strange, inexplicable rash on her skin.
As a new mum, you will be faced with countless situations that will seem completely out of your depth. Don’t feel like you’re alone on this journey though; instead, call in the cavalry and get the help you need from the avenues available to you.
From parenting websites and educational workshops to Mummy support groups, kids’ playgroups and postnatal consultants on call, it’s always good to expand your parenting database alongside the shared knowledge of other parents who’ve lived (or are still living) through the same tough times.
Helpful local resources I’ve come across include The Breastfeeding Advocates Network (or TBAN) on Facebook which has been invaluable to me on my own breastfeeding journey, the ibu Family Resource Group, a non-profit organisation that provides assistance to young families by way of support groups, advisory clinics, workshops and fun activities, and Positive Parenting, an educational family care programme initiated by the Malaysian Pediatric Association, which serves to connect families with expert advice and key parenting information from healthcare professionals.
Occasionally, however, you may feel that what you’re experiencing goes beyond mere “baby blues”; that all the colour seems to be draining out from your world instead. In that case, do recognise the possibility that this may be an early warning sign of postpartum depression and don’t hesitate to seek professional medical attention and treatment.
And finally, on a parting note, remember that…
This Too Shall Pass
Ah, this old refrain. A friend of mine once said that she would physically attack the next person who said it to her, so tired was she of having this phrase casually thrown her way. Cliched as it might be, however, time and nature do have their funny way of smoothening out those rough edges, and before you know it, you and your bub will be sailing through this season as veterans of the dreaded “4th trimester”.
And then comes the teething 😉
From courtroom trials to the trials of first-time parenthood, Kimberly Lee is a former litigation lawyer turned full-time employee of her boss baby. She writes about life, loss, love and everything in between as she explores her greatest adventure yet- motherhood.