Not loving every moment doesn’t make you a bad mum

Kinderling News & Features

Retrospect is a wonderful thing.

And that's never more true than when you're reflecting on your early parenting years - which of course, is almost impossible when you're right in the thick of things!

For this year's Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week (PANDA) theme of “I wish I knew" co-founder of The Parents VillageKirsty Green Levin shared her warts-and-all reflection on life as a new mum.

Kirsty, who has two daughters now 7 and 9, is also a psychologist and career coach.

As she told Kinderling, “I honestly believe that so many of these wish-list items could be attended to as part of a parenthood and relationship-focused birth prep, instead of just pure birth-focused prep ... We expect instincts and skills to kick in or develop after D-day without any education or preparation. This emphasis is all wrong. We need education and services, not things!"

Here are 5 things Kirsty wished she knew as a first-time mum:

1. Save a post-partum fund for YOU

I wish I had known that I should have saved up big time and set aside at least $10K (if not more) to support myself post-partum. My poor lacerated nipples may have been saved had I invested in a great lactation consultant, and I wouldn’t have dreaded the agony of every feed in the first six weeks. I may not have turned into an such angry, irritable, teary mess of a zombie had I invested early in a regular night nanny or sleep consultant.

I can remember debating with my husband over the cost of these services after eight months of torturous sleep deprivation and hesitating to spend so much for such a short space of time. It felt like such a luxury, such an indulgence. We should be able to do this on our own like everyone else, right?! How naïve we were. Just two nights of relief and guidance was a game changer. We caught a glimpse of our old human selves for a brief moment and immediately understood the value of such support. Meal delivery services would have also saved us a lot of time in those early months when all we really wanted to do was sloth on the couch during those rare hands-free moments.

2. Life can really feel mundane and lonely

I wish I had known that it was OK and even normal to hate the job of motherhood in that first year. I completely loved and was smitten with my new baby girl but I thoroughly loathed the mundane, isolating, repetition of most motherhood duties! It was a far cry from my fun, spontaneous, social, and stimulating lifestyle before baby. That was the rudest shock to the system. How black and white life could suddenly be. After pining for a baby so badly in my 20’s and 30’s, I honestly believed that I would love being a stay at home mum. It only took a few months before I was then pining to go back to work, to reclaim my old life. I relished the opportunity to return to work at 10 months, and then, I wish I had known how challenging and exhausting that new juggle would be. The grass is not always greener on the other side and I wish I had known that I needed to cut myself a whole lot of slack.

I wish I had known that motherhood isn’t meant to be a one-woman solitary job, even though society has unfortunately reengineered it to be this way. We have no hippy communes to live and raise our children together in. I wish I had made much more effort to get out of the house daily, just to connect more regularly with others and to break up the monotony and isolation. And I really wish I had accepted more of those offers from family to help out and to hang out. Pretending I had things covered solo was so lonely and exhausting.

Dads and  mental health: Why the impact is worse than we thought

3. Admitted that I needed counselling

I wish I had known that I was a high functioning depressive and sought counselling. I honestly thought that I was just another struggling new mama surviving each day. On the outside It seemed like I had it together. I was always dressed and made up, able to have a laugh with others, and keep things moving at work and home. On the inside I was miserable. I lost my zest for life. I was lethargic, but couldn’t sleep properly. I was irritable and cried bucket loads each week, but no one other than my hubby saw or knew. Had I done a number of things differently from the get go, like seeking help with feeding, doing some exercise, getting more sunlight, socialising more, accepting more help from family, and seeking counselling, I probably wouldn’t have suffered and struggled as much that year.

4. Been more of a team with hubby

I wish I had sat down with hubby to have an honest discussion about our pregnancy, labour and postpartum plan. We definitely thought we would just go with the flow. Genius idea! Once baby arrived we bickered a lot over both trivial and important things that were simply never negotiated. When we weren’t passing ships in the night, we argued over housework, over who was more tired and who needed more breaks. I wished we had worked better as teammates, and listed our needs, concerns, and responsibilities, deciding on who would do what and how we would support each other, more explicitly.

5. Researched more into birth intervention

I wish I knew so much more about the implications of birth intervention and alternative options back then. After two natural births with forceps and episiotomies, I now have damage that impairs my daily functioning that can only be repaired with surgery. I’ve been putting it off for years now as I just can't bear the thought of being out of action for up to six weeks. Whilst both my birth experiences were generally positive and not in any way traumatic, the physical aftermath has nevertheless been a huge challenge.

I wish I had practiced the fine art of letting go a lot sooner. To relinquish my need to control, to plan, schedule, to keep things tidy and in their place, to be 10 steps ahead. These things which worked in my former predictable life didn’t always work in my favour with a baby. I enviously observe friends with a more zen approach to life, who can relax with uncertainty, and who calmly dismiss the mess. I wish I had worked harder at this, as I wasted a lot of time focusing on things that really didn’t matter.

What did you wish you knew way back when?

Check out The Parents Village for more information, resources and prenatal programs that focus on these concerns and seek to buffer the parenthood adjustment.