Lessons from my first year of motherhood

The Out & About Baby team is made up of an awesome group of women who all have kids. The most recent edition to the family is baby Olenka-Rose (heavenly name don’t you think), and her Mumma is one of the original Founders of this website.

Olenka is Krystyna’s first baby and so myself and the rest of the team wanted to pass on some of the nuggets of wisdom we have learnt along the way as well as the hard truths that we have all been confronted with at one point or another. 

My own personal journey through the first year of motherhood, was slightly unusual. Mostly because I decided to buy and sell a house the same week I gave birth and then started a business when my son was 4 months old.  But as it turned out, regardless of the crazy challenges I took on at the same time, I was embarking on what would be the most difficult, rewarding, challenging, joy-filled, tear-filled, hate-filled, love-filled year of my life so far. And as I stared down at his tiny, wrinkled face when he was first born, I wasn’t sure if I would survive the week let alone the next 12 months.

But the good news is dear Mumma, I lived to tell the tale. I am now the parent of a walking and non-stop talking 2 year old, which makes me a veteran of the game as far as I’m concerned and somewhat of an “expert” in surviving the first year of motherhood. 

We also asked our Facebook community of mums who are as passionate and real as they come so have also included a few of their truths as well.

They’re flawed, and they aren’t all pretty, but they’re hard-won and honest and as true as I can get them.

Here’s what I wish I’d known—

lessons from my first year of motherhood

1. You are going to suck at this parenting gig and be awesome at it at the same time, all the time.

You will be a parent every day for the rest of your life to a child who is different, and sometimes changes in a matter of hours, or minutes, or before your eyes. There will be good days and bad days, good minutes and bad minutes, good choices and not-so-good ones.

You will do some things, probably a lot of things, wrong. Be gentle with yourself, because you are wildly loved and incredibly needed. You are climbing Mt. Everest with basically zero conditioning—expect to be kind of terrible at it for a while. But don’t worry. So is everyone else.

2. Postpartum bodies are squashy and wobbly and dimpled and stretched and…

…foreign and embarrassing and difficult and painful and gorgeously imperfect, and they tend to stay that way for quite awhile. You made a human. Now make your peace. Eat good food. Walk around when you’re well enough. Listen to the people who tell you you’re beautiful. Take them at their word. Remember where your worth comes from.

3. Your baby is not like the other babies.

Your baby is the only one of herself who has ever been, and you and your partner are the only experts on her. Your baby will not behave like the books say, won’t like what she’s supposed to like, won’t do what she’s supposed to do when she’s supposed to do it, and that’s normal and great and perfectly OK.

The best thing you can do is put down your literature and get to know your baby. What does she like? What makes her laugh? How does she best fall asleep? What does hungry sound like? The discovery of these things will serve you so much more than any stranger’s care instructions ever will.

You don’t have to make your life or your family look like any particular model—you don’t have to follow the rules. You just have to create a life that works for you and fosters love and security and a whole lot of laughter. If that looks like 2 a.m. pancake parties, I’m not going to tell on you. I might actually admire you and be just a little bit jealous.

4. We have got to stop telling people that things should be easy and painless.

We live in a culture that equates ease with value—the easier it is, the better it is; if it hurts you, something is wrong. Reality check: sometimes things that are hard and painful are also really, really good.

Every once in a while as a parent, one of the things that you thought would be really difficult turns out to be incredibly easy and drama-free. This is called a miracle, and the odds of that same miracle happening to anyone else are pretty slim, even with tonnes of reference books and the stars aligning.

We get excited in our victories, and want to share them, but it’s important to remember that we are all struggling with different issues. One Daddy’s version of easy is another Mumma’s nightmare. And just because your baby doesn’t sleep through the night at five weeks or eat with a fork by her first birthday or cries a lot or your boobs get sore from breastfeeding (even though her latch is perfect) – just because it isn’t easy and painless — it isn’t necessarily wrong. Sometimes hard is OK, sometimes, often, it’s even good. Hard is how we grow. And guess what, kiddo— parenting is hard.

4. Your relationship will probably take a bit of a hit (for those who parent with another person).

They say not to make any big decisions in the year after a major life event, so heed that advice on the numerous occasions over the next 365 days that you feel like walking out and embarking on single parenthood. Because I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your relationship is going to go through extreme ups and downs like never before.

I don’t just only mean in terms of physical intimacy (although that does happen too), but in terms of emotional connection. There are going to be times when you hate your partner so much that you struggle to understand why you would ever conceive a child with them.

Having a baby fundamentally changes a relationship and there is a grieving process that accompanies that. Be prepared for it, and be willing to have open and honest discussions about it.  Your mum friends will most likely have their own stupid tales to share too.

5. Ergh the poop.

They warn you. They tell you. And despite every warning, it is still baffling and alarming and downright awe-inspiring how much of your next year is going to be spent dealing with, assessing, smelling for, washing off, evaluating, discussing, logging and transporting poop. Get good and comfy with poop, friends. The poop cometh. For whom the poop tolls. The hunt for poop—you get the idea.

6.  Breastfeeding doesn’t come easily to everyone.

People tell you the first six weeks are the toughest, and that if you can just make it through these then you’ll be right as rain. This is a mixture of gospel truth, blissful naivety and utter rubbish.

The first six weeks are indeed extremely torturous, but the next six weeks after that are only marginally better. If you breastfeed, you have what is basically a small, hairless puppy attached to you 24/7 sucking your life force out through your nipples, and – spoiler alert – they feed all the time. They want to feed when they should be sleeping, they want to feed just as you’ve sat down with a cup of tea (your tenth attempt, the previous nine having all gone miserably cold), they want to feed just after they’ve already fed. It is probably the closest you will ever come to feeling empathy for a cow.

7. The sooner you figure out how to accept unwanted advice gracefully, the easier your year is going to be.

For whatever reason, people love to weigh in on babies—everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to share. Mostly it’s pretty well-intended— generally it falls into the “it worked for me and I am so happy and I want to share my joy with you because you look very tired” category, which is at least only mildly offensive and really very sincere.

So here is the thing – you can stumble through this crazy first 12 months on the defence,  snapping witty comebacks at judgmental old ladies, mother-in-laws or know-it-all childless people. OR you can decide to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, smile and say thank you, and become very zen about knowing what’s best for your child and not giving a sh*t about what anyone else says.

If I were you, I’d aim for zen.

Nobody is out to get you. Everyone wants you to succeed. And screw them all anyway, because you are raising a child, and that is awesome. Did your kid eat something today? Is she relatively hygienically sound? Smiles occasionally? You win all the things. You are awesome enough to absorb any and all commentary, keep the bits you like, and toss the bits you don’t.

lessons in motherhood

8. Start stretching, because it’s time to get flexible.

I’m not a big fan of general statements like “All babies like swaddling,” or “Co-sleeping is best for everybody,” but there is one I can get behind—babies are really inconvenient.

Your schedule, your sleep, your stellar punctuality record, your deadlines, your best shirts, your relationships—everything is about to get messy and complicated. You have two choices: become a weeping/hungry/tired mess of doom, or swallow every ounce of pride you have and become flexible.

Ask for help. Admit failure. Be late. Stay in your PJ’s. Ignore the dishes. Let slide what can slide and rejoice when you make it through with all your bare necessities intact. You are going to miss a few parties and a lot of snoozes and probably many other important things, and it will be OK. It will be better than OK. It will be amazing.

9. It’s ok to say ‘No”.

If you don’t want to do something or see someone, just say no. It’s so simple, and yet something that so many people struggle with especially in that early newborn phase when everyone wants to meet the baby for the first time.

Touching on all the previous 8 points of this list, you will be sleep deprived, in pain, mentally traumatised and anxious as hell about keeping this new, little person alive. Those first few weeks with your other half and new baby are so wonderfully special. Spend it together, make time for yourself to heal, order takeaways, stay in bed and cuddle – everyone else will still be there when you are ready to let them in.  In hindsight, they honestly won’t mind at all.

10. Maternity leave can be awesome, and sometimes it can also get super boring.

There are solo adventures to the beach, lazing around on blankets in the garden over Summer, listening to music, and generally hanging at home in a little baby bubble, huddled and tangled up close together.  And you should never underestimate the feeling of contentment and peace you will experience when watching your baby sleep. 

However as romantic and lovely as that is, sometimes it can also feel quite isolating. Because as much as you talk to your baby, she generally (unless she is some kind of child prodigy) won’t talk back. Which is a perfect segway to my next point.

11. It actually does take a village to raise a child.

The most important thing to get for your baby is not a Rock n’ Play, nor a good set of swaddling blankets, nor a high-end stroller. The most important thing to get for your baby is a village aka a Mother’s Group (or just a group of mums who are going though what you are at the same time).

Push yourself to make new friends, you need them. Create events, organise nights out and time together – it’s so wonderful getting to know other amazing mothers and seeing your babies all grow together.

Your village will keep you afloat. They will carry you when you are tired, feed you when you are starving, forgive you when you are unkempt and hours late and a neglectful friend who can’t remember to wear socks let alone whose birthday it is. They will love your baby when you are too tired or frustrated to hold her at the moment, because you are imperfect and human and have imperfect and human failings. They will remind you who you are when you start to think your whole life is only about poop. They will lift you up.

12. We have to lift each other up.

Raising babies is the hardest thing many of us have ever, or will ever do. We can tear each other to bits, criticise choices and turn up noses, or we can love each other, admire adorable babies, offer a hand and celebrate victories. This is not a difficult choice. Nobody cares that your way is better. Everyone cares that your kid is gorgeous. So let’s chat over a coffee and what have you been doing with your hair lately because, girlfriend, you look fabulous!

Don’t be horrible. It isn’t really that hard.

13. Success is found in being willing to grow.

Here’s the truth: you don’t know much of anything.

A year from now, after your fantastic kid turns 1, you won’t know much of anything still. Gather wisdom around you. Learn from your mistakes. Stay humble. Stay open. When you know better, do better. Be a better parent tomorrow than you were today, always, everyday, as often as you can. Try things out and leave them behind shamelessly if they don’t work out.

Life isn’t a contest or a game—it’s simply only beautifully life. Live the minutes instead of scoring them. Love that incredible baby.

Oh, Mumma — Congratulations!  Welcome to the club! You are going to have so much fun!

Laura Ruston

Mum to Harvey. Wife to Dave. Founder of MUMOKI. Art lover, design obsessed, lipstick hoarder.