(Un)EXPECTING – The ups and downs of being a Mom.
Learning to expect (and accept) the unexpected.
When I was expecting my first born, I received a congratulatory card from a family friend that read “If I can tell you anything, it will be this: motherhood is the most beautiful and heart-breaking journey.” I cannot tell you how this triggered me at the time. It didn’t seem right to tell a mom, expecting their first child in a few weeks, that they were about to embark on their most heart-breaking journey yet. It felt unnecessary and negative. I just didn’t get it. Welcoming a baby into this world was meant to be the most beautiful and joyous time! I wasn’t naïve to the fact that there would be problems along the way, but the word ‘heartbreak’ felt heavy.
Since having my first (and now second) child, I GET IT! I cannot tell you how much I have thought back to that card. The warning I certainly didn’t want, but absolutely needed. Every time something hasn’t gone to plan or feels overwhelming or out of my control, or I see my child hurt or sick and I can’t do more to help them, I think, ‘this is what she meant’.
She was right. Motherhood is the most beautiful thing, and it can also be heart-breaking. When you love someone with your entire being, seeing them hurt, sick or feeling like you can’t give them enough is exactly that. The funny thing is that most of life’s disappointments come from unmet expectations- expectations we put on ourselves. I wanted everything to be perfect, but it isn’t. Walking into motherhood thinking that it was going to be without heartbreak was only going to lead to a lot of disappointment, overwhelming amounts of guilt and feelings of failure. During my hardest moments, as a new mom and still now, that card reminds me that it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and it is okay, because that is part of the journey too. It doesn’t mean you are ’doing it wrong’ or ‘aren’t enough’. It is normal. I wonder where my mind would have gone to without this unexpected expectation of being a new mom.
Realistic expectations are paramount to our mental health and overall well-being. Having unmet expectations leaves us feeling like what we are doing or who we are isn’t enough. Much like if we have unmet expectations from a partner or relationship, we will feel like they aren’t doing enough. Therefore, it is so important that your partner (or anyone) is aware of your expectations and needs. They obviously can’t meet needs without knowing what they are. Heartbreak being somewhat synonymous with motherhood, as an expectation, ended up being so freeing for me as I didn’t have an unmet expectation of ‘perfect’ or feelings of failure.
Let’s have a look at some of the most common struggles a new mom may expect…
Most common struggles for new moms:
– Self-Identity and Self-Love
Having a baby may feel like your identity as an individual has been replaced by your identity as a parent. Feeling sad or mad about this doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent, it just means that you need to take the time to rediscover yourself.
It’s true! Having a baby changes you, but it can be in all the best ways. In fact, I like to think that it reminds you of who you really are. It allows you to be silly again: enjoy the small things again: see the world for the first time again. Seeing a small version of yourself reminds you about what really matters, and who really matters! And, if we allow it, it grounds us and frees us to occupy the present moment. Kids allow us to be authentically and unapologetically ourselves. But getting to this point can be a process and one that may require guidance. Because we would have become so used to a life we lived before having a baby, when we ‘lose’ this, it can feel a bit like we are losing ourselves in the process. Our time doesn’t feel like our own anymore and we don’t always have time for hobbies and a social life. Our body also goes through a lot of changes which can lead to that feeling foreign too. It is hard, but what your body has done for you and your baby IS AMAZING.
Maybe the hard part about this period of change is that it can feel like you’ve lost your old self, but it can also feel a bit like you ‘suck’ at your new self. You may not know what you are doing to begin with, and you may take time figuring it out. There is a lot of learning to be done, so feed yourself kindness and grace. Nobody walks into a new role as a professional. You are not supposed to know it all. What will you say to your precious new baby when they start something new one day? Speak to yourself like that. In fact, every time you think or say something hurtful about yourself- ask yourself how you would feel if they said that about themselves.
I have also started to look at ‘people changing’ differently. We are meant to evolve.
Having kids has presented me with the opportunity to deal with insecurities and ‘stuff’, that I may have once avoided, because I want to be better and do better for them. I don’t want them to be a product of my past or my insecurities. Do you know what they say? The best thing a parent can do for their child is to heal themselves.
Sometimes we must lose ourselves to find ourselves again.
It has been a journey, but I now think the biggest lesson I have learnt here is that I thought I had changed after having my babies, but really, they helped me find my way back home.
– Exhaustion and Overwhelm
“Parent sleep: it’s like regular sleep, but without the sleep.” Unknown
Let’s face it, having kids means less sleep. According to Healthline, new parents lose (on average) 109 minutes of sleep every night for the first year after having a baby. Another study has found that new parents lose up to 44 days of sleep until their baby is one year old, which equates to an average of just over 5 hours of sleep per night. Study finds that new parents lose 44 days of sleep in the first year | Marie Claire
So, yes, the exhaustion of a new parent is real! Mainly because babies need to feed often, and you are not used to broken nights. And I don’t know about you, but I feel overwhelmed and emotional a lot quicker on less sleep. Even your overwhelm can feel overwhelmed and things that wouldn’t usually faze you, do. I resonate with this quote so much: “Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year olds.” – JoJo Jensen
But this too is temporary. Even though it feels like you will NEVER sleep again, the time comes. Until then, take up any offers to babysit and be sure to make rest a priority. You may even find yourself missing those nightly intermissions!
So, if possible (which, I understand, sometimes it just isn’t), soak up those midnight cuddles and just BE.
– Self-Care and ‘Me Time’
We have been indoctrinated to believe that rest is unproductive, and we have somehow found ourselves wearing exhaustion (and burnout) as a badge of honour. So, self-care and ‘me time’ is probably something you struggled with before becoming a mom anyway. It just feels a little heightened because it can feel like all you are doing is caring for someone else, and even if you wanted to practice some form of self-care, it may feel like you can’t. It can feel like you are neglecting your own needs for the sake of your baby’s. Having a new-born is a full-time responsibility and one that comes with needing your attention 24/7. It can seem and feel a little endless at times.
The reality, though, is that rest is the most productive thing you can do because without it, you can’t do anything else anyway. It needs to be prioritized, always. We cannot be the best parent to our littles if we are not at our best.
So, what does self-care mean? It means doing something that will improve your physical and mental wellbeing: something for YOU! Mark out times to ask yourself what it is that you need to feel better, to recharge and then DO IT. What brings you JOY? What brings you inner peace? Spend time, every day, doing one of these things- even if it is just for ten minutes.
Sometimes we don’t do what we need to do because, you know, ‘mom guilt’. We so desperately wish for a break and ‘me time’, and the minute we get it, we feel guilty, miss our babies, and scroll through our phones looking at photos of them.
It’s okay to want a break. Let’s normalise this. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child or that you are a bad parent. A break doesn’t have to mean a weekend away either. It can obviously be difficult to organise time away from the baby if you don’t have a support system around you, or you may just not want to. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit down and do absolutely nothing.
Looking after ourselves and being rested is also going to help those long nights feel a little shorter, and a whole lot more enjoyable. It will help us be mindful and present and to see the situation for what it is: temporary. There will still be hard nights and nights you just don’t feel up to it, but they will be manageable.
Feeling refreshed is going to show your kids what healthy parenting looks like. You will also be showing them what it means to slow down and look after yourself.
– Adjusting to New Routine and New Normal
This is where realistic expectations are so important. We may have an idea of what life is going to look like after having a baby. We may form an idea about our parenting styles and rules. You know the infamous, “I would never let my child do A, B, C”. “My child will never eat watching tv.” “My child will never have a tantrum.” I could go on and on. We may have a plan for a specific routine. We spend months picturing what parenthood is going to be like. And, maybe without realising it, we form expectations. I remember being convinced that my kids would sleep through from six weeks and we would all carry on like normal. 😉
Well, your baby has a mind of their own, even at just a few days old. Sometimes they just don’t stick to the plan, and we are left feeling frustrated and this leads us to believe that we are doing something wrong. It wasn’t meant to be like ‘this.’ I think this is where people start labelling babies as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I can’t count how many times I was asked if my boys were ‘good babies’. Like at the ripe old age of 2 months they know what they are doing is ‘bad’. Bad because they are not sticking to our preconceived ideas of what parenthood should look like? Let go of your expectations and try to be flexible where possible. Enjoy the special moments and know that family life won’t always be this chaotic.
Yes, it is nice to have a routine (for you and the baby), but if it doesn’t always work out that way- THAT IS OKAY. It might take time to establish a routine; it might take time to find the right routine. It is a journey, and if it doesn’t happen straight away (which it probably won’t), you are not doing anything wrong. Have patience- for you especially, but also for your baby. They are also trying to figure out all this new stuff!
Don’t feel like you must do it all or feel guilty for not doing what you used to do. It doesn’t matter if your house is dirty or haven’t got dressed for the day. We don’t want to walk into parenting expecting to be SUPERMOM. Perfectionism is the fastest way to diminish joy. Your baby will eventually need you less and less so give yourself permission to focus on yourself and them only. The dishes and laundry can wait. Or better yet, that friend or family member that wants to help? Ask them to do the dishes.
It is also completely normal to miss some of the things you did before you had a baby. But parenthood doesn’t mean that you are no longer allowed to have fun. Even though your lives and lifestyle’s have changed, that doesn’t mean that the adventure has stopped: it just looks a little different. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is the most beautiful adventure yet. It is also still okay to do the things that you loved to do before. Chat to your partner or a support system about being available for your hobbies and create that ‘freedom’ that you may sometimes miss.
We are allowed to feel two ways about something. It is normal. We can miss and reminisce about our more carefree days while still loving and feeling incredibly blessed about our beautiful new life.
Oh, and although it feels like it will never happen, you eventually will have a warm cup of tea again 😉
– Changes in Relationships and Dynamics
Naturally, the dynamics with your partner may change. But again, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I remember seeing my husband with a whole new set of eyes when he became a dad. The love he had for his babies was palpable, and that made me love him even more. Watching him in this role, that he took so seriously and respected so deeply, was extremely heart-warming.
But when a baby arrives, you now have another person to think about. You never had to negotiate time spent together. When you have a baby, initially at least, everything becomes about them. Your conversations and lives become them. So, it is easy for date nights, and even conversations about anything else, to become difficult.
Accept that it is a transitioning period and, again, that it is temporary. Much like you are both trying to navigate your new roles individually as parents, you must also do it together as a team. And as a baby may change (read grow) you, you may need to navigate these changes in your partner too. Everything is different. But different can be beautiful.
Try to make time to bond with your partner and speak about other things. Even if it just means eating dinner together at the table rather than on-the-go or in front of the tv and know that ‘this too shall pass’.
Whatever you do, just be sure to KEEP TALKING! Open communication about everything, always. Talk about your needs, wants, fears, hopes. Don’t let anything fester. And when you are done talking, LISTEN in return.
– Mom Guilt
You. are. doing. your. best.
You are a mom, but you are also a human. You have your own feelings and your own shortcomings: we all do. You are going to make mistakes; you are going to get it wrong. But know, in that moment, you did what you could with the resources, energy and knowledge that you had at the time. It is easy to look back and regret certain situations because we know better now. But we didn’t then- remember that!
The fact that you even have the guilt is indicative of the fact that you are trying your best, and that is all we can do. So, learn to let go! It is hard, I know, it can feel relentless, but have compassion for yourself. If you make a mistake, show your kids a healthy way to respond. If you lose your temper, show your kids how to apologise. Model healthy responses to all types of behaviour. Your kids are watching and learning. And one day, they too will make mistakes and feel like they aren’t giving or doing enough: teach them now how to deal with these situations. Show them that our worth is not in what we do, but that our worth is in who we are.
But if your mom guilt, worry or anxiety (which can also be extremely heightened post birth) about your new baby is becoming overwhelming and you’re struggling to manage your feelings, please reach out for help.
– Different Parenting Styles
Do you know when you study something theoretically and it turns out to be completely different in real life? I feel a bit like this when it comes to parenting and particularly, parenting styles. We all have an idea of what type of parent we are going to be. Or rather, what type of parent we would like to be. The rules we will have. The role we will play. But then it happens, and it doesn’t always work out that way. More so, we imagine (and maybe even romanticise) what type of parent our partner will be, and then they don’t end up meeting our expectations.
The key point here is that they are OUR expectations. We don’t know what type of parent somebody is until they are a parent. We don’t know HOW someone will parent, until they parent. We don’t know how it will change someone, or not change them at all.
If we don’t want to be met with feelings of frustration, failure, and disappointment it is best to have no expectations- or even just the realistic expectation of ‘we don’t know until we know’. We can have discussions about what we would LIKE to be like, or what we HOPE things will turn out like in life, but they can’t be hellbent beliefs.
These big life changes are new for everyone involved. Everyone is trying to find their new normal and are trying to do their best to do so. It is important that parents act as a team, so open communication here is going to be paramount. If you are finding that you are having differing opinions of how to do things, talk about it. If you need to reach out for extra guidance on this, do so before it becomes a much bigger problem than it needs to be.
Unmet expectations of your partner’s role as a parent, or differing parenting styles, can eventually lead to conflict and resentment. Having differing parenting styles can also come as a bit of a shock, because, up until that point, you had a lot in common.
So many factors influence the way we parent and so it is normal to have differing ideas and styles but try to navigate this new space together rather than expecting your partner to change. Don’t undermine one another and learn about parenting together, as conflicting messages with a child can be confusing, so you want to be a united front.
– Unwanted Opinions and Advice from Others
How much money would you have if you were offered R1 for every bit of advice given or opinion offered from the day you fell pregnant? And guess what? It doesn’t stop when the baby is born, or even 5 years old. People love to tell their story, give their opinion, and offer their advice. Sometimes it may start to feel a bit overwhelming or like they are overstepping boundaries. It is hard, but it is made easier when we realise that it all comes with the best of intentions.
I think sometimes we can take advice-giving personally because it can almost feel like the person doesn’t think we know what we are doing. Like we aren’t doing something right, or well enough. It can (not always) be a bit of a pride issue- where we don’t want to believe that another person knows better, especially when it comes to our pregnancy or baby. But there is no better teacher than experience, so listening to people’s stories and advice is extremely useful, the problem that can arise is that every experience is so different.
We are all so different and our journeys are so different, so what can be even more overwhelming is that one’s person’s advice is a complete contradiction of the next person’s. One person advises using a product that the next forbids in their home. Swaddle: don’t swaddle. Feed to sleep, don’t feed to sleep. Sleep training is amazing, sleep training is bad. There are so many new decisions to make when you have a baby. Whatever it is, you will always find an argument for something, and against something. Sometimes it can even feel like this when you see differing professionals and doctors about your baby. What helped me here was finding one person (or source) that worked for me and aligned with my family and then trusting their advice. Otherwise, it can get very loud out there!
My advice? (If you want it 😉)! Know that no harm is meant when someone offers advice and take everything with a pinch of salt. It is lovely to draw on other people’s experiences and what has or hasn’t worked for them. But find what works FOR YOU and your family. It may be something that someone has advised, or it may be something that you figure out on your own. This is YOUR journey and the only opinions that really matter are that of your new little family. Works for you? Great! Doesn’t work for you? Also, great! Listen to people, do your research, and build your own conclusions (that you will pass down to someone, someday too 😊).
If you need advice, don’t be shy to ask for it. If you feel like there is someone that gives constant advice and unwanted opinions (that are not necessarily helpful), it may be time to set a boundary.
It might take a bit of trial and error but take solace in the fact that you know your baby best. You will know when something is wrong. It is certainly useful knowing the different options out there, but only you will know what works best. There is nothing like a mama’s (and dad’s) gut feeling.
– Accepting Help
You may be used to doing things alone. But this isn’t the time to be independent. If you need the help, ask for it. If someone offers help, accept it. Just be sure that you are specific about what you want and need so that it doesn’t feel like boundaries are being crossed.
If people want to help by being around or coming to visit, and you don’t feel up to it, know that it is okay to say no. Everyone wants to see the new baby, but make sure that it doesn’t affect your rest and recovery. If it’s not a good time for a visit, say so. You may feel a bit guilty to begin with, but the exhaustion of doing something that you don’t want to do for the sake of others feels worse.
If you need help with your mental health, please reach out! Postpartum depression is real, but it can be helped. It is so understandable and more common than you may think. Your body (and mind) has been through A LOT. Being mentally prepared and managing your mental health throughout your pregnancy can also equip you better for when the baby arrives.
– Comparing your Journey and Baby
We’ve touched on the fact that we are all different, and so our journeys are all different. And yet, we still must fight the urge to compare ourselves, our journey and even our baby to others. Comparison is an inherent part of being a human. Sometimes it can be useful and drive us, but most of the time it is unhelpful and can lead to feelings of inadequacy.
It can be extremely easy to compare yourself to other parents and feel jealous or ‘not good enough’. It may appear like their lives have just slipped back to normal or like they are doing a ‘better’ job. But what is important here is the use of the word ‘appear’. What it looks or sounds like from the outside, is not always the case on the inside. They are having all the same feelings as you. And remember, social media is just a highlights reel.
One of the easiest comparisons to fall prey to is your baby’s milestones. Meet your baby where they are at and support them. We wouldn’t want them growing up feeling like they aren’t good enough or like they need to constantly compare themselves or to meet our expectations of them. Acknowledge if they need support developing in a certain area (that is going to benefit them) but understand that it doesn’t make them any ‘less than’. Be proud of your child for exactly who and where they are, and they’ll grow to be confident in their abilities and enjoy who they are! Help them grow into their unique identity by celebrating their strengths, rather than negative comparisons.
You are perfect for your baby and your baby is perfect for you. That is all that matters.
– Resentment Towards Partner
Having a baby means that you will be at home a lot more. And, some days, you may even feel ‘stuck’ at home. For a lot of moms, this leads to resentment towards their partner who ‘gets’ to go to work every day. It can start to feel like you are alone a lot of the time and doing it all on your own. It may feel like your partner just doesn’t understand what it feels like to have to tend to your baby’s needs 24/7.
Couple this with hormonal changes, breastfeeding, and physical discomfort after birth, and it’s perfectly normal to feel resentful of a partner. Talk about it! Tell your partner what they can do to help, if they aren’t already.
How are you feeling about unexpecting?
A new baby is overwhelming. But if you take the time to look after yourself and your family unit, it is overwhelmingly amazing!
If you are finding it tougher than you expected, reach out! You are not alone.
Were you given advice that has always stuck with you?
Were you given advice you didn’t want?
What advice would you give to others?
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