1. Our new mother self-esteem can be a fragile thing, our confidence just a veneer. This is partly because we have been bombarded with perfect (and so now we’re realising unrealistic) images of motherhood on the screen and in the pages of magazines. This makes our expectations of ourselves, and maybe your expectations of us, impossible to live up to. Motherhood feels like a big gig for many of us and it is a case of ‘fake it till you make it’. But then there is no yardstick for ‘successful parenting’, no measure of performance like salary raises or work bonuses. Nobody gives a bottle of champagne for superior nappy changing. Where we may have looked to bosses, co-workers or friends to feel good about ourselves before the baby came, now, it’s pretty much only you. We want your acknowledgement, appreciation and encouragement. You also might have to let us know that you want the same from us.
2. We’re learning too. Some of us bought into the myth that motherhood would be instinctive, and some things may be, but other things are also a steep learning curve – and that can cause us some performance anxiety. Some things we thought would come naturally are taking longer than expected. And sometimes the responsibilities of looking after our little person can be stressful. That’s why we’re snappy some times. Please be patient with us and ask us to be patient with you, join in with our learning and share the responsibility so it’s not just on our shoulders. Ask us how we’re going and prompt us to ask you – the baby absorbs our energy like a sponge and we forget sometimes. Please be curious, wonder what it’s like for us, just listen if you don’t know what to say. This is not a problem to be solved; it’s a journey for us to share. Let’s take the pressure off, experiment, make mistakes, forgive each other and laugh over it together.
3. Our lack of interest in sex isn’t personal. Really. We’ve been covered in sticky body fluids all day, we’re ‘touched out’ from an overdose of skin contact and being clutched, pulled and scratched (those little fingernails can hurt!) and after a long day of feeling like we’re giving out, giving out, giving out, sex can feel like more giving out and an unreasonable demand on an exhausted body. What we really, really, need is some “getting” to get some sense of balance back. We need no-strings-attached affection, we need your arms around us so we can relax into your strength, a bath run or some vacuuming done. We need to know you care and love us and still think we’re beautiful even if we’ve got baby spit caked in our hair. Keep gifting us this and we will feel like giving back and eventually when we’re not giving out so much we will remember that sex means getting too. Resentment is a contraceptive, but gratefulness is a great aphrodisiac.
4. We are worried about being judged. By you, by our mother, by your mother, by other mothers, and yet – we judge ourselves. Somewhere along the line we have bought into two big untruths: first that we will love every single moment of being a mother – and secondly, that if we don’t, it means we don’t love our baby. But there are times when we feel bored or lonely or frustrated or overwhelmed or disappointed, and then some of us feel guilty about it. Other mothers don’t admit it, although we’re starting to suspect that most of them feel like this too and it would be great if we could all just relax and talk about it. We might make some new friends that way. All this means we sometimes hold a lot of stuff inside, it sits there bubbling and churning like lava in a volcano – and because you’re the one around most, you get it when we burst.
5. We expected that life would get back to normal, but it’s starting to dawn on us that it never will. We expected to feel more in control, but we’re working out it’s the baby that’s going to be calling the shots for a while. Some days we feel a bit caged. On these days we can feel envious that your life hasn’t changed as much ours. We know this isn’t your fault, but we don’t know what to do about it. On those days we might be snappy as soon as you walk through the door looking fabulous in your still-clean suit. Please understand that this is not personal, although it must feel like it is. It’s just such a big adjustment for us – life after baby can be very different to life before – and every day and for the next 18 years has now become real. We also need to have regular ‘time out’ too so we feel like ourselves again. We need and appreciate your support so we can do this.
These things can be hard to put into words and they take some getting used to. Nobody told us this was part of the full experience of parenthood so we weren’t prepared that we would grow in different ways along with the baby – with all the joys, the challenges, the growth, the adjustments and the changes, big and small, that they bring. But we want to share it – all of it – with you. We want you to walk alongside us, hold our hand, and put your arm around us, as we create the new – and maybe even better – normal for our family.
Photo: Shutterstock/Andy Dean Photography