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Baby advice: The words that saved me

Emma Macdonald

I’ve just moved into the HerCanberra office, and two of the six of us are pregnant.

Javier and Laura will give birth in February – just three weeks apart (I know, I know, nobody drink the office water!).

We talk about babies a lot. Having three mums in the office means we have some broad experience from which to draw. And our first-time-mums-to-be have so many questions.

I’m actually a little envious of what they have to look forward to – for they’re about to fall in love. There is a difference between feeling excited and protective towards the bump in your belly and being hit fair on the head by the sledgehammer of love and emotion you feel when they place that little human on your chest.

But I also remember that pregnancy brings with it so much gratuitous advice. For the benefit of my two lovely colleagues, I’ve mulled over some of the words and wisdom that saved me – as well as the advice that should be tossed straight in the nappy bin.

“Tomorrow is a new day” 

There are some days of new motherhood when you feel you’ve bought a one-way ticket to purgatory. Crying baby, sleep deprivation so bad that your eyeballs are quivering in your head, a laundry overflowing with noxious waste and an empty fridge.

This is not the rest of your life, just a blip on the radar of motherhood. No matter how crazy your baby is at any one stage, this is not set in stone. That’s the remarkable thing about babies – they are completely unpredictable. An inconsolable infant one day can spend the next day cooing delightfully in your ear or napping happily.

Ours is not to question why. Just take each days as it comes. When it is going well, be thankful. When it turns to porridge, know that this too shall pass.

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Emma’s son Thomas

“Rally”

Rallying is a thing that mothers do well. There will come a point most mornings when you are overcome with exhaustion/inertia. What to do? Where to even start? Can I spend the day in my PJs half resting on the sofa while tending to my newborn? These sorts of days, while common, can be energy-sapping. I always found it was better to draw a breath, then rally.

Get in the shower, make a cup of tea, go for a walk, take the baby out, tackle the chores, get something done. You can do it once you make the first move. Often a shower is the first step to a positive world view in the fog of war, sorry, new motherhood.

Yes, even if you get nothing done other than the immediate job of feeding and changing a newborn, being showered once a day is a fine achievement. And while no mum likes to hear her baby cry, there’s rarely lasting damage caused to any baby through leaving it to cry for the two minutes it takes to lather yourself in soap then rinse off. Have the shower.

“Don’t get divorced in the first year”

Parenthood will draw a couple together in ways that defy all Hallmark superlatives. No one will mean more to you than the person who helped you create this perfect, tiny, delectable creature. And together, you will feel invincible.

Until you don’t. And the hard work of putting this tiny person’s needs before all of your own, and all of your partner’s, starts to take its toll. It can be a relentless, stultifying, and thankless task. And the physical impact of sleep deprivation and breastfeeding can make the concept of romance seem as likely as a last-minute flight to Paris. Which is just not going to happen.

But don’t lose sight of each other on the battlefield. Communication is the key. And so is laughter. Which is the better alternative to crying. Of which there is sure to be some. It is all completely normal. Just pledge to get through that first year together and know that it gets much, much easier as time goes on.  Hopefully. You might even want to do it all over again.

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Thomas, Immy and Emma

“It’s OK to feel like you’ve lost your mind (You will find it again.)”

You get warned about hormonal fluctuations and the effects of sleep deprivation on the human psyche. Those effects can be so profound that you may not even feel like the same woman you were before you gave birth. Some days can push you to the edge, and even though you spend 24 hours a day in the company of your newborn, new motherhood can be an incredibly isolating time. In those first early weeks, know that your emotional turmoil is temporary, and not entirely within your control. And If you feel really desperate, or feel that you are detaching from those around you, or that the fog is not lifting, consider a talk with your MACH nurse or GP.

Some other things that help are having someone to take your baby for a short time. A clear head can be achieved by small things – like ten minutes standing by yourself in the sunshine, a coffee, an hour crashed on the sofa, a haircut. Those moments are gems. Make sure you grab them if you can.

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Emma’s daughter Imogen

“Your career will still be waiting for you. Enjoy the break.”

You have a job you enjoy, a wage, responsibilities, a network of friends and colleagues, a life. Yes, you have self-determination. Want to spend the entire weekend in your PJs bingeing on Netflix? No problem. Want to catch some ‘after work’ drinks with colleagues that end at 3am? Bring it on. Then you have a baby. And your autonomy vanishes as quickly as your pelvic floor muscles.

You can’t so much as leave the house without planning it an hour in advance and devising a risk-mitigation strategy. Your every personal need and desire takes a backseat to the immediate and inescapable requirements of sustaining a new life. It can be a lonely time. And for those of us used to flying high in our chosen fields, the monotony of sleep cycles, nappy changes and breastfeeding can leave you feeling, well, a little underwhelmed. Know that these weeks and months will fly by and soon enough – too soon for many in fact – the time comes to head back into the workforce. It’s all still there, waiting for you. And it’s likely you’ll be welcomed back with open arms – smart bosses now understand that there is no more efficient an employee than the one who needs to be in the childcare pick-up queue by 5pm. Multitasking at work has nothing on motherhood.

“Your baby needs you and only you. What you decide is best.”

Do you know what is exhausting about newborns? It is having to listen to all the things other people like to impart about parenthood. They mean well, and you may learn something from their experience. But you will also come across every sort – from the Nazi sleep routine brigade to the attachment parenting mob.

Listen politely, but never go against your own gut instinct. It really doesn’t matter if your great aunt left her three kids to cry themselves into sleeping through the night from two months. Or if your mother-in-law demand fed for three years. You are in charge here! You are the parent. You and your baby will get through every new experience together. And that’s the complete joy of it. Have faith that no one knows your baby better than you. And as your confidence grows and the nights become shorter, you can truly delight in the fact that your baby loves you best of all.

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And if, in those long and lonely hours of feeding through the day and night, you want to know that you are not alone, join the wonderful sisterhood of mums on Instagram – negotiating their way with humour, style, creativity, honesty and a heavy dose of inappropriate language.

Some of our favourites are local girl Lauren Dubois @thudandpop

Free-spirited Londoner in Byron Bay Claire Alexander-Johnston @jetsetmama

Southern Highland foodie Beth Macdonald @babymacbeth

Californian photographer and baby costume fancier Laura Isumikawa @lauraiz

And the collective of self-proclaimed asshole parents @assholeparents

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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