I had an idea of the kind of parent I wanted to be long before getting pregnant. In fact, when it came to certain aspects of parenting, my mind was quite made up. I felt that my years of research about health and diet, and my subsequent remission from rheumatoid arthritis, had led me to look into things that most women don’t need to look into until motherhood approaches so I felt fairly confident that I had accumulated enough information by the time my baby was due to confidently make those decisions.
The most annoying thing that happened, however, was the condescending comments from friends who already had kids; ‘Oh, just you wait,’ they’d say, ‘you’ll change your mind once your baby arrives. It never happens how you think it will.’ Or something equally derisive. It really riled me up, and it happened a lot; about my hopes for a natural birth, my desire to breastfeed and my excitement at after all these years of running a health-food blog, finally being able to nourish another human being fully and totally. Were they right though? Would I change my mind when I was exhausted beyond measure, covered in sick and hadn’t showered for three days? Would I give up on breastfeeding because my body was battered and bruised from the birth and I needed someone else to take over? Would I give into an epidural because the pain was beyond anything I’d ever imagined? Would I offer ready-made microwave meals because I was sick of my expensive, organic, freshly prepared meals being chucked over the kitchen walls and wasted? I knew motherhood was going to be a challenge, but I also believed that if I’d made a decision based on health, there was a 99% chance I would stick to what I said I’d do because I’d spent enough years learning about the power of natural healing.
But not every parenting decision is based on health so here we are, ten months down the line, and of course there are things I’ve done that I said I wouldn’t. So I wanted to make a brutally honest list of all the things I swore I’d never do before I was a parent and see how it compares eight months on. ‘Brutally honest’ might not mean me guiltily admitting to all the things I didn’t keep to, it could be me proudly – yet with a degree of uneasiness (because of people’s reactions) – declaring the things I persevered with. But this is by no means a judgement on anyone else, it is simply an account of my first ten months of parenthood; the hardships and the happy times, the fear and the guilt, the exhaustion and frustration and the overwhelming, all-consuming, enduring feelings of love.
Let’s start from the beginning:
What I said I’d do:
Eat as healthily as possible, no fizzy drinks, no caffeine, plenty of exercise, embrace my changing body.
What I actually did:
I ate totally organic, apart from when we ate out, had no fizzy drinks or artificial sweeteners, one chai tea latte in nine months (God how I missed Starbucks) and minimal gluten, dairy and sugar. I started off exercising then had a bleed due to a low lying placenta and got put on bed rest, so God had other ideas – but the intention was there! (I won’t lie, being ‘forced’ to lie around reading, writing and watching boxsets was pretty awesome.) I spent £50 on the best prenatal supplements on the market that were suitable for the gene mutation I found out I had which inhibits the body’s ability to process folate, and I also took probiotics, Vitamin B12, iron and Vitamin C.
In terms of my changing body, I loved being pregnant. It was the first time in my life that I truly loved my body. I loved it for all it had achieved and all it was doing to keep my baby alive. I adored my bump and miss it now. I did embrace my pregnant body because I appreciated the miracle it was. My post-pregnant body, however, well, that takes some work to embrace!
What I said I’d do
Before ever hearing of hypnobirthing I always knew I wanted to give birth in as natural a way as possible. Even as a teenager I dreamt about the day I would birth my baby, and in these daydreams the process was a calm, tranquil experience. When I once voiced the desire for a natural birth to someone I would consider, at best, an acquaintance, during a group discussion about childbirth, her response was: ‘why the hell would you do that? Do you think you’re going to get a medal at the end? Why put yourself through the pain if you don’t have to? Don’t be a martyr.’ Was it because she’d already had two children and opted for an epidural that made her say it? That perhaps if I managed to do what she didn’t want to even try it would prove that it wasn’t impossible? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that she was not the first person to have a reaction like this and when I finally got pregnant and went on the hypnobirthing course, I learnt that decades, if not centuries, of scaremongering has led people to view birth in this way. Learning about how the female body is built to give birth, how as women we are intrinsically wired to be able to get through it, about how, before doctors were present at births women supported other women by encouraging them to move around, stay upright and breathe, no matter how long it went on for, strengthened my belief in my body even more.
The day the course finished my husband told me that he was always going to support whichever method of birthing I wished to adopt but he never actually believed I’d be able to do it and assumed I’d resort to the epidural when things got tough but he now understood how brainwashed we all are by society, doctors and the media about how agonising and traumatic childbirth is and he now totally believed we could do this, as a team, and not only were we going to do this, but we were going to make sure it was the most amazing experience of our lives. We were going to bring our baby into this world in as calm a way as possible. And no, not because I thought I was a martyr but because I believed it was what was best for me and my baby.
What I actually did
I hypnobirthed my way through twenty-four hours of labour without pain-relief and I gave birth to my beautiful boy in the birthing pool and lifted him up to my chest myself. I didn’t scream and I didn’t swear. Was it the hardest thing I ever did? Of course. Was it worth it? Without a doubt.
I’m not saying it in this brusque way for acknowledgement or praise, nor is this a judgement on anyone who chose another method of childbirth. I’m simply highlighting the fact our mindsets without a doubt determine our capabilities. If I had said, ‘I’ll get as far as I can without an epidural but if it’s too hard I might have it,’ then I would have had it; of course it’s going to get hard – it’s childbirth! It just wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to experience what my body was capable of doing and I wanted it to be a non-traumatic experience. But still, people didn’t accept that I’d done this myself. I’ve had people say, ‘you’re so lucky you had a good birth.’ I’m sorry, but it wasn’t luck. Doesn’t that take away from all the work I put into preparing myself? People had advised me to just get the Hypnobirthing CDs and book and that would do that trick, but I didn’t, I went full-throttle and did the course. I read book after book about natural childbirth, childbirth without fear, the history of the fear of childbirth. After the hypnobirthing course, I did the daily hypnosis and meditations and my husband and I practiced the affirmations and massage techniques every night and, when the time came, I stayed calm – a feat in itself! – and breathed my way through it. I had learnt that staying calm would ensure the labour didn’t regress so it was a conscious effort, I certainly wasn’t staying calm because it was easy, or not painful. I made a conscious effort to not scream or swear, to breathe deeply, to visualise my baby coming into the world calmly. My husband had learnt how to take control of the situation, how to care for me while we laboured at home, the right things to say to the midwives to keep the experience in the birthing centre as calm as it had been at home. It wasn’t luck, it was a choice and I find it almost offensive when people try to take away from the effort I put in. There are of course situations where women end up having to have emergency cesarean sections or other interventions, it could happen to any of us, but I truly feel that my efforts contributed to the natural birth I ended up having.
What I said I’d do
I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed my baby. My journey to remission from autoimmune arthritis taught me how dangerous cow’s dairy can be for the immune system (and immune problems are what lead to autoimmune diseases) so I didn’t want him on cow’s milk-based formulas. My research had also taught me how important breastfeeding was to ensure that he got as much immune boosting goodness and antibodies as was humanly possible. This would also help prevent him from ever getting JRA himself. That was all well and good, but I’d always had the world’s most sensitive nipples and I although I knew I had to breastfeed, I honestly didn’t know how I would get over the nipple thing. But just like with the birth I knew it would come down to mindset. Everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to do it but I just had to keep telling myself that despite how hard it would be, I would just have to persevere, there would be no other choice. I read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which taught me not only about the importance of breast milk in the early days, and the innumerable other benefits of breastfeeding, but also about all the obstacles I could potentially face and how to overcome them. This was key as it prepared me for things I may not have otherwise known about and what I have since learnt from friends who chose not to continue breastfeeding, was that it was due to lack of support and preparation. If you are aware of the obstacles you are likely to face, like how to deal with mastitis, low supply, sore nipples, blisters and tongue tie, along with solutions, you are more likely to continue. In my mind I had prepared for it to be ‘work’, just like childbirth, and I had made a decision to persevere no matter what.
What I actually did
This is such a controversial one, and I don’t want this to seem like a list of all the things I soldiered my way through (trust me, there are things I gave into later on in the list!), but a bit like with childbirth, I found people getting very defensive about breastfeeding. They didn’t do it so kept going on about how ‘lucky’ I was that I ‘could’ do it and they’d proceed to tell me why they couldn’t. Brace yourself for another brutally honest and perhaps provocative statement: the obstacles I faced with breastfeeding were far worse than those of any of my friends who told me they ‘couldn’t’ breastfeed.
I got mastitis twice, my nipples bled, cracked and got blisters, Braxton had tongue-tie and couldn’t latch, and I found it excruciatingly painful. I remember the first few days not just because of that unbearable pain, but because of that insufferable feeling of hypersensitivity when he was feeding that resulted in me making the most stupid faces and moving my limbs around in frenetic hysteria that somehow needed to be controlled so the baby wouldn’t feel it. I sometimes think that the first few weeks of breastfeeding were harder for me than twenty-four hours in labour. And then the cherry on the cake…The postpartum hormones had caused a flare up in the arthritis that had been in remission for years, so by the time Braxton was eight weeks old, I could barely walk and some days, even holding him was a struggle.
Everyone, including my husband, my mum and my mother-in-law told me to stop breastfeeding. ‘Happy mummy happy baby,’ they’d all say. Well I’m afraid I don’t agree, and I actually hate that statement. We make a choice to have a baby and although we have to look after ourselves, the baby should be the priority. You know what makes a happy baby? When he grows up without arthritis. So I continued. The mastitis passed and I learnt how to avoid it in the future. We had his tongue-tie cut and after a (long) while, he eventually learnt how to latch. The nipples grew tougher and therefore were less sensitive and eventually it became second nature. It wasn’t easy during the four months of arthritis flare from the ages of two to six months, but then again, would preparing bottles have been any easier? I think it may have been more hassle when I think about it. He’s now ten months old, on only two or three feeds a day and I am so happy I chose to continue and unlike with the birth, of which people’s views don’t bother me, I do wish more people would acknowledge that I really struggled with breastfeeding, in every way possible, and so yes, I did put my baby before myself and I would appreciate people’s understanding and support and to know that the fact that I breastfed isn’t a judgement on the fact that they didn’t, but it would be nice for them to say, ‘well done!’
What I said I’d do
I had learnt about the importance of fevers in children and knew that bringing down a fever with paracetamol would inhibit the body’s ability to process the virus. I was shocked when learning about this, as all my life I’ve been taught that if you have a fever you must bring it down. No wonder we have so many suppressed toxins in us. I made my way through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding issues with my homeopathic home kits so I knew I’d have to treat my baby with it too.
What I actually did
It’s all well and good when it’s yourself but when your baby is screaming in discomfort you feel so helpless that you’d do just about anything for them at which point you have an internal battle with yourself about getting him through it right now versus what is best for him long-term. He got chicken pox at four months which, although really bad, I was able to treat with homeopathy, oat baths, breast milk and lots of skin on skin, but at five months we both got a chest infection which, with me, led to pneumonia as my immune system was so low from the flare up.
I felt worse than I’d ever felt before in my life with a raging fever that had me shaking violently, with unbearable muscle aches and pains in my chest that made it feel as though I couldn’t breathe. If I felt this bad how must he feel? I wondered. He looked so tiny and helpless and our usually happy, content little boy was miserable. I somehow had to keep feeding him through my shakes which was the hardest part as I felt absolutely dreadful but he only seemed to calm down himself when he was feeding. So I just tried to feed through it and finally understood the term ‘the strength of a mother’, and kept repeating this phrase to myself over and over. I knew that bringing down his fever would be the worst thing for him long-term so I somehow managed to hold off on the Calpol but once his fever had passed I gave him some Calpol to ease his discomfort. I’ve now given it three times in his ten months, which is three times more than I wanted to, but I still haven’t given it for a fever and still strongly believe that this is what is best for his immune system. I actually haven’t given it to him since he was 7 months and we have managed to treat his teething naturally.
What I said I’d do
I assumed I’d let him watch a minimal amount of carefully chosen television programs, but that mostly, if the TV was on, it would be with DVDs or nursery rhymes or other such things or if he was eating in the kitchen I’d put my favourite radio station on.
What I actually did
He’s pretty much in front of the TV every time I need to do something. When I get showered every morning he’s crawling round my bedroom floor watching telly, when I am preparing his food and he sits getting impatient in his highchair the TV goes on – as you can imagine he’s not overly enthusiastic about listening to the latest podcast of Desert Island Discs – and when I leave him to play in the playroom I put his DVDs on. Suffice it to say he watches way more TV than I thought he would. Do I feel it’s a problem? No. We go to music classes and playgroups at least twice a week, we socialise with other friends with children and I play with him and read to him a lot. Hopefully he’ll survive this major parenting faux-pas!
- Using My Phone While Feeding
What I said I’d do
I really didn’t want to use my phone around him. Firstly, because I can’t imagine that wifi is very healthy for young bodies when exposed to it constantly, but also because even though I have grown up in this age of communication, I cannot bear when you are talking to someone and they are looking at their phone. And no, husband, I don’t care if you were already on your phone before I started talking to you!
Anyway, I didn’t want Braxton seeing me on my phone all the time. I wanted to connect with him and watch him while he was feeding, or playing, and use my phone only when he was asleep.
What I actually did
Why doesn’t anyone tell you just how many hours a day you will be feeding for during those first few months?? I would literally sit on the couch all day with him resting on a pillow while he intermittently fed and slept. If this went on all day, when else was I supposed to get back to emails and messages? So I would have him lying in one arm and type with the other. I did try to keep it as far away from his head as possible.
A few months passed and I promised myself that when he was old enough to actually know what I was doing and start to look at the phone and acknowledge what it was, I’d stop. But that time has come and gone and I’m afraid I still use my phone around him. My husband leaves the house for work at 5.30am and gets back at 7pm, which means it’s just me and Braxton together all the livelong day, and you know what? Some days, he decides he doesn’t want to nap, or to play on his own, or to even give me a single, solitary moment of peace, even in the toilet, so therefore I have resorted to using my phone around him, lest I’ll never get back to anyone. I’m sure there are mums out there who put their phones away until the baby really isn’t around, but, alas, I am not one of them. Shoot me now.
- Not Vaccinating
I said I wouldn’t vaccinate, and haven’t given one single vaccination and never will, but that is a whole other article – which I promise I’ll write soon!
- Judging people’s parenting choices
I guess, if I’m being totally honest, like everyone else, I was a bit more judgmental before having a baby; why is she giving her child an iPad at the table, don’t give him Calpol again, sending to nursery versus not sending to nursery, friends who didn’t breastfeed for a millisecond versus friends who are still breastfeeding at five years old, friends who cook everything from scratch versus friends who can barely navigate themselves around their kitchen. But we’ve all done it, haven’t we?
Motherhood is the most exhilarating thing you will ever do; it fills you with sensations of love you could never even begin to understand before having a baby, but it is also harder than you could possibly imagine and if it has taught me one thing it is that everyone is trying to muddle through the best they can. Everyone loves their children as much as everyone else and all we want is the best for them. We may not always be doing the best, but we try. Yes, I still believe that if we make a decision to bring a child into this world, there are sacrifices we need to make and we should try hard to do things that we know will benefit them, even if it is difficult for us, but on the whole, let’s stop the judgment and support each other through this remarkable, exhausting, laborious yet extraordinary journey we call motherhood. Whether or not we agree with someone’s approach, let’s end the bitchiness and judgements and empower one another through this odyssey of uncertainty, instead of pushing each other down. If we are mothers to our babies, we are sisters to each other, and sisters may argue, but in the end they would kill for each other. So let’s get together with our mummy friends, despite how different we may do things, and have a glass of wine together. After all, none of us ever said we’d stop drinking!
Love & health,