Sanity lessons from a first year of parenting 

ange everly

Now that Miss E’s first birthday is just around the corner, it seems like a good time to reflect on how we’ve managed to make it through our first year. There were so many things from our previous life that the husband and I naively thought wouldn’t change after the baby arrived. How wrong we were… but not in a bad way.

ange everly
The first early newborn days seemed so easy (aside from the soreness!). I remember sitting on the couch with the husband one evening watching an action movie on TV at a normal volume while the baby slept soundly in the bassinet next to us. We both turned to look at each other and smugly proclaimed that this baby stuff was so easy. Around a week later she became more alert and falling asleep in front of movies didn’t happen so much any more.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned during my first year of parenting:

Take proper time out before baby comes

Many women – myself included – are all go-go-go in the leadup to baby arriving. Finish up working, get the baby’s room and clothes ready, prepare hospital bag, organise the household; unfortunately I went on maternity leave only about a week before Miss E made her grand entrance at 38 weeks, and after talking to many mums this seems to be a pretty common occurrence!

I’ve learned that if we go back for round two, I’m going to try and ensure I go on maternity leave well before my due date. Those last few weeks can be very tiring and even if baby arrives later, a little extra time to yourself isn’t a bad thing.

If you find it difficult to sit still, it’s even more important that you relax when you have the time. Read a book, listen to some meditation recordings, go sit in a park and breathe in some fresh air. Once baby comes along these moments will be few and far between.

Find time for yourself

This is absolutely the key to staying sane and is largely dependent on your support network to give you the space to have some ‘me’ time. I think one of the things that I truly underestimated the most was that this little new life is completely reliant on you. No more solo trips to the bathroom, no easy quick stop-ins at the shops, gym routines will be shaken up, your meals may not always happen on time, and if you can catch even just 5 minutes of sleep during the day it takes top priority. Every now and then you need a break from this, and it’s nothing to feel guilty or apologetic about!

I have my set gym sessions each day that the husband knows he has ‘cover’ for which gets me out of the house and makes me feel good. I run mums and bubs classes with another personal trainer and I teach health and injury management to dance students as well; both of these jobs I could bring Miss E along with me if I wanted to, but I prefer to get someone to look after her so I can focus on my job and have some time for myself. Make sure you have some ‘me’ time and get your partner, friends and family on board to help you do it.

Accept that things have changed

When you become almost solely responsible for another life, there’s no way your life can remain the same. I was talking to a group of mums the other day and the simple basics – adequate sleep, showering, remembering to eat, catch-ups with friends – can feel so sweet when they all come into alignment on the same day.

While I originally believed Miss E would fit in with our lives, the reality is that she has always been an easygoing baby but she is definitely happier and sleeps better when she’s in her own routine at set times irrespective of what we’d rather be doing. Given they’re only this little for such a short period of time, I ended up making the decision that following her routine is a small concession to make for my child to feel happy, stable and secure.

Life becomes this beautiful mess of challenges, tears, laughter, frustration and joy; and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed

The first few months involved a lot of late night Google searches to find out whether things that were happening were normal. Between my health problems and a few that came along for Miss E, I must confess I turned into a bit of a hypochondriac. Struggles with breastfeeding, the inability to go to the gym for a workout release, reduced social occasions, zero time for yourself, and constantly being covered in yours or someone else’s bodily fluids can all take their toll.

And then there’s the hormonal rollercoaster. One day – about a month in – the husband came home from work to find the baby crying, me bawling my eyes out and the dog running around us whining. I’m not typically a crier so felt a bit sorry for hubby at that moment, but the whole parenting thing can just be so emotional (random crying bouts have reduced to once every month or so now that we’re almost a year in and they’re usually triggered by something in the news).

This feeling is okay and normal, but taking steps to help you reduce the overwhelm-edness is necessary to keep you going in the long term. This leads me to my next point:

Accept help from others

In the beginning I didn’t ask for much help from friends and family as I wanted to get to know my baby and find our own form of routine – whatever that might be. If anyone asked me what they could do, food was always the answer – whether it was a hearty soup, roast chicken, bread rolls or a dessert – anything that would provide nourishment and I wouldn’t have to prepare was the one thing I welcomed.

Shortly after Miss E was born, one of my beautiful amazing friends brought round a washing basket containing the most amazing home cooked meal that I will never forget – pumpkin and chorizo soup, a loaf of grainy bread, coleslaw, roast chicken and veges, a breastfeeding-friendly slice, and a banana chia loaf with caramel sauce. This is now my pay it forward when close friends and family have babies.

I’ve since let go of my inner control freak by allowing other people to fold my washing (I fold it with crisp edges as if I worked in a clothing store – this was no easy task) and do my dishes (though I draw the line at loading the dishwasher to preserve my good glasses). If I’m tired and need sleep I’ll make sure to request a sleep-in day from the husband where he whisks the baby away first thing when she wakes in the morning and takes over her routine. Accepting help from others will help keep you happy, and happy mum = happy baby.

Get social (but don’t force it)

We didn’t end in a coffee group out the other end of our antenatal classes, and with our Plunket nurse changing every other month there wasn’t really a coffee group there to get support either. Between studying and working I didn’t have a lot of time to commit to many regular mum’s social events, and I do feel that both Miss E and I kind of missed out because of it. However, I did organise for us to go to SPACE playgroup once a week when we could, and arranged play dates with friends and their babies around the same age as Miss E every now and then.

Regular interaction with other grown ups (other than relatives and the husband) where I’m not talking about babies makes me feel almost normal and I still find this an important link back to my ‘old’ life. This came in the form of my yoga studies classmates, my regular personal training clients and my gym training friends.

Having said that, there are some days when you just want to spend time alone with your baby without having to share them with someone else and without having anywhere to be at a set time. If you feel like you need time out to rest and relax at home, do it and don’t be afraid to cancel other plans to make it happen.

Get involved in activities (but not too many)

While still pregnant in those last few weeks before Miss E came along, I’d lie down with my hands on my belly and visualise what she would be like one day and what her interests would be. As a parent, the activities you give them have the ability to shape the way they think, the way they respond to problems or stress, and what their interests are. It’s a huge responsibility when you really think about it. The husband and I are still in discussions about what she should try later on (and how to curb our enthusiasm so she doesn’t end up doing too many things), but for now we just committed to the aforementioned SPACE group so that she would get in some playtime with other babies and I could have some social time with other mums.

Rather than doing music lessons, I bought a little tambourine, xylophone and shaker, and we turn on the radio in the lounge for a singing and dancing session. Instead of gym classes, we make obstacle courses out of couch pillows and she climbs over and under things, wrestling with the odd rogue pillow. Rather than sensory awareness classes, she plays with silk scarves, playdough, bubbles and pretty much anything safe out of the kitchen drawers.

Activities can be costly and time-consuming. Unless you’re doing them for social reasons or your own fun, there are plenty of things you can do around the house that will challenge and enthrall a baby!

Forget about the baby weight

Women get so caught up about this. Pregnancy takes nine months of growing, stretching and hormonal changes to accommodate baby, so it’s unrealistic for most of us that any weight gain will disappear overnight. I still have a little extra padding and it’s not something I’m too concerned about right now; there’s plenty of time to deal with it later.

Rather than over-tiring yourself in the first year and pushing your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to its limits, focus on eating good quality, nourishing foods. Get outdoors for fresh air and vitamin D when you can. Go for walks with baby. If you feel like hitting the gym, doing yoga or going to some mums and bubs classes, do it but make sure there’s an instructor or trainer who knows what they’re talking about for post-natal exercise.

A year on after an episiotomy, my pelvic floor is almost feeling ready to start jumping again. Almost. And I’ve been actively doing pelvic floor exercises and core/pelvic stability training. Getting back into high impact exercise too soon without gradually building up your strength can lead to permanent pelvic floor issues (most instances of bladder leakage can be corrected with the right exercises over time) or worst case scenario, prolapses. If you’ve had diastasis recti, excessive crunches and core-challenging moves can cause hernias or permanent mummy tummy. You don’t want to go there and it’s just not worth it.

Take advice with a grain of salt

Everyone (friends, family, colleagues, professionals, forums…) has their opinion and their advice on everything to do with your child; how you should feed your baby, get them to sleep, which products will revolutionise your life and what toys will make them a genius.

Take it all with a grain of salt and don’t get too caught up with it all. If you like the sound of something, give it a go and if it doesn’t work don’t feel the need to commit to it. Sometimes something that may seem like a problem is literally a growth phase and it can’t be fixed – especially where baby’s sleeping is concerned. If you’ve tried everything and still can’t sort it, it may just be a matter of enduring the issue for a while until it comes right on its own. Rather than beating yourself up trying to make everything work, it may just be easier to roll with it!

I’d love to hear about your experiences of first year parenting and any tips you might have! Comment below if you’d like to share 🙂

Image / NZ Real Health

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