The shock of becoming a mum for the first time

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becoming a mum for the first time - adjusting to motherhood

Caroline Jacobs

It was past lunchtime and I was sitting on the floor in my pyjamas, which were now covered in milky spit-up. My head was pounding, my hair was greasy and my eyes felt scratchy and sore.

My baby was screaming again. Sharp piercing screams right next to my ear. Each cry made my head pound and reached the very core of my soul. I wanted desperately to comfort her but nothing I did worked. As the crying continued I wanted to crumple to the floor and cry myself.

I wanted someone to walk through the door and rescue me and make everything OK.

I wanted to put my baby down for a sleep, to get dressed and to eat.

I wanted to walk outside and feel the sunshine on my face and breathe.

None of those things happened. Instead I paced the floor, standing on the squeaky floorboard in the hallway again and again, shushing my baby and rubbing her back. My limbs were heavy with exhaustion but I kept going. It was all I could do.

Rewind 20 days

A few weeks before, I  had spent my days in a classroom in front of a class of 30 infants. I was in control and happy, flourishing in a job I loved.

Throughout my pregnancy I still poured all my energy into this role, knowing I was doing a good job and making a difference. I sat in departmental meetings, feeling confident and assured and knowing that I had a lot to offer to the discussions about the best way to shape the education of the children. I stayed back after school for chats with my colleagues, feeling happy to part of such a dynamic team.

becoming a mum for the first time - adjusting to motherhoodAs the day of my maternity leave grew closer I smiled as so many told me that after being in charge of 30 energetic 5 year olds all day being at home with one tiny baby would be a breeze. They told me I would take to it all like a duck to water and joked about the fact that my child would be streets ahead of the rest having a teacher for a mummy.

And yet here I was unwashed and undressed gone lunchtime, tears rolling down my cheeks as I desperately tried to soothe my baby to sleep. I hadn’t slept or eaten properly in weeks. I hadn’t had a conversation with another adult apart from my husband in days. I had spent hours upon hours in these four walls, trying to tend to my baby’s every need but feeling like I was a complete failure because she just wouldn’t stop crying.

Nothing could have prepared me

I absolutely loved my baby and I loved being a mum. I felt lucky to be able to spend my days with her but being catapulted from the world of busy working mum-to-be to that of a stay at home mum was a bigger shock that I envisaged.

I had nine long months preparing to have a baby. But, the truth is I don’t think I ever really envisaged what life would be like after the birth.

I pored through baby books, Googled what size my growing foetus was in each week and dreamt about meeting my little girl and holding her in my arms for the first time. But I didn’t really imagine my new life as a mother beyond that point.

I just assumed it would all unfold and I would be fine. I didn’t imagine feeling so inadequate and alone and out of control. And finding myself feeling this was a shock.

Who am I?

As the days rolled into weeks I began to feel resentful and envious of my husband for being able to leave the house and go to work. In the day I used to look at the time and feel seething jealousy that he was on his lunch hour, strolling out of the office to buy a sandwich from the deli to eat while he relaxed and chatted with his workmates. Hell – he even got to pee in peace and drink hot cups of tea throughout his day.

I began to feel trapped in my home. I always vowed to make each day different and to pop my baby in her buggy or sling and leave the house to get out and meet other mums and feel less cooped up and alone. But, each day my plans were thwarted by an endless round of struggling to breastfeed, struggling to get her to settle and struggling to find the time or energy to get showered and dressed and up and out.

I felt a chasm emerging between the woman I was and the mother I had become. I loved my baby with all my heart, but I felt that who I was was being lost. Gone was any semblance of a daily routine, gone was the satisfaction I would get from a great day’s work and from feeling valued as part of a team. I knew I was doing the most important job of all with my baby but I also felt completely lost.

becoming a mum for the first time - adjusting to motherhoodGetting used to a new life

I think the shock of going from one role to another was what hit me hardest. Things did get easier when I decided to stop looking back to how my life used to be and started trying to live in the moment.

I lowered my expectations and started to be kinder to myself. If me and my baby were both fed and dressed and out of the house by lunchtime then that was an achievement. I slowed our days right down and then found that I could simply enjoy being with my baby.

I started to get my baby into a routine, which made me feel more in control too. And I made it my mission to go out each day and to join baby groups to meet other mums. And, of course, gradually getting more sleep helped too.

Looking back

Looking back I feel lucky and privileged to have been able to stay at home when my children were little. I have so many happy memories of those early years together. There were so many times when we went on little adventures together, enjoying our time chatting and holding hands. I could relax into the gentle rhythms of my children’s days without having to worry about rushing about to go to work and squeeze in commutes and deadlines.

I wish though that someone had prepared me for the shock of becoming a mum for the first time. I wish they would have told me that it was OK to feel the way I was. Maybe I would have let go of my old routines sooner and accepted that my life was now different. Different in the best way.

See our Survival Guide for the first 6 weeks with your newborn, for some helpful tips on how to make things easier.