Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it. It enable us to look back at something that’s already happened, and understand it better through the eyes of wisdom. I don’t know about you, but there have definitely been times in my life where I’ve said, ‘if I could do [xyz] again, I’d do it differently this time”. Looking back on my time as a brand new mum, there are things ‘mum-of-two’ me wishes she could say to ‘mum-of-one’ me. Things I had no way of knowing as a new mum because I hadn’t yet walked the path of motherhood. Things that time, experience and a second baby have helped me understand better.
Or to put it another way, if ‘mum-of-two’ me could go back in time, and have a cuppa with ‘mum-of-one’ me, there are certain things I would want her to know. Things that might, if she listens, help her enjoy and treasure the season of new motherhood much more.
Like I said, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I’m not pathetic, I’m new.
A while ago, I read a great article called, “Dear Second-Time Moms: Please Stop Belittling Me.” As a new mum, Katie describes feeling judged by more experienced mums over little things she does, such as how she packs her nappy bag, takes too many pictures of her baby and worries incessantly. They are teasing, but critical.
As Katie explains:
‘I don’t think overpacking for an outing or fretting over my baby’s routine makes me silly or lame or pathetic, the way moms of two or more tend to not-so-subtly imply. No, it just makes me new.’
Reading about Katie’s experiences, made me reflect upon the way I interact with new mums.
You did whaaaat?
Do I roll my eyes, literally or internally, when I speak to them?
Am I thinking about how naive they are and how much they have got to learn?
Or perhaps I tease them a little about some of their decisions as new mums?
Or worse still, maybe I keep offering them advice? Thinking that somehow having two children has made me some kind of an expert. Oh dear!
I’m sure many experienced mums would have laughed in my face, if they’d heard me say pre-baby, that our baby was going to fit around our life, not vis-versa. Said like a true novice!
I sincerely hope that I don’t do any of these things. Written in black and white, it’s easy to see how patronising and condescending they are. Which is the polar opposite of what every new mum needs.
But if I’m honest, I’ve probably done all of them at some point. Yuk!
Sorry to any of my new mum friends out there who have encountered any of these responses from me. I don’t know what I was thinking. I really do think you’re doing a super job, I promise!
After Sophia was born, I seriously questioned how I would cope on my own with a newborn and toddler whilst my hubby was at work. I felt overwhelmed. Even the ‘simple’ tasks such as mealtimes, nappy changes and bedtime routines, were a huge adjustment, with two little people now to think about.
I am so grateful to all the friends and family who popped over during those early weeks and helped me with mealtimes and bedtimes. Just having someone else available, who could hold the baby, whilst I looked after the toddler was a godsend. Literally. You’re all amazing – thank you!!
Reminiscing the ‘easy new mum’ stage
As I slowly adjusted to life with two littlies, I sometimes found myself wistfully remembering the ‘easy’ days when there was only one tiny human to look after. There was something almost mythical about the way I remembered, rather inaccurately, the way things were before the gorgeous Sophia joined the family.
In my sleep-hazed state, I would say things like:
- ‘It was so easy to leave the house when there was only one to get ready’
- ‘I actually had a social life before’
- ‘The days were so much more relaxed’
Seriously! I must have still been suffering from baby brain when I said those things, because being a brand new mum, and having a newborn to look after, was certainly not the breeze I seem to remember it being. Far from it.
Operation “Getting Out Of The House”
Leaving the house now that I have two children to get ready and pack for, often feels like I’m carrying out a military operation. I rely on a checklist to make sure I have remembered everything we will need for whatever expedition we are brave enough to make.
- Snacks? Check.
- Nipple shields? Check.
- Muslins? Check.
- Toys? Check.
- TWO changing bags (I tried using only one bag but it was so big that I could never find anything in it)? Check.
- Bottle of water for me? Check.
And that’s just for a play date to a friends house. I have a whole other checklist for outings including some kind of food, and another for trips involving an overnight stay. And don’t get me started on our holiday to Disneyworld, Florida with an eight week old and a two and a half year old.
I think we ended up with a checklist of our checklists.
But if the truth be told, or simply remembered correctly, despite my allusions to the contrary, being a new mum was flipping hard!!
I had not got a clue what I was doing, google was my best friend, I was constantly second guessing myself, visiting the doctor regularly, feeling guilty about many of the choices I was making, and even then, with only one child to organise, it was still a struggle to leave the house.
It felt just as difficult to leave the house then as it does now. Just for different reasons.
It’s not a competition
I’ve realised that just because it’s tough now, does not somehow mean it was easy then. It’s not a competition to see which stage is the hardest. Although that would be an interesting comparison to consider at some point. I’ve heard many, MANY people say that having three children is the hardest number of children to have. As a mum of two, I’m unsure if I want to test out this theory or not. If you’re a mum with three or more children, I’d love to hear your take on this? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.
I adore this quote from Janine, a fellow blogger at meatballmom.com
“I realised when you are handed more responsibility you adapt; when you look back at what you handled before, it seems easier.”
When I look back now, if I am tempted to think it was easy with only one tiny human to look after, then I have obviously forgotten the many, many challenges of being a new mum.
- The sheer exhaustion of surviving on little or no sleep.
- The terror of reflux.
- The toe curling (no exaggeration) agony of cracked and bleeding nipples.
- The constant stress and uncertainty of not knowing if she was getting enough milk.
- The over-analysis of the different colours of her poo (what does this mean???).
- The endless frustration at her refusal to take a bottle until she was 9 months old.
- The two hour walks i would take EVERY afternoon simply to get her to sleep.
Ha! When I look at this list, I’m surprised Sophia ever made it into the world.
My advice to me
A lot of people, with the very best intentions in the world, like to give mums advice on how to survive motherhood during these early and difficult days/weeks/months/years(?) If it was somehow possible for old timer ‘mum of two’ me to sit down with exhausted and emotional ‘mum of one’ me, I would like to tell her these four things that could have made life a lot easier the first time around:
4 Things “mum-of-two” me wishes she could say to “mum-of-one” me
1. Live in the moment
If I had a pound for every time someone told me how quickly the baby stage flies by, my post maternity leave financial concerns would be sorted.
(And they are not wrong by the way).
But, just in case you live on a desert island, which is completely uncivilised, and no one has ever said this to you before, allow me to do the honours: The newborn stage seriously does whiz by and before you know it your cute little cherub will be off to pre-school / school / college / university. (Delete as applicable).
So, live in the moment.
See related post – “Winging it through motherhood.”
Missing the joy of motherhood
When I was a new mum I didn’t realise how much joy I was missing out on by constantly looking forward to the next (and hopefully easier) phase of motherhood.
When Zoe wasn’t sleeping for long stretches at night, I was constantly looking forward to her sleeping through. And gifting me with some much needed sleep.
During the long season when she only wanted to be held all day, and would not nap independently of me, I yearned for the day when she would sleep in the cot and I could be hands free again.
When she started sitting up by herself, I waited for her to stand.
But then when she stood, I couldn’t wait for her to walk.
And somehow, in the constant waiting for the next thing to happen, I missed what was happening in the moment. In hindsight, without even realising what I was doing, I was wishing away the newborn stage, and allowing myself to be robbed of it’s joy, simply because I wanted an easier day. And night. So, whilst yes, it did fly by, I sort of encouraged it’s speed of passage.
Living in the moment
When Sophia was born, two and a half years after Zoe, I made the conscious decision not to do wish away the hard bits, and instead to live in the moment.
What does this look like in practice?
Enjoying having a baby sleeping in my arms, instead of thinking of all the things I could be doing if she slept in the cot.
Slowing down, maybe leaving the washing up for later, and taking the time just to pull faces at the baby and watch her face light up.
Being present, and actually sitting down and watching the movie with my toddler, instead of just putting it on so that I can get some things done.
Putting my phone down. Yes, even that!
Motherhood should be enjoyed not endured
I think I have appreciated a lot more of the treasures of motherhood second time round, simply because I have been deliberate in my intention to live in the moment. It hasn’t been any less tiring but it’s been much more enjoyable. I would definitely tell ‘mum-of-one’ me to do this.
Now that I’ve experienced the new baby season from a different angle, I’ve realised most emphatically that it isn’t meant to be endured and survived. It’s meant to be enjoyed and treasured. At least that’s what I think. Do you agree?
As an aside: Whilst I was editing this post ready to publish, ten month old Sophia woke up and started crying for me. As I sat next to her in the dark, holding her hand, I realised that in that moment I had to make a choice: Was I going to wish her to sleep quickly so that I could get on with blogging and make myself a cup of tea. Or would I forget about everything else for a moment, and simply enjoy the pleasure of her little fingers wrapped around mine and the fact that my presence was soothing her? Because that’s what it’s all about. Little decisions, every day, that determine the depth of treasure we find. I decided to enjoy the moment.
I’m not sure I’ll feel the same at 2am though.
2. It’s okay if she cries sometimes.
Did I just say that?
Nobody likes the sounds of a baby crying. Am I right? And that’s a good thing! I think there would be something wrong if we heard a baby crying and were completely indifferent to it. As a first time mum, without even realising I had a mantra as such, I lived with one, and it was simply this:
Do not let the baby cry.
Looking back, I can see that I was just setting myself up to fail.
I did not want to see or hear my little angel crying. For me, not being able to soothe and settle my crying baby was one of the most stressful things about becoming a mummy. That, and feeding, but that’s another post entirely.
I would do everything possible within my capabilities (which were pretty limited to be honest) to stop her crying, and prevent the crying from starting in the first place. And it was absolutely heartbreaking when it seemed there was nothing I could do to settle her. Was I failing as a mum?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this approach. What could be wrong about wanting to have a peaceful and happy baby? Absolutely nothing!
Enter baby number two.
Unlike with Zoe, for whom my whole existence seemed to revolve around her little life, and I was on beck and call to her every need, Sophia often had to wait. For any number of reasons, there were times when I was unable to pick her up the second she started crying. She was still my highest priority, her complete and utter dependence on me demanded this, but she wasn’t my sole priority. I also had her big sister to look after.
What this looks like in practice, before you get up in arms at the thought of me leaving a sweet innocent little baby crying for hours unattended (not true), is that I’m not always able to pick her up the instant she demanded attention.
Oh. My. Days.
Of course, if she is unwell, or in serious distress, I have always, and will always, make it my priority to pick her up, cuddle her and sooth her, as soon as is humanly possible.
But sometimes, she is simply crying for attention which at that moment in time, I am not able to give her. Oftentimes, if this situation arises, I will finish the task I am in the middle of as quickly as possible and by the time I get to her, she has settled herself and is playing happily. And by playing, I mean of course, staring intently at her hands. She is fine.
And does she seem traumatised or scarred by my tardiness? That’s a resounding ‘no!’ If anything, she’s more chilled out, laid back and content as a result of having to wait her turn for my attention. Win Win.
Learn her cries.
I would tell my ‘mum-of-one’ self, not to drop everything and rush to her side the second a little whimper makes its way out of her sweet little mouth. It’s OK to let her cry a little. She’ll be ok and so will you!
Instead, learn her cries. You will soon learn which ones need an immediate response, and which ones are not a distress call. And maybe think about getting a new mantra, ‘do not let the baby cry’ is not a great one to live by. How about trying ‘take it one day at a time’?
3. Make some time for you.
In the early days, as a mum to an exclusively breastfed baby, the notion of taking time for myself was definitely easier to type than to do.
How on earth was I meant to take any time for myself when I couldn’t be away from my baby for more than 2 hours at a time?
And was it even acceptable that I would want to have some ‘me time’? Surely I’d just had thirty-something years of almost exclusive ‘me time’, wasn’t now meant to be ‘baby time’ After all, isn’t the life of a mum meant to be all self sacrifice and putting everyone else’s needs above her own? (That’s a question by the way, feel free to respond in the comments below).
Even if these musings aren’t completely accurate, and it’s not outrageous to want to have a bit of time to myself, as a mum of TWO let’s not forget there’s also a toddler to think about. ‘Me time’ can feel like a very distant pipedream at this point.
Maybe in the early days of bringing a newborn home from the hospital, making time for yourself simply means taking a shower, or brushing your teeth. But eventually, things will start to settle. (Pinky promise!) Nap times will eventually settle into more of an established part of the day and pockets of time will begin to open up.
Give yourself a break
When this happens, you could use this time to empty the dishwasher, put on a load of washing, wipe down the kitchen sides, do some ironing, or prepare a meal. You could. And there is definitely a place for all of these things, after all, they do have to get done, and who else is going to do them if you don’t. Seriously, who? I’m looking for volunteers here! You can enlist your services in the comments section below.
But here’s a radical idea, how about sitting down with a cup of tea before you start all those jobs?
Or how about reading a chapter from the book you started whilst on maternity leave?
Or how about painting your toenails?
Or chatting to a friend on the phone?
Or mindlessly browsing through social media?
Or taking a nap?
All of these activities can be done without even needing to leave the house. And the length of time they take is not pre-defined, so can be cut short if the need arises.
Other times, making or creating time for yourself can take some forward planning, childcare arranging and careful time management. But even when it takes a little more effort, it is totally worth it, and if all you can manage is a 2 hour break, make it count.
You have to plan for ‘me time’ – it won’t just happen
A few months ago, I got some eyelash extensions for the first time in my life. It is not something I can afford to repeat on a regular basis, but as a one off for a special occasion, I decided to treat myself. In order to do this, I had to time things very carefully. The appointment would take an hour, so I would need half an hour to get there allowing for traffic (and parking challenges), an hour for the appointment itself, and then ten minutes to get back, with another (optional) 20 minutes to pop into town to pick up a few supplies whilst out and child free. That works out as 2 hours away from baby to plan for.
At this time, Sophia generally went 3 hours between feeds, so I had to time her feed to be as late as possible, so that she would not need her next feed until I was due to be back home. This meant that I had to work backwards to make sure her feed/s before that were also taking place at the right time. Sounds a bit challenging? It was.
But guess what? I made it!
And more than that, I spent an hour lying down on a super comfy (and heated) bed, listening to some very relaxing music with my eyes closed. All of my forward planning had paid off and I was able to enjoy this rare moment of peace and quiet.
Take care of you
So I would tell ‘mum-of-one’ me, it’s more than OK to invest in yourself every once and awhile. Or as Quirky Momma would say: “Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids.”
I think that anything that allows you to have a little uninterrupted time to yourself definitely counts towards taking care of yourself. Having some time alone, not only enabled me to re-charge my batteries a little, but it also allowed me to miss my little treasures. The latter being a benefit I had not anticipated in all my planning.
To finish off this happy tale, I was so happy to see my girls when I got back home. And my husband was pretty glad to see me! In fact, he was literally waiting on the front doorstep for me as I parked the car, baby in his arms, ready for her next feed. Did he notice my eyelashes? Nope. But I was super grateful to him nonetheless, for valuing my ‘me’ time and making it happen.
4. Get out of the house.
As I touched on earlier, leaving the house with kids can be somewhat challenging. Even on the days when you have thought way ahead of the game, and packed everything the night before, you cannot plan for what may happen just as you open the door to leave the house. Some things are just out of your control.
But whilst spontaneity might have temporarily left the building during this newborn baby phase, you can still plan ahead to make it as easy as possible on yourself to get out.
And you should.
Whether it is a play date with a friend, or a mother and toddler group, or just a trip to the shops, getting out the house is good for everyone. And the more you do it, the more relaxed you will be. Breastfeeding in public will become second nature, you will be able to get both kids safely in and out of the car with your eyes closed (not recommended by the way) and you will soon become familiar with all the child friendly coffee shops and places to go with good parking options.
And the little bit of effort it takes to make this possible is totally worth it.
Where are we going today, mummy?
Zoe quite often asks me over breakfast, ‘where are we going today mummy?’ Whilst I do not feel the pressure to pack an outing* into every day’s schedule, it’s undeniable that both girls benefit from getting out of the house, whatever form that takes. It also serves as a useful incentive for Zoe to get things moving along, knowing that tidying up toys, putting on shoes, and cleaning teeth are all moving her one step closer to her outing. You see? Everyone’s a winner!
*an ‘outing’ for us consists of anything that involves leaving the house. I could even go so far as to suggest an afternoon in the garden constitutes an outing, but that might be stretching it. What do you think?
Prepare for success
Preparation is key, and helps relieve some of the stress of getting us all out the door. For me, this includes things like:
- Making lunch and getting clothes ready the night before
- Ensuring the changing bags are fully stocked at all times (my changing bag is not massive, but includes nappies, wet wipes, nappy sacks, nappy cream, a change of clothes, and a small toy)
- Having an easy, and mess free breakfast – less to clean up, easier to get on
- Plan to be ready to leave about fifteen minutes earlier than you actually need to leave the house
- Talking to my toddler about what we have planned for the day from the moment she wakes up, so that she will feel excited about it and will be more cooperative later
As I said earlier, you can’t plan for everything, and most of the time, if I’m honest, things will happen at the most inconvenient time possible, throwing all of your well made plans out of kilter.
Welcome to life with kids.
I find that the best thing to do in this situation is to just make light plans where possible. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a bit late, and you can deal with the deviations to the plan without all the stress of running late.
Also, a sense of humour is pretty mandatory, and being able to laugh about it, rather than getting annoyed is something that I’m still learning to do. But I’m having more good days than bad days recently.
So there you have it. 4 Things “mum-of-two” me wishes she could say to “mum-of-one” me
I started off this post by talking about how wonderful hindsight is, and imagining a world in which ‘mum-of-two’ me could sit down and pass on all her wisdom to ‘mum-of-one’ me. Sounds good right? But maybe it’s too soon to start building my time machine.
Because even if I could somehow go back in time, and tell ‘mum of one’ me these 4 things, it probably wouldn’t make any difference anyway.
The voice of experience
I understand now why more experienced mums want to pass on advice to new mums. It’s because they’ve learnt things on their journey of motherhood that they wish they had known sooner. Like me, they cannot go back in time and tell themselves the essential things they learnt along the way, that in hindsight, they wish they had known sooner. So the next best thing is to pass it on to a friend or loved one. It’s not because they don’t think you’ve got this. Maybe they just wish they could have had the chance to do it again, differently.
But the thing is, it doesn’t matter.
The only reason I know these are good things to do now, is because the first time around, I didn’t.
And the lessons I learnt as a brand new mum of one, have shaped the mum I am today, now that I have two.
If I’m more relaxed now, (I said ‘if’), it is because I was not relaxed then, and I made the decision to do it differently this time.
If I make more of an effort to have some ‘me time’ now, it’s because I didn’t prioritise it as a new mum then, and I soldiered on, not realising it could be different.
If I’m enjoying more of the treasures this time round, it’s because I’m realising how much I missed out on last time, and I’m determined to enjoy the journey this time.
Struggles help us grow
As with many things in life, sometimes, we wish we could turn the clock back and do things differently, but I am the person I am today in part, because of yesterday’s struggles.
For better or for worse.
And more than all of this, beyond my ability to learn from my mistakes and grow, God has a plan that transcends it all. His plan for motherhood is probably not the same a mine. It involves honing me, and chiselling off some of my (many) rough edges. Motherhood is simply one of the tools He’s using to chip away at the ugly bits. When I look at it all through this lens, the challenges no longer seem futile and to be avoided, but as opportunities to grow in grace, and be refined.
All I need to do is remember this next time Zoe is jumping up and down on the sofa, throwing her toys on the floor whilst singing ‘baby shark’ at the top of her lungs.
But that’s enough about me. What advice do you wish you could give to yourself as a new mum?
P.s. If at some point in the future, time travel become a reality, and you find yourself in the year 2016 in Kent (I mean, why wouldn’t you end up there?) look out for me. I’ll look like a rather frazzled version of myself, trying to survive and keep my head above the water as a new mum. If you find me, please pass on this message:
You’ve got this, Hannah.
You’re doing a great job.
Just take one day at a time!
And eat more cake!