Today a long-time friend phoned to tell me her and her husband are expecting a little boy in May. She mentioned she’d been receiving the usual clichéd responses from people when she told them the happy news – of the “make sure you enjoy your sleep while you can” and “your life is never going to be the same again” variety.
I remember getting those same standard comments when I was pregnant with my son five years ago. Later that day I wrote my friend a letter with some insights of my own. It went something like this.
Pregnancy goes slowly. Nine months? By my calculations, forty weeks equals ten months, not nine. Somewhere along the line someone got it wrong.
It’s okay to admit that while you are grateful to be pregnant, there’s not much you like about the experience so far.
I don’t believe in learning how to breathe in preparation for labour. You know how to breathe. Trust that much.
The best words of advice I received about giving birth was from a beautiful Spanish lady who works at my local café (who looks like she should be in the movies, not a mother of four). She told me in her gentle accent that you “just have to be brave’ when you are in labour. Surprisingly that overly simple bit of advice actually helped me when the time came.
Drugs also help. If you want them and they are available, take them. There are no prizes for heroes.
Apparently it’s due to the hormones, or possibly just the immense relief that you are not pregnant anymore, but giving birth is the greatest high you will ever feel. The pain really does end the instant your baby is born.
Seeing the joy your baby brings to his grandparents will double your happiness.
You will soon become a member of this club you didn’t really notice before – parenthood. Apart from a few neurotic types who are best avoided, I’ve found it to be a welcoming and supportive club for the most part. You are going to find little rooms just for parents and babies hidden all over the very same shopping centres you have been frequenting for years. Within these secret rooms you will find yourself sharing very intimate information with other parents you have met five minutes ago.
You will meet some new friends who will become your ‘soul-mums’ (other mums who are ‘normal’ like you). Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen straight away – they will appear.
While we’re on the topic, mother’s groups are not compulsory.
Breastfeeding is also not compulsory (although the one thing I will say in its defense – you can’t beat it for the convenience of not having to steralise and cart around bottles).
If your baby has any sleep issues, I am not the person turn to. I have a four year child who still does not sleep through the night and I suspect never will. Clearly I failed that particular aspect of parenthood. I promise that most babies do not take anywhere near that long to learn how to sleep properly.
Never introduce any children’s music into the house or car. Just teach him from the start to enjoy your music. Trust me; all small kids have this thing about repetition.
That feeling of anticipation you get on Friday afternoons after a hard week at work? It will be replaced by a sense of ‘Groundhog Day’. It’s not that you won’t be working hard; it’s just that every day will be pretty much the same, especially in the early months. I have to be honest; the word that comes to mind is relentless.
While you are stuck in Groundhog Day, you will almost certainly feel a twinge of jealousy when you hear about what your childless friends are doing. The surprising thing is that deep down, you won’t really care because you get to experience that delicious feeling in the mornings when you are still half asleep and you slowly remember that something good has happened to you. Something new. Then you remember that he is there in his little bassinet waiting for you. That is, if he hasn’t woken you up first.
You will become very familiar with the waiting rooms at your GP and hospital casualty over the next few years. Even healthy kids get sick a lot.
You will worry the thick layer of fog that has taken residence in your brain is actually permanent brain damage. In my case it looks like it is permanent, but I’m sure you’ll bounce back just fine.
Even on the really hard days there are nearly always some gold sparkly moments. Try to look for them. On a cold winter morning at 5 O’clock, for example, when you are changing a nappy and are so irritable you feel as though you could scratch the next person who walked into the room, the sound of his own sneeze will make your baby laugh and you will wish you could remember that beautiful sound forever.
On those really hard days remind yourself you are doing a fabulous job.
Before you know it you will be hearing your son tell you he loves you and those words will fill you up like they have never done before.
You will soon understand first hand what the word miracle really means. You will look at this perfectly formed little being and wonder how all the cells knew exactly where to go.
All the times you have been in love will not come close to what you are about to feel for this baby. In fact that’s probably all you really need to remember, because loving him is what will matter most. You can figure the rest out as you go.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem