Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Whatever, I do what I want

Before Francis was born, I envisioned myself like..

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But instead it's been more like... 

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The more time passes, the more I reach Cartman levels of giveashit. I don't mean by this that I don't care about my baby, I just care less about whatever the consensus tends to be, especially if it contradicts my instincts.

I've learnt two main things about having a baby:

1. Humans are herd creatures.
2. Babies want to be with their mothers.

One trend I've spotted - which I was fully unaware of before having a baby - is the trend to 'train' your baby to be less dependent on you. There is a rush of mothers who are being taught to help their baby to sleep through the night before they're even one year old, despite the fact that it has been agreed time and time again by child psychologists and medical professionals that solely breastfed babies are not equipped to sleep through the night - they're not physically nor developmentally ready to do so. Yet there's vast amounts of literature and an entire industry of courses dedicated to 'sleep-training', with the aim of getting your baby to sleep as many as 12 hours a night.

Part of the advice involves not allowing your baby to 'develop associations'. They shouldn't feed to sleep, nor suckle to sleep, nor fall asleep in your arms - lest they develop a 'bad' association and then become reliant on these things in order to fall asleep. The aim is for them to be able to fall asleep 'on their own', and to 'self soothe' if they wake up in the night.

This seems like a lot of pressure on new mothers. Not only do you have to keep a tiny human alive and content, you also have to try and get him or her not to rely on you too much.

On the one hand, the thought of a baby that falls asleep alone and self soothes is extremely appealing. I have often wanted my baby to be less dependant on me, in fact when you've been up for hours and you would like nothing more than for your head to hit the pillow and sleep, there is nothing you crave more than a baby that doesn't need you.

Since Francis was never exclusively breastfed, he doesn't behave like most newborns would if they are just breastfeeding, and he does often sleep long stretches in the night, allowing me to sleep until 6am. This has granted me so much more energy and sanity than I would have otherwise. I am, in many ways, glad about this. However, I would rather not feel any pressure to have energy, or sanity, or to 'feel myself' this year.

The increased trend to return to work in the first year of the baby's life means that there's a general social expectation that you will not be quite as drastically at a baby's beck and call for the first year as was generally understood to be the case when our grandmothers became mums.

The main problem with this more flexible perception of mothering as a less all-consuming role is that society has changed faster than nature: whilst it's understandable that we mothers might want to be mobile, sleeping a good five hours at night, eating a normal diet, having our body back, wearing non-stretch clothes etc. in the first year of the baby's life, it is not an easy feat, physically speaking.

I've learnt by experience that any attempt at being less solely dedicated to my baby causes quite a severe strain on my body and hormones. For example, the whole idea that you can 'express milk' to feed your baby when you're not there is hugely unrealistic - often it takes a few sittings of expressing (which takes about 20 minutes) to obtain a feed's worth, and you can increase the risk of engorgement (painful) if you're expressing on top of feeding. In my case, I have a huge amount of independence because I am not breastfeeding - but this wasn't by choice, and it caused quite a hormonal strain on me, since my body was producing the oxytocin for milk production which meant that when I weaned off there was a crash. This always happens when mothers wean babies off the breast, but if it happens later, at that point your baby is demanding less of you so you are more equipped to deal with a hormonal inbalance than you are in the first few months of your baby's life. Similarly, having menstrual cycle discomfort and hormonal changes while you have a newborn is also more difficult to manage.

Formula feeding, sleep training, hired childcare are all ways of affording mothers more independence, and it is each parent's choice to utilise these as they see fit. However, it will always be a compromise physically speaking. In purely physical terms, your body is geared towards no independence from your baby for those first twelve months. I wish I had been better educated on how to navigate this and balance the demands of modern life with those of a woman's timeless nature.

Staying with your baby the vast majority of the time seems to be physically and physiologically speaking, the most manageable thing - it means you can rest whenever the baby is resting and you don't have to feel like you have to be anything other than a mother. Of course this is very consuming, which also led to me realising that you are naturally expecting to be surrounded my family when you have a baby - so you can feel supported, less consumed by the baby but without having to look and feel socially palatable. Again, society has changed faster than nature in this respect, because while we still have a herd mentality, we now live very far away from our families, often in small flats in big cities surrounded by acquaintances we'd rather see with a full face of makeup on.

I don't know how best to approach this conflict: on the one hand I think I'd go insane if I didn't have any time for myself, on the other hand I wonder if I'm being unkind to myself and my baby by expecting too much too soon. All I know is the longer I'm a mum the more confident I grow in my instinct, and the more I embrace the all-encompassing, overwhelming, consuming, daunting, incredible role of being a mother.

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