Our child is officially a toddler – literally waving baby life bye-bye! When parents say the first year is the hardest, they aren’t kidding! It has been all kinds of challenging. There have been tears, poop, vomit, pee and a nasty case of eczema. But to balance that (and more than outweigh it), there have been heart-melting smiles, loving cuddles, giggles, rolls, crawling, standing and adoration. Today I’m not going to discuss basic things like eating/sleeping habits. I’m going to get deep into the philosophical and emotional side of raising a child for the last 365 days. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a long one today so let’s not delay!
The first and major thing that I learnt, was that everything works itself out. I worried so much that Abi would never be able eat solids properly, that she wasn’t hitting her developmental milestones compared to other babies (NEVER COMPARE!) and that she would never nap for more than 30 minutes at a time. I wish I had relaxed. Abi moved at her own wonderful pace and matured naturally. She sleeps like a legend now, eats with gusto and has plenty of energy. But even if she didn’t, I still know it would work itself out. I think these days, we mums have too much information. Some maternal child health nurses have a tendency to make us feel that our babies should be at a certain level or there is something wrong, which simply isn’t true! I was told by one nurse to take Abi to the hospital when I mentioned that she was struggling with solids. My doctor laughed at that and said she was being ridiculous. Sure enough, there was nothing wrong with our daughter and she eats just fine now. We need to be careful what we take on board. Some things are useful, others can be discarded. It all depends on the individual child.
I also wish that I hadn’t listened to some well-meaning outside opinions that only served to make me paranoid or guilty. In the beginning, when I was struggling to adjust to newborn life, I was told not to let my baby sleep on me or carry them too much in the carrier in case they got used to it. I should’ve just brushed it all aside. When you are in the throes of first-time parenthood, you have to do whatever works. I still stand by that mantra. Do whatever works. Abi wanted to be close to me. She needed the comfort and warmth of my body to rest. Napping made her happier and healthier. It wasn’t detrimental to her development at all, it was just what she needed at the time. Please be mindful of what you suggest to another mum. I know it comes from good intentions but you cannot speak for another baby’s needs. It probably didn’t work for you but if it is working for someone else, let them be and do what they need to do to make it through the day as mentally sound as possible.
The best compliment I have ever received is: ‘you’re doing such a great job as a mum.’ I still cannot get enough of hearing it. If you know a new mum/dad, tell them how well they are doing. It will make their day. As first time parents, you are completely thrown into the deep end. You cannot prepare or learn about parenting prior to giving birth. Your child steers this ship and you have to navigate the tricky waters with them. I’m not even going to tell you all the mistakes I made in this first year because honestly, it’s embarrassing. There was so much I didn’t know about babies! What I will say, is it was a lot harder than I ever could’ve imagined. I needed more people to tell me that it was going to get better rather than getting blank looks from other mother’s when I told them I was struggling. I was made to feel so alone. Now I am dedicated to sharing the real side of parenting because it’s so important to be honest. I have a hashtag I use on my Instagram posts: #keepingparentingreal which I hope will allow any other parents who stumble across it to breathe a sigh of relief and feel supported.
Let me tell you something else I couldn’t prepare for…the absolute depth of love I feel for my child. It is the most powerful and scary and beautiful feeling on Earth. Whenever she cries, I get this primal instinct to want to nurture her, fix all her problems and cry too. Early days, my breasts would leak milk whenever she cried as if they were begging me to nurse and comfort her. Yes parenting is tough but it is by far the best thing I have ever done. I LOVE being a mother to Abigail. She is my entire universe. I get to spend the rest of my life being her go-to person, her confidante, her friend and mentor. We share a bond that is truly magical. The way her face lights up whenever she sees me makes my heart leap. The way she reaches out her tiny arms for me to hold her is everything. The unconditional love we share for one another feels so safe. I may have suffered from baby blues the first four months of her life, but that stemmed from a mixture of sleep-deprivation, first-time mum anxiety, post-birth trauma and breastfeeding issues. Not once did I ever wish I hadn’t had her or took for granted how lucky I was to be blessed with such a special baby girl. It just keeps getting better and better!
If you happen to be married or in a relationship, please understand that a baby will change the dynamics of that, but it can also bring you closer. Francis and I went from spending every single second together to scheduling in cuddles and quality time before we both passed out from exhaustion at the end of the day. We needed to priortise one another more and after realising just how much we missed each other, we did. We made sure we went on monthly dates and snuggled/talked every night before bed. It is easy to get caught up in new mum life but be mindful that you don’t neglect your partner too. They need just as much attention and love. I honestly feel closer than ever to my husband. We adore one another and love watching the other being a parent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Francis is a wonderful father and there is nothing more attractive than that, especially given the fact that I had such a terrible one myself. My heart is full when I watch him sing the special song he made up just for her, or tell her he loves her a billion times a day. I love seeing him make her laugh, cuddling her, kissing her all over and messaging me all day whilst he is at work to see how she is and to send him pictures. Francis was made to be a father and Abi is so lucky to have him.
Following on from that, please make sure you carve out time for yourself! As a mother to a baby, you need to be everything for that little human and that can leave you feeling depleted and down. I’ve realised that I am the best mother to Abigail when my cup is full. A happy mama makes a happy baby. It’s also a great quality to teach your children as they get older. Let them know that self-care is so important and not selfish. For me, time out is going for a ride on my bike, taking a bath, getting a massage and reading. I don’t ask for much and it only takes a small but joyful activity to recharge me. I didn’t take any time for myself in the beginning and it definitely contributed to my baby blues. Avoid that and ask for help.
I cannot believe how much a baby develops in just one year. When I look at her newborn photos to now, Abigail looks like a completely different person! She keeps changing and looking more like myself and then my husband. It’s incredible how nothing happens for a while and then seemingly overnight, they are babbling, moving differently and sprouting teeth. It’s so exciting when something new happens. You feel so proud. I will say this now and stand by it until the end of time: newborns are adorable but I am not a fan of that stage at all. They cannot hold their heads up, are so fragile, cannot see far in front of them, don’t smile and just poop/pee/spit-up everywhere. This age is what I’m talking about. Abi laughs, babbles, plays and recognises her parents. She’s so interactive and fun. She also sleeps all night. It’s fantastic!
One of the biggest plot-twists after having Abigail was realising that Francis and I do not want anymore children. She will be our one and only for life. There are many, many personal reasons behind this decision so I’m not going to explain myself, nor do I need to. What matters is that we are happy with this choice and it is the best one for our family. We are so excited for our future!
On a more practical side, Francis and I didn’t really use any high-end, expensive baby toys/products and we got along just fine. There’s nothing wrong with owning the latest gadgets but just know, you can do without them. You work with what you’ve got and depending on the baby, you see what they respond to best. I know parents that have spent hundreds of dollars on baby rockers only for their child to absolutely hate them and never use them. Something to think about!
Let’s talk breastfeeding. In the beginning, I made a stupid blanket statement that I would BF for two years. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but again, your baby steers the ship. It may not be able to latch. You may not produce enough milk. You might have several bouts of mastitis (I only got it once thank god!) and not be able to take the pain anymore. Blanket statements have gotten me into trouble more times than I can count. The best advice is to go with the flow. I am surprised that I am still breastfeeding. I planned on giving up around 8-9 months once I started but it has just worked out really well for Abi and myself. When I saw that she was struggling to eat lumpy foods, I made the decision to keep breastfeeding until she was more confident and learned to chew/swallow properly. As a vegan child, it is my responsibility to ensure she is getting all of her nutrients. I am now at the stage where I could wean her off but I don’t see the need and when I finally do decide to stop, I will have no expectations.
I want to touch on judgement. Before I had a child, I’ll admit I judged other parents. I said things like “I would never do that” or “I’m not going to be that type of mother.” Since having a child, I don’t judge any other parents. I’ve also gone back on some things I used to swear I would never do. Unless a parent is outright abusing or mistreating a child, we have no right to judge them. We all have to do what we have to do to get by. Parenting is tough and the majority of us are just doing our best. Yes, we are going to slip, but that’s okay and normal. As my former therapist said, as long as you are a ‘good enough’ parent, you will give your child a really good sense of themselves. Do I have it all figured out? Hell no! I will never have it all figured out, but I do have a much deeper understanding and respect for parenting that I certainly didn’t have prior to becoming a mother. There will always be challenges and hurdles to overcome. One thing is for sure, the good will always outweigh. I may have travelled the world, but this is the greatest and best adventure I will ever go on.
And finally, I want to address my confidence as a first-time parent. Since the beginning, there’s been a nagging voice in my head telling me I should be doing more. It has really shaken me at times. Am I playing with her enough, am I exposing her to enough, am I feeding her all the best foods? It got to the point where I had to stop listening to it. The reality is, we could always be doing more with ourselves and our children but that’s like running on a treadmill and never reaching the finish line. We have to do the best we can with what we are given. I am enough and I am doing just fine. I am truly proud of myself for how my husband and I have raised Abigail in just one year. She’s happy, healthy and developing well – what more could we ask for? I’m not saying the insecurities are completely gone, but I’m much more self-assured than ever before.
Thank you for sticking with me and supporting me in this first year of Abigail’s life. It means the world to me. I plan to post an 18 month update and then annually for every birthday. Please let me know your comments and questions down below.
Peace & Love xoxo