As a child I always wondered what it was about being a mother that was so special.
Growing up in our house in Fermoy, there were always lots of books about babies. I remember thinking, ‘Everyone has a mammy. It doesn’t seem that hard to me. I mean, Mam is a mammy and what’s so special about her?’
Being a mother was just something that women did. You just get up one morning and you’re a mammy and you know how to do it. You were born knowing how to do it.
I particularly remember Sheila Kitzinger’s book, Women As Mothers. It must have been in the Eighties, because the book was published in 1978.
The cover featured mothers from all over the world, carrying their babies, mothering in their own way. It struck me how the title had Women and Mothers in it, making me think of how we are women first and mothers second.
I remember thinking this mothering thing must be something special for all these people to be writing about it. Even then, I thought that was something that was really important.
Mammy was Mammy. But she was also married to my dad and had spent her former life working for Bank of Ireland.
Now, with two children of my own, I often feel like I’ve always been a mother. I definitely don’t feel like the person I was before.
I’ve changed. Before I had my kids I was more focused on myself? I feel, looking back, I was going out all the time. I was looking for something more. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted. It’s like looking back at a version of yourself.
I became a mother at 34, I just felt ready and i didn’t want to wait til I was any older. It didn’t feel strange really, it felt kind of familiar, as the eldest of four who regularly looked after her siblings, I felt used to having babies around.
I suppose, when my time came, I didn’t feel the kind of anxiety that can be common.
In hindsight my first birth was straightforward. The labour was fine — inasmuch as labour is ever fine, I suppose. And I didn’t have too much problem breastfeeding.
But I felt a bit all over the place in the months after — the months Sheila Kitzinger referred to as ‘The Fourth Trimester’. Now I knew what the books were all about.
The mother’s body has grown and nourished the baby and continues to nourish it, but there is little time for rest and recovery.
Instead we find ourselves playing the hostess, as we greet well-meaning and sincere friends and relatives who come to meet — and hold — the baby.
If you’re like me, the last thing you feel like doing after having a baby is putting yourself back together, putting make-up on and facing the world.
Instead, we watch while cherished friends and family play ‘pass the baby’, like pass the parcel, except, with blankets and a baby instead of wrapping paper and a gift.
Pass the baby is trumped only by pass the baby — to our kids. Kids are lovely — I have given birth to two of them. But newborns and kids rarely mix.
And now instead of being the calm, cool, Earth Mother, you’re standing, knackered and sleep-deprived smiling through gritted teeth at your relatives while your bawling baby is being awkwardly held by an over enthusiastic five-year-old.
Oh, and they’ve missed a feed.
But instead of saying anything — because, well, you’re Irish — you go and make the tea and get out ‘the good biscuits’. Then deal with an upset baby for the rest of the evening.
And so, from early on you put yourself at the back of queue. I often wonder why we allow this convention to persist. Because we subliminally train girls to be people pleasers!!
People who arrive bearing dotey little baby clothes have put thought into their gifts but really what would be far more helpful to new mothers would be a meal to spare them cooking and someone to spare a few hours with the housework.
No wonder Kitzinger, the midwife and author said ‘We neglect the fourth trimester at our peril’.
The problem is that we all want to be up and about. You’ve had a baby — you’re not sick. Besides the message we get from celebrity mothers and Influencers is that childbirth is a cinch! Look at me, body snapped back into shape, full face of make-up, having lunch with my awesome friends. LOL!
For most of us though the first few months are definitely not LOL, or they’re LOL, until they’re not.
With Cara, I definitely wanted to be out and about. She was a go with the flow kind of baby.
I was living an hour’s drive away from family and friends and I just hopped in the car every day and headed off.
Looking back, I can speculate that it was the hormones, but I know I was doing too much. I was behaving as if I hadn’t had a baby, continuing on as I was before.
Maybe I was seeking company? In fact I think I definitely was — I felt conflicted between enjoying the peace and quiet and not having the early morning wakeups I used to have for work, but I soon realised that there was sting in the tail when 5pm rolled around and I had not seen another adult all day and my husband wasn’t due home till 7.30pm!
I definitely hadn’t really given enough consideration to how it would be after the baby. I hadn’t even set up Netflix! So after the baby I struggled with being on my own all day.
Now I can see the little things that would have made those months easier — Netflix, online shopping, and frozen meals. There were unintended consequences to being out all the time.
I took Cara for her two-week check-up and the doctor noticed that she had a cough. I had been taking her out with me every time I left the house. I just didn’t realise that she was so small and delicate and maybe being out and about every day wasn’t the best thing for her.
I coped with Cara, but when my second came along, things got a whole lot more complicated. It was then that I learned why Kitzinger really meant about the ‘peril’ of the Fourth Trimester.
Fourth trimester Checklist:
*Plan for 5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed, 5 days around the bed…
*Organise a meal train for your first few days home.
You could also cook an extra batch of dinner whenever you can. Freeze it for use during the post birth period.
*Figure out a housework plan. Who is going to do the cleaning? Walk the dog? Bins? Laundry?
*Plan your sleeping space. Create a safe bed sharing environment ‘just in case’ as this is far safer than falling asleep with your baby on a sofa or a recliner. Maybe consider buying a bigger bed too, a superking bed is fantastic.
*How about hiring a postpartum doula
All doulas are a part of the DAI, Doula Association of Ireland. There is an agency that has doulas almost countrywide now, for birth and postpartum, they are all trained and accredited by DONA, Doulas Of North America, the oldest doula organisation in America. There are also independent doulas. You can hire a doula by contacting an agency like Doulacare or by contacting an independent doula in your area. They charge by the hour and the price goes down the more hours you buy.
*Consider asking family members to buy you a postpartum doula hour as a baby present instead of clothes etc.
*Identify your stressors.
Do certain family members do your head in? What if you need a C-section and can’t drive for six weeks? Can your husband work from home? Do you have siblings or friends who can help? How will you deal with unwanted guests or guests overstaying their welcome?
How will you relax. Netflix? A boxset?A bath? A gorgeous cup of coffee? Some good books? Have something to help you unwind and possibly something to get you back to sleep when you’re woken.
*Attend a mother and baby group
This will help you build your support network. You’ll also be able to share information on the essentials including making up a baby’s bottle safely.
*Have a postpartum angel: Who will be the one to remind you to rest and who will send you back to bed if you try to get up and start doing housework/ overdoing it? (and you will!)