Becoming a parent for the first time is a season filled with a newness, like no other. So many firsts to delight in. It can be a time that brings ecstatic joy and perhaps even a renewed vision, hope and broadened sense of purpose. First touches, first cuddles, first coos… all bring such pleasure to share with another for whom the experience is fresh and significant. However, along with these sweet pleasures, embarking upon motherhood, can also play host to a load of other experiences.
Mums, you can’t do this alone, you need to get connected!
Your experiences as a mum might leave you feeling worried and wondering whether your bub is developing at the correct pace she should. You might be experiencing discouragement because breastfeeding is more difficult than you expected. Perhaps you’re wondering if your body will ever feel strong again or are considering whether it might be an ideal time to start baby on solids. What are other mums and babies doing at this stage?, you ask. These are very normal questions and concerns, but how will you navigate these by yourself?
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, I believe that it takes a village to raise a mum. An empowered, confident, happy and informed one. Information sharing around non-judgemental relationships are fundamental for a new mother. A forum in which to be listened to, to giggle with, to winge with, to console and to be encouraged by will be key to your success. There are so many new experiences that need to be normalised and its through connection with others, that we understand this. So, place around yourself an army of this sister-hood and it will serve you well.
So, as a new mum, how do you find connection?
There are of course a host of possibilities for connection. But, for new mums, consider the following:
These could be formalised groups or informal ones.
If you’re in Australia, when you’ve given birth and leave the hospital, you will be given the contact details for your local area early childhood clinic. It will be this clinic that you have regular weigh-ins for your baby and check ups for you both. It is a wonderful resource.
Most clinics will have weekly educational groups, where you come and learn aspects of baby-specific topics. ie. baby massage, baby settling techniques, breastfeeding classes etc. These places are a winner. It’s typically through these clinic classes that you volunteer to have your contact details added to a mother’s group list. Each of these mums will have babies within (approx.) a six week age range of your baby. It will be this group that continues to meet together weekly. You will discover the wide range of ‘normal’ in this group. If it works well, these groups will offer great encouragement as you navigate a new path.
Community groups and Playgroups
Connections based on common interests are valuable and can continue to engage a new mum who might feel like she’s trapped within the confines of her four walls. Try to continue with these groups, where ever possible. In the mother-world, play groups are helpful groups to connect in with. They are usually held in community halls and churches. Some are organised with music and craft activities, others less so, but all provide great opportunity to mix with other mums… and with some who’ve been around the baby-block once or twice already. These mums can offer good insight into what lies ahead and sometimes, reasonable hindsight too.
CAUTION: Some mums feel that by pushing their own way of doing things, adds value and validates what they chose as a mum. Parenting well, takes many many shapes! It’s NOT a competition to see who's kid recognises Mozart first. Don’t get too caught up in this chit chat. It can be super un-helpful. Pick and choose what to listen to. My advice?: weigh up ALL advice and, season with salt ;)
We all know them… there are friends, and there are mum-friendly friends. These are the friends who take you in your new role, as you are and cheer you on. Encircle yourself with those that seek to encourage you. They don’t have to be mums themselves… just friends who want to see you succeed and offer practical and emotional support along the way. Friends without kids can sometimes be the best support there is. They offer a freshness and have a perspective that other mums might not. These are the friends who’ll call you out when you become a boring, self-obsessed mother, whose only topic of interest is her little cutie pie. And sometimes all we need is a giggle and a cup of tea - these friends are the best fit.
Friends with babies and children of their own are another fabulous resource. Sharing feeding stories, settling techniques, common woes and delights are invaluable. These friendships help a mother feel part of a sisterhood, and it is just that. We need to know our experiences are shared and that we belong.
Extended family can be worth their weight in gold. If your mum is anything like my mum, she will adore your baby even though that bundle has spent the last five hours screaming and has just peeked up on her.
Your family in all it’s different shapes and colours, are the ones most likely to take home your dirty washing from hospital and shop for your super-sized sanitary pads. They will be the ones happy to do a load of ironing, scrub your scuzzy bathroom, change a nappy and will be happy to take baby off your hands for a little while. If you’re not used to accepting this help - NOW is the time to start to!
Oh, and let these family treasures cuddle and bond with bub too! This is the starts of your baby’s ‘village’ :) and let’s face it, YOU will benefit from a break.
I realise this point might be a hard read for some, particularly those whose parents are not in the picture. You are not on your own. If you’re living in Australia, a large proportion of children born here do not have local grandparents. My suggestion… is to load-up with these other communities and or keep an eye out for that elderly neighbour who's grandchildren live inter-state or overseas but are eager to exercise their grandparent-muscles.
No matter who you are, you will have professional bodies involved at some point in your child's life. Make sure you choose a good GP, someone with whom you feel you’re listened to and understood. Perhaps someone young enough to have their finger-on-the-pulse in terms of latest research and someone with whom your baby can continue their health management under, as they grow.
Lactation Consultants and Counsellors, Paediatricians, Dentists, Early Childhood nurses, Pharmacists, Occupational and Speech Therapists, to name a few, are all excellent professionals you’ll glean industry-specific information with and who you will most definitely be connected with at some point.
Again, pick and choose from this vast array of choice. Communities on-line can offer some valuable insight into the life of a mother, and the thoughts shared can obviously be as fun and as broad as your search :) There are loads of good forums out there, sharing individual experiences and lessons learnt along the way.
On occasion, not just a shopping experience - the best retail agencies and on-line retailers offer mums-on-hand education and share advice on best breastfeeding and baby bedding products. Search well for the best ones.
A word of caution: What out for the: mum-eaters! You know the ones I mean - The ones that glare at you when your child chucks a tanty in McDonalds or the judge-y looks you get when your kid didn’t quite get it’s meet with the hairbrush that morning. These are mums who have forgotten what it was like. Give them a wide birth and remember…. there are a company of women out there who believe in you and a population of people who place infinite value on what you do.