The African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ highlights the biggest lesson I have learnt during the early days of parenting.
In today’s western society we are often isolated with a newborn and without the child rearing experience that other cultures possess. I knew basic information about having a baby from general knowledge and I sought out books to learn as much as I could during my pregnancy. I attended the birth and parenting class run by the hospital which was certainly beneficial, however I learnt the most by actually birthing and parenting a newborn. As with most things, practical learning teaches us so much more.
I am yet to join the local parenting group and so far have relied on the Maternal Health Care Nurse, parenting groups on facebook, books and other new Mum’s that I have communicated with on messenger, for advice and support. As much as I feel lucky to have the support that I have had, I think that many women are incredibly unprepared for the reality of having a baby. Some like me, may have little to no experience in the smallest tasks such as holding a baby and changing a nappy. Only one of my close friends had a child so I was not surrounded by babies. In fact babies kind of scared me because they are so frail and the unknown is sometimes scary. Women are lucky for maternal instincts which kick in after birth.
Knowledge is not the only thing that is required when you first become a parent. Coming home is overwhelming emotionally, and physically. A new mother is healing, learning to feed their baby and adapt to their new life with a child in toe. Sleep deprivation sets in and the housework still needs to be done, food needs to be prepared and cooked and suddenly there is a much bigger pile of washing to be done. I prepared a few slow cooker meals while I was pregnant and froze them, but that was not nearly enough food to last those first weeks. Breastfeeding is hard work and requires additional calories, I am constantly snacking and eating meals and this proves difficult when you are stuck on the couch with a baby attached to your breast.
I have been tremendously lucky to have my partner at home for the first two months after my baby was born, however most are not so lucky. I had a cesarean and needed additional assistance getting tasks done while healing from major surgery. He has been a great support by changing nappies, getting chores done, cooking and settling the baby when I could not. I often think of single Mums who do this all on their own. It is far from easy and is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, yet I have had support. The bliss of holding your newborn, staring at their face for hours on end, feeling the oxytocin as you breastfeed and falling in the deepest love with your child is something to be cherished. Support aids this developing bond and relieves the mother of additional stress which in turn helps the baby to develop in a happier and relaxed environment.
My advice to people close to those having newborns is to ask if the new Mum needs assistance. My sister had time off work during the early days so she would come over and sit with my son while I slept after a sleepless night because babies would rather sleep in the comfort of a person’s arms. She would bring over snacks and provide a friendly face to break up the monotony of tasks. Other family members have also brought over food and held the baby while we enjoyed having our arms free for an hour or so.
It is important for Mums to reach out for support and for others to offer and provide it. A sense of contentedness is vital to new parents who can often feel alone, especially during those late night feeds.