Before and after baby: the season of big change
Often when pregnant with our first, we wonder how we will change after the arrival of our precious new bundle of cuteness. We know our body will be changed – that’s already happening and we may already sense a loss of control in that area. But what about our personality, our emotions and the biggest aspect of all: our life? Every mother tells us it’s impossible to fully grasp ahead of time what these changes are like. Okay, we get that, but we still wonder, as every first time mother-to-be has wondered for thousands of years before us. Having been through three births myself, and having now helped around 500 other women do the same, I can tell you there actually is a repeated pattern of change, a ‘theme’ that echoes itself, always with slightly individualised versions. In other words, there is a common thread of evolution to us as women, personally and emotionally. I call them the ‘five S’s’:
Supervising → Surrendering → Silence → Servitude → Success
Supervising: the pregnancy
From almost immediately learning about their pregnancy, first time mums often begin to ‘manage’ it like another project on their busy schedule. They have managed their work responsibilities, their fitness regime, their social life, the household budget, and their pregnancy gets slotted into their life as just another thing to supervise the progress of. Certainly some women are more exacting about this than others. They look up loads of information on Google, or they may plan to ‘interview’ potential lead maternity carers (LMCs). However the reality is there is a shortage of LMCs and the most popularly used ones have no shortage of caseload, so sometimes it can end up that the LMC ‘interviews’ the woman. There are many factors that might not match what mums to be have planned or imagined. There are also other challenges, such as the many things that can cause stress during pregnancy, from family issues to work pressures to physical changes (eg stretch marks, restricted diet, indigestion, lack of sleep, extreme tiredness) and other concerns about things that may occur like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsic toxaemia, a baby with a growth restriction, or fetal anatomical abnormalities. So whatever the problems you might deal with, it can be good to remember there is another woman out there coping with these or other issues.
And then it begins: There may be two or-three nights of latent labour, with contractions tapering off each time the sun comes up. Then it spontaneously starts: Real labour. ‘Active’ Labour. Childbirth is often something that doesn’t go as ‘planned’. As an LMC midwife, I always say “The one thing that is predictable, is that birth is not predictable. And at some point a woman will surrender from having what she ‘planned’ to occur, to what will occur. That might be someone who planned a homebirth but needs to transfer to hospital, or someone who pre-ordered an epidural but then has a rapid unplanned homebirth. In labour we have to surrender ourselves, drop the reins, and realise we’re not doing birth, but birth is ‘doing us’. And when we do finally fully surrender during labour, something magical often happens: the babe is born.
A new mum may look at her baby in stunned awe, crying from a depth she didn’t know existed until this time. Then there may be no words - and in that time the ‘down-side’ experiences leading up to labour, like the aches and pains, stretch marks, missed work meetings or exercise sessions, and things that didn’t go to plan – often pale into insignificance. That’s because in her arms is the human being she grew, her own child. And there are no words. Only tears of joy.
Servitude: after birth
Within 48 hours of birth, a new set of challenges kicks in. Women have generally had several nights of broken sleep and may now have a baby who wants to continually feed and may not settle. Often women begin to realise, after a few hours or a few days, they can’t always be in control during this time too. It’s best to plan life one hour at a time, from one feed or sleep to the next. In the month after birth there can be many life lessons, but each week gets easier as routine sets in. Things like breastfeeding can start to take priority over entertaining visitors, and things like coffee group meetings, or a professional baby photo appointment might be put on hold. And staying in PJs all day becomes completely acceptable! For some women, it can be the first time they experience the servitude of true acceptance.
Six weeks after baby is born, a woman usually begins to appreciate the successes she’s achieved, with getting through the pregnancy, and the birth, and establishing breastfeeding. The next mountain to climb is infant sleep, but the good news is now there’s lots of time to deal with it. With birth over, a new mother can often feel like a new person, and might sometimes feel more mellow, with softened opinions and oftentimes new degrees of empathy. Motherhood may also make a woman more intuitive, and very often provides a deep core feeling of completeness with a woman who previously had not felt incomplete. Until having a baby, no one has ever needed her as much, and that can be incredibly nourishing, and liberating.
Kathy Fray is an author on childbirth and infants; a self-employed North Auckland LMC midwife; co-creator of the BabyOK Babe-Sleeper infant sleep-secure; and founding director of the SOMCANZ integrative maternity healthcare conference. She is a wife and a mother of three teens.