People talk about how hard becoming a Mum can be, but man did I underestimate it. I’ve heard parents joke about how they were so much more relaxed with their second and third babies: you don’t feel the need to constantly check if your baby is breathing, you don’t rush to the doctors at the first sign of sickness, and there’s no carefully selected first foods – just whatever the kid grabs at first. There’s less fussing, less concern and less doubt. You’ve been there before and you know it all works out in the end.

I’m not really sure why I felt immune to this ‘first time parent’ experience. I thought: “That won’t be me, I’ll be the ‘chill’ Mum. My baby can roll around in the dirt from birth if he really wants. I’ll go with the flow – I’ll take my baby anywhere and we can nap on the go.  None of this stuck at home stuff. I definitely won’t let my marriage suffer – date nights will still be a priority. I’ll make sure we still do fun stuff together.”

But man I was wrong. Turns out I was not immune at all, and my experience would be so different to everything I imagined.

I mean, I knew about postpartum depression. We talked about it at our antenatal classes. I’d even encouraged friends to seek help for themselves when they needed it. But what I didn’t hear about was it’s sneaky, more subtle and more common friend – postpartum anxiety. I didn’t know I could be scared to leave Luka: scared to be more than two minutes away incase he suddenly woke from a nap insatiably hungry. I didn’t know that I could obsess over Luka’s sleep: feeling like a failure every time it took me hours to get him to sleep, or he woke up when I put him down. I didn’t know I could be terrified of leaving the house because ‘what if’ Luka got upset in public and I couldn’t console him; ‘what if’ I couldn’t get him to sleep at all. Could all this be damaging him in some way?

I guess the anxiety I felt about Luka’s health during my pregnancy should have been a red flag. But I thought – that won’t be me. I won’t struggle THAT much. Yes it will be hard, but surely I’ll be able to manage it, I’ll be able to work through it.

I didn’t know that my experience of the world around me would change. I didn’t know that places that had previously felt like home could feel strange and unfamiliar, and I could be completely overwhelmed by noise and people. It was like my whole sensory processing system had been completely altered. It wasn’t until Luka was 3 months old that another Mum told me that it was completely normal – not only is your baby entering the world, but becoming a Mum is like entering a new world too.

And that’s just the mental and emotional stuff. I hadn’t heard about the physical side of postpartum recovery either. I didn’t know just how sore I would be, or how long it would take for me to feel physically strong again. In fact, I’m still waiting for that one. I didn’t know how much love, care and intentional rehabilitation my body would need.

I loved being pregnant. I’d never felt more beautiful, more capable, more me. Surely being a Mum would feel the same right?

If only I knew. If only I knew just how life-altering having a tiny, fully-dependent human would be. I don’t think you can ever fully prepare for it, but perhaps if I knew a little bit more about sleep deprivation or the physical toll of breastfeeding, maybe I would have given myself more grace. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like a complete failure when I wasn’t ‘out and about’ like all the other Mums. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like the measure of postpartum success was going out for coffee with friends. Maybe I wouldn’t have compared myself so much. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me four months to seek the help I really needed, physically and mentally.

So here I am now, finally seeing a counsellor. Finally seeing a physiotherapist who specialises in postpartum recovery. I’m starting to prioritise my self care and create things for myself again. Now I can walk around the block by myself without feeling debilitating fear. Now I can leave the house and know that if Luka doesn’t sleep, he will still be ok. And I will be ok too.

I’m definitely still on a journey and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m still exhausted. I still feel lonely. It’s hard to find time for Conor and I to have real conversations, let alone date night. I still stress about Luka’s sleep sometimes. I still compare myself. But I’m working on it.

I wasn’t even sure whether I should share this. I was scared that people would respond just how I would have – “Oh that won’t be me. I’ll try harder than her.” I was scared of sharing a part of my world where I feel like I’ve failed.

But then I thought about what I wish I knew. Maybe this can help a Mum-to-be let go of the desire to get it all right. Maybe this can help another first time Mum feel seen, and know that they aren’t alone. Maybe it can help us all throw away unrealistic expectations of parenthood. Maybe this can help us be better friends to one another. Maybe this can help us be a village again.

Looking back now, I always assumed that if my Mum friends needed help that they would ask. I always thought they would tell me if they were struggling. I thought they’d organise to hang out if they wanted to see me. But if I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have waited for a message. I would have text you to tell you I was coming over to put a load of washing on. I would have cooked you more meals. I would have popped in to say hello, or checked in with you more. And I’m really sorry I didn’t. I just hope that by getting honest about what postpartum really feels like for some us, future Mums will be surrounded by a village.

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