Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Motherhood Diaries: Five Things We Need to Stop Saying to New Parents

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Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences. We’re looking at everything from fertilitytrying to conceivepregnancythe fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, children’s mental health and teenagers, fertility issues and everything in between! Today we look at what NOT to say to a new parent.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected] with ‘Love’ in the subject line. All stories that are published will win three BOOST LAB serums following a Skin Advisor’s bespoke recommendation, worth $104.85.

Just become a new parent? Finding you’re not getting a lot of sleep? Umm.. is NOW the perfect time to tell you that things might get even worse?!? Apparently the answer is YES according to some people who otherwise seem quite normal and sane. And it’s not the only kinda frustrating/weird/intrusive thing that people like to tell you when you’ve had a baby…

I’m sorry to put everyone on blast who has said or messaged me things on this list (especially when I’ve likely said at least one of them myself to a new mum or dad – sorry!) – but there are five things in particular that really grind my gears. They’re often said by very nice people, with the kindest of intentions, I’m sure – but when you’re in the trenches with a new baby, they don’t always land well.

So, here they are – the five things I’d prefer you stop saying to new parents please:

“Just you wait”

When I was pregnant I wrote a story about how incredibly sick and tired I was of having people give a scary little laugh and then gleefully saying, ‘Oh, just you wait!’ whenever they saw my belly in my third trimester. It happened CONSTANTLY, as though my belly was a ticking time bomb and that as soon as it went off, I’d find myself longing to be doing something less stressful, like, say competing in The Hunger Games, instead. 

Yes, ok, there was one or two nights there that I was a bit jealous of Katniss that she at least got to sleep after she’d tied herself to a tree branch for the night, while everything out there was trying to kill her, but still, all that scaring me and telling me all these worst case scenarios were of zero benefit.

But what I’ve found weirdest is that the saying of ‘just you wait’ has stuck around. In fact, I think I might even hear it more often. Acquaintances and strangers – even some friends – still just love to tell me how much worse things are going to get. Just getting out of the newborn phase? “Oh, just you wait until the four month sleep regression!” “Just you wait until he’s teething!” “Until he starts crawling!” “Until the terrible twos!” “Until he’s a teenager!!”

Whhhhhhhhhhyyyyyy do people do this? 

“How much sleep are you getting?”

I get it. Babies are notoriously bad sleepers (even though we have that weird saying ‘sleep like a baby’ like that’s a good thing?!?) and much is talked about how little sleep a new parent gets. So, asking about sleep seems like a no-brainer good small-talk question to ask someone who recently had a baby.

Buuuuuuuut, when you’re on the other side of it, it’s, well, kinda exhausting being constantly and repeatedly asked about it – particularly if it’s quite hard for anyone to come by (and everyone on Instagram is giving you contradicting advice about it)

I don’t at all mind friends and family asking, because it’s often part of a package of wanting to know where I’m at physically and mentally and what they can do to support me. But otherwise, it’s a little weird that so many people obsessively want to know about sleeping habits.

Plus, in my experience the exchange unfortunately often goes like this:
Them: “How’s he sleeping?”
Me: “Not too bad! He’s slept through the night a couple of times now!”
Them: “Oh, my Patrick was a great sleeper until he hit six months. Then he wouldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. It was like that for years. I felt like I was going to die.
Cool cool cool cool.

Or

Them: “How’s he sleeping?”
Me: “Ooof, it’s been hard.”
Them: “Oh really? My sister’s baby is the same age and has been sleeping for 12 hours straight every night since she was five weeks old! Isn’t that wonderful?”
Cool cool cool cool.

The thing is, from what I’ve heard, read and seen first hand, babies are not one size fits all. They all do slightly different things and how well they sleep is not a measure of how well they are being parented, how “good” of a baby they are, or what kind of sleeper they’ll be long-term. Maybe you have a good little sleeper, maybe you don’t – but most of the time it’s completely out of your control.

I remember my partner’s dad asking me about our baby’s sleep, and I started getting into some vortex of telling him whatever book I was reading saying that he should be awake for 90 mins then asleep for 90 mins and that wasn’t happening. “The thing is, he hasn’t read the manual,” he told me. It was one of the best things anyone said to me.

Another friend also messaged, “it gets easier when you get more sleep”, without even asking about sleep, which I loved.

An old work colleague also sent a similar thing, saying, try not to take on board everyone’s opinions and advice about sleep. It’s enough to drive a new parent mad. Then, after a few messages she told me about how her best friend had a baby years back and gloated about how at five weeks, he began sleeping through the night. But things weren’t quite as they seemed. The next week her friend’s husband had to go away for the weekend, so she went over to stay with her so she wouldn’t be alone. And, everyone got an awful shock when she had to wake her friend up at 3am because her baby was crying. Her baby wasn’t sleeping through the night – she and her husband just didn’t hear him. “I’m not saying this is the case for everyone whose baby sleeps through the night, but just that sometimes, things aren’t exactly all that they seem,” she messaged me. “Try not to compare your baby to others, because they’re all different AND you don’t know what might really be going on.”

Anyway I’ve got off topic here but the bottom line is that sleep can be a touchy subject rather than just an easy thing to think of asking a new parent, so maybe just let them bring it up if they want to get into it?

“Sleep when the baby sleeps”

For the first month or so that my little guy was on this planet, this one really stressed me out. A lot of people offer it up as profound advice – so many in fact, that I wondered what the heck was wrong with me. 

Then, I text a friend, “hey, do you sleep when the baby sleeps?”

She replied: “HAHAHAHAHAHA”.

A little while later I saw a post on the gram that said, “Sleep when the baby sleeps. Eat when the baby eats. Do laundry when the baby does laundry. Do dishes when the baby does dishes.”

It was a huge relief. Plenty of other people were unable to just sleep when the baby sleeps!

To be fair, I’m not a great napper, but when things were dire, I managed to drop off – but most of the time, those precious moments when he was asleep (and not asleep on me!) I had to race against the clock to do things like eat, scull water, push washing on, do dishes, sterilise pump parts and bottles, or actually pump. The first week after my partner went back to work, I simply didn’t eat anything all day – I just couldn’t work out how people were keeping everything functioning, eating, drinking, but still, somehow sleeping every time the baby slept.

I can only assume that people who “sleep when the baby sleeps” either have a lot of help at home, or, have unicorn babies who slept for hours at a time during the day (and never on them)??

“When will you have another?”

Apparently, this is something a lot of people are obsessed with and it’s incredible – and unnerving – how quickly they start asking a new parent about it.

I guess it’s not all that surprising – they’re likely those same people who ask you when you’re going to get married after you’ve been in a relationship more than a few months. Or when you’re going to have a baby right after you get married.

Buuuuut, wowsers, it’s an intimate question to ask someone, (unless they’re one of your closest friends and you’ve already had lots of conversations about the topic). Otherwise, well, you have no idea if they had any struggles to fall pregnant the first time, had a difficult pregnancy, a difficult birth, difficult fourth trimesters, an issue with their baby’s health, or if it’s a bit of a sore spot for them, or, heck, the fact they’ve JUST HAD A BABY.

I’m lucky enough to have a stepson, so my little guy instantly had a big brother, but it still shocks me when people ask me this question. Often I’m too polite to tell them how rude their question is, and instead I just let them know that my son already has a sibling, plus I’m 40 – and not a billionaire – so it’s probably unlikely. To my complete shock, more than one person has not left things there and has instead taken that as an opportunity to tell me I better get moving then if I’m already 40. 

What. 

“Make sure you soak up and enjoy every single moment!”

Yes, babies are amazing and magical and watching them slowly becoming proper little beings with personality and spunk is an absolutely incredible journey. It’s the best thing I’ve done with my life. Buuuuuuut, can we please be honest and say that not every moment is magical. 

Some of being a new parent is extraordinarily hard. Some of it happens in such a blur of exhaustion and sleep deprivation that you simply can’t even remember it a few weeks later, except for a haze of knowing that it was HARD.

The pressure to be present and “soak up” every moment can leave you feeling guilty, anxious and, well, just like a bad person for not finding every moment to be the most magical moment of your life so far.

During her baby blues period, a friend text to say how much she was hysterically crying each day and how awful she felt that she was missing out on this time. “It’s awful not being able to enjoy small moments,” she wrote.

But her experience was such a normal one. Those early weeks do end up going by so fast – despite the fact that some of those sleepless hours feel like they stretch on for an eternity – and I bet a lot of people look back and think, ‘damn, I wish I could remember that better! I wish I could have enjoyed it more. I wish I could have known then what I know now and that it would all be ok and over in a flash!” Maybe a lot of us actually romanticise those weeks in hindsight (or see enough dreamy, beautifully crafted instagram posts that we get sucked into thinking it’s all beautiful and magical). But living through it can be quite a different reality – there’s a lot of beauty and magic, but also many tear-soaked moments.

I got a lot of texts that said “I trust you are enjoying every little moment! [side note: please do not say ‘I trust you are’ ANYTHING to a new parent, because, really, nothing is a given!], when really, what I would have much preferred is a simple, “Hope you’re doing ok!”

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