Welcome back to my guest blogger series, Meet the Parents. This week, we’re hearing advice from Amy, who blogs at No More Shoulds.
Tell me a bit about you, your blog and your family.
Hello, I’m Amy, early thirties, a career in educational publishing and research, married to Tony (a GP) and mum to 1 year old Bean (*nickname, obvs!). These days, I am a mum on a mission: to create healthier, more self-compassionate minds for mums. A few years back, in the P.B. (Pre-Bean) era, amid the strains of juggling family illness, a stressful job and fertility battles, I found solace in mindfulness and meditation, and never looked back. Until I had a baby, that is.
When I was eventually blessed with being able to start a family, I was taken aback by the onslaught of maternal guilt and unsolicited advice, and how I didn’t seem to trust myself anymore. All I could do was watch meekly from the sofa as the healthier mindset I had developed flew out the window.
I recovered my marbles and ever since have been on a mission to support new parents and parents-to-be in navigating the brave new world of parenthood by being kinder to themselves, using meditation and mindfulness techniques adapted specially for this time in life. I’m not a monk, nor do I practice yoga in a zen garden every morning. I’m just a normal mum on a mission to lose the word ‘should’ for good and to live a lighter life. I started my blog No More Shoulds in February this year, and it’s all grown from there!
What one essential item would you insist on putting in your hospital bag (for you)?
Comfy pyjamas that make you feel lovely. You will be very very tired, whether it has been a simple labour or a more intense one, and comfy clean pyjamas to change into will make you feel so much better after all that.
Personally, I would have found pyjamas unbearable with my c-section wound, so it might be worth packing a nightie, too!
Was there anything unexpected that happened during labour, that you think first-time mums should be prepared for?
When I clocked hour 50 of my labour, I realised things were not going to go as planned… Another 16 hours, an epidural and forceps later, B popped into the world. Let’s just say my birth ‘plan’ was off the table. The long and short of it is, anything and everything can happen in labour, especially first time round. So if you expect anything and everything to happen, you will feel much more prepared for whatever does. I feel it’s important to have an idea of your preferences for the conditions in which you’d like to give birth, but ultimately holding on to too many expectations and plans can leave you with negative feelings about if it doesn’t quite happen. That is noise you just don’t need!
What would be your one essential product for a newborn that no new parent should live without?
Ewan the Sheep. In our house we have knighted him and his miraculous womb-sound-service ‘Sir Ewan’.
Haha! Ewan didn’t work for us. Little M much prefers the hairdryer sound on my white noise app.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given before your first child was born?
“Everyone fed, nobody dead”. In other words, fed is best. It made us so much more relaxed towards the whole feeding issue, so when it turned out that B’s reflux was causing a lot of emotional issues for me around breastfeeding, we felt so much calmer about moving to combi-feeding at around 4 months. It was the option that was kindest to me and my mental health as a mother and B was so much happier and more relaxed too. It was very important for our bonding journey to make this decision, and a ‘breast is best’ mantra would have been damaging.
What’s the worst piece of advice you were given?
‘A baby is portable – it doesn’t have to change your life’. Whilst this is true when they are little to a certain extent, we quickly learned whilst trying to ship her here there and everywhere that it wasn’t actually very respectful to any of our needs. B needed a bit of structure to feel safe in the world, and we needed space to all get to know each other. She still needed a routine and once we’d got our heads round the foundations she needed to feel safe and looked after, then we could be more flexible. We learnt to be a bit more accepting of the fact that life had changed and we didn’t need to try and fit into the previous mould. We now have a nicer balance.
I think all things seem a lot easier when you remind yourself/realise that your baby’s needs are totally normal, and not a ‘problem’ to be overcome.
What would be your top tip for a first time parent-to-be?
Be kind to yourself. There are no ‘shoulds’. Parenthood is a wonderful journey and a challenging one. Everyone has their story of their journey and everyone wants the best for you, so will want to share their lessons learned and ‘shoulds’. Listen to them (it’s clearly important to them to share), take your pick of what you think will work for you, and do things your way. It will be imperfect and you’ll make mistakes, but that’s ok. You’ll do brilliantly.
What’s the hardest thing about being a new parent?
Two things for me. 1) Judgement: from other people and from your own inner mum critic. Knock this on the head with kindness towards yourself. Try to spot guilt creeping in, accept it’s a normal part of being a parent, and let it go. You’ll feel so much lighter! 2) Lack of headspace for yourself: Give yourself space and time out when you need it. Even thirty seconds spent feeling the weight of your feet against the ground and focussing on watching your breath go in and out of your nostrils can be a really useful breather on a stressful day. Remember – there’s a reason we put our life jackets on first.
Ooh I like this attitude!
What’s the best thing about being a new parent?
The love (again if you don’t feel this straight away like in the films and books, that’s ok. It grows, I promise) and ultimately, the confidence. Even if you feel like you’re c*cking up everyday, you still get through and you learn things about yourself you never thought you would.