One of the things that I think has played a major role in how I felt as a mother is the kind of expectations I harboured. These expectations were sometimes based on observations, many created while reading (I am also a member of the ‘you read too much’ club), other were naive ideas or assumptions that I had not questioned or even realised I had until closer examination, and also, my lack of ideas on what to expect. But all of these were important in constructing my experience as a mother, and of many of the mothers I know.
For instance. (I think I have read Mr Bump too many times, I am even copying its style!)
Baby sleeping patterns, or the art of not sleeping. I am a person that needs loads of sleep. Before having r., unless I had 10-12 hours sleep, I was not in the best of moods. However, for some reason, which now I don’t remember (might be because of my lack of sleep), I psyched myself thinking that we would probably not sleep much the first year. This was very important, and it helped immensely, even though I erred in my predictions and we are still not sleeping through the night (she is almost two and a half). Many of my friends expected that their babies would sleep better after a few weeks, and many of those suffered, while some lucky ones did actually get the sleep they expected.
Co-sleeping. Before having r., I used to think that I did to want to co-sleep. At all. When she was born, the only way she would sleep was on me. My midwife, different people and books I’ve read made me feel guilty and afraid of doing this, but reading a bit more, or shall I say, different books, and the everyday the practise made me more confident about doing it, and enjoying it. If there is a next one, this is going to be the plan for the start, no question.
Oh! How I fell for this one. I was given a book before r. was born, which charted how babies would ‘work’ in terms of routine, which went something like this: feed, awake for a few hours, sleep, and so on, every three hours, and then after three or four months, every four. If this did not happen naturally, I was to stretch it myself. R. was born early, three weeks early, and she was tiny. Her pattern was more like feed-sleep, every two hours. Almost no awake time. It made me worry that she was not awake but for her feeding time, which was, say an hour. Writing this makes me laugh now at my innocence in a way, but it wasn’t so funny then. When she was a three months, she did not do the switch at all to longer time between feedings, and I could not do dreamfeeds, and I could go on on all the ways that neither r. nor I fitted the pattern set in the book. And stupidly, it made my question myself, feel guilty, get frustrated and flustered if I attempted to do what the book suggested. It was very unhelpful. I eventually found other books that confirmed what I was doing, and made me chuck the other ones, as well as release the guilt. Confidence in myself slowly grew too, but this was not instant, and not without that permanent questioning.
Pain. I knew breastfeeding could hurt, because my mum had a rough time, and my sister-in-law, and many other close friends. Although books say it is not supposed to hurt if the latch is right, I think that is actually quite a crap thing to say. I think this is done to not put women off breastfeeding, but really, it is unhelpful for those of us who do get blood, sweat and tears over breastfeeding. One of the things that kept me going was actually reading that it took different women weeks, even six weeks, for it to pass. Even though breastfeeding was torture at the beginning– I dreaded the moment and the ever present comment whenever she cried, ‘I think she is hungry’. Thrush did not make matters easier, or having breastfeeding-ignorant GPs. But knowing that it would hurt, and that it might take time, pull me through (and well, my stubborn streak helped here too probably).
Frequency. I kind of expected that after six months, breastfeeding would tail off, while her food intake grew, as the standard advice seems to go. This never happened, at least not at six months, maybe more like 18 months. R. did follow my expectations of feeding every couple of hours for the first months, but at six months and onwards, she seemed to start breastfeeding more frequently, rather than less, though much less time each time. And this carried on, and even increased after her first year. It was almost every time I sat down. To give you an idea, booby is her second name at home. Everyone around me seemed to follow the other pattern, the books one. But me. And the weaning questions started to come. My expectations, as well as what if felt, the rest of the world, differed from what was happening, and it made me feel that I was doing something wrong – was the food I cooked bad? Was I doing things wrong with my approach to food (coming next)?Should I put limits on breastfeeding? Fortunately, the internet exists, and forums, and books. And I found a book on extended breastfeeding which put me at ease. It seems that her feeding frequently was quite normal, and that there were many benefits to ‘extended’ breastfeeding. Ahhh. I relaxed. And it stopped being uncomfortable, and frustrating. And it started to feel good, and, what it was, joyful (well, not always, but most of the times). It feels strange that I needed this external corroboration, but it helped. It helps to find your pack, it helps to find you are not so weird, or that you are, but in good company!
Baby-led weaning. When the time came to start thinking about feeding her food, rather than breast milk, at six months, I rather liked the idea of what is called baby-led weaning (BLW). I am glad I did, because no spoon would cross her lips. I had a very skilled spoon-avoiding baby. But I did not care so much, because I had another option. BLW implies feeding babies what you eat, and giving them finger foods, instead of purees, and letting them feed themselves, from the very beginning. At the same time, breastfeeding (in my case, bottle feeding instead), is kept up on demand. What I had not realised is that sometimes BLW comes with small print. Some babies do not eat and just prefer to toss all the food away after playing with it, and just go for the good old boobs when talking business. And not for the expected first months, but for much longer. And this happened until, well, she was more than a year old. Not that she did not eat at all, but very little. She still does eat little. But she has always been fine somehow. And I had to adjust my expectations once again. Once I did, I again, relaxed.
And after. This one is harder, because I cannot benefit from hindsight. For me, the natural step after BLW is intuitive eating. But I am still working at it, and get confused on the how to, and tinker with it. What I am trying to avoid is the struggle over eating, and the bribery and negotiations, the categories of good and bad foods that are so common, but not sure how this will pan out yet, as I still need adjustment myself. I find it hard though, as she eats little, and sometimes does not eat her meal, but does eat heartily her ice-cream, and I feel the questions coming – from within and from outside. Though many times, she eats both at the same time. And it is not so normal….
This rambling post had at some point a purpose. Hmmm….maybe that expectations matter, and adjusting them is painful, but powerful. And that there is no other way, at least for me, but to be attentive, to change, to be flexible, to read, to find my pack. This, in hindsight, is called to trust your instincts, but somehow, it feels more complicated than that, and more of a process of knowing what your instincts are in the first place.