My ten week old baby had closed his beautiful blue eyes approximately three times in his entire life. I wasn’t just tired, I was WIRED. My brain was breaking the sound barrier as it hurtled around my skull. I felt like I was on fast forward and a bit tweaky as I arrived early for our second mothers group session at the local health clinic.
I couldn’t get into the classroom because the nurses were having a staff meeting, so I waited outside, hugging my wide-eyed baby and mentally reviewing everything I’d read about baby sleep in the last couple of months (I never stopped reading). I thought about all the questions I was going to ask the nurse when the session started. I kicked myself for not bringing a notebook.
As I sat on the hard plastic chair, mindlessly rocking my tiny President of the ‘Sleep is for Losers’ club, I could hear the nurses inside the room having a laugh. They were talking about mothers – specifically the kind of mothers that came to this particular clinic on the Northside of Canberra. A clinic used mostly by middle-class, career women in their thirties.
“These mums are so much harder,” I heard a nurse laugh. Huh? My ears pricked up.
“They have to know everything,” said another. “They over think everything!!” More laughter.
“Yes!” actual cackling now…. “They treat their babies like their job!! They don’t listen to their instincts, they panic about EVERYTHING!”
Did I mention how tired I was? I was probably sitting there with my shirt wide open, maternity bra unclipped, a damp breast pad sitting in my lap… but through the fog, I was fairly sure I’d just been insulted.
When our class started, I looked around the group of first-time mothers. All of them in their thirties, all of them educated and successful in their careers. All of them looking a little frazzled, stressed and determined to “figure out” these strange little creatures. All still trying to find that elusive “mother’s instinct”.
We had one exception. One mum who was 21 and still getting her diploma. She never looked anxious or confused. She just got on with it in a very relaxed, instinctual way. She didn’t seem to stress about every little thing. She seemed happy to learn as she went, with the confidence that everything would be ok. She was a natural.
The rest of us spent the first few months of our kids’ lives swapping research papers and articles we’d read and sharing reviews of baby products to make sure we were doing everything the “right way”. We over-analysed every sleep regression, every weird poo, every feed that didn’t go to plan. We intellectualised everything.
I started to think those cackling nurses might have been a tiny bit right.
It kinda makes sense. At a certain point in your life, you stop flying by the seat of your pants. You take on responsibility, you make decisions, solve problems, innovate, meet targets and goals. You feel like you have control over your life. You know who you are and where you’re going.
But then you have a baby and suddenly you are at the mercy of the most insubordinate human being ever.
This tiny newborn takes charge with absolutely ZERO credentials and NO life experience, but expects you to do exactly what he wants.
In the workplace, this would definitely be a matter for HR. There’d be a meeting of some sort. Possibly an awkward mediation where HR makes you both talk about your needs, the team’s needs and strategies for working together as a cohesive unit.
At the very least, you’d be bitching to your work mates about this little turd who has no respect for seniority.
But there’s no HR at home. There’s no organisational flow chart to show this kid who’s boss. There are no Standard Operating Procedures to follow.
There’s just you and a baby who will literally shit on you if he feels like it.
So you try to outsmart this kid by reading every book and article you can find. You figure the answers are there… you just need to find them. But the answers just make everything worse.
“Put the baby down drowsy but awake/ make sure there’s lots of noise so baby gets used to it/ use white noise to drown out all the noise/ leave the baby to cry/ leaving baby to cry will leave your child with psychological scars/ establish a strict routine/ listen to your instinct and follow the baby’s lead…..”
If you’re used to being good at things, it might just send you a over the edge. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at my child and said “I have a MASTERS degree. I’m SMARTER than you!” Because that’s just how smart I am. I was comparing graduate degrees with a newborn.
It can all make you feel like a complete and utter failure, because you should be good at this…
I calmed down, eventually. We all did. As we gave up control and stopped trying to rationalise everything, we embraced the lack of rules and structure. We finally understood that there are things we’ll never understand. We started to give our own diagnosis of “baby weirdness” to anything we couldn’t explain. We felt ok about not knowing it all. And it all started to feel a lot more natural, and A LOT more fun.
We all found our mother’s instinct. It was hiding behind a pile of books.
Do you think the nurses were right? Do you think being a bit older or a bit more ‘corporate’ makes you a more anxious first-time mum? Do you think some young mums are more natural because they aren’t such control freaks and maybe don’t feel the pressure to ‘succeed’ at mothering like older mums do? Can all this overthinking get in the way of enjoying parenthood?