Updated: Apr 6, 2020
If you asked me how I was in the first 6-8 weeks as a new māmā and I answered "good.", I'm sorry, I lied to you. As a new mum I was struggling with an identity crisis, sleep deprivation, a struggle to really bond with my son, healing my body, learning to change nappies and breastfeed, adjusting to a new whanau dynamic, and above all else - learning to love my pēpi and all that comes with him. I think every new mum has a similar, if not identical, list of things they are going through. We all just say "good" because it is the easy answer and we are lead to believe that's how we should feel immediately after giving birth. But guess what? If we all say that it only feeds into that idea and makes it harder for the next new māmā who now thinks she is the only one struggling with those things.
All I saw of other mums was the highlight reels on social media of how they never knew love before their baby and how the second they saw their pēpi they were instantly in love. That didn't happen for me, I didn't feel I was immediately bonding with my baby. I loved him and he was so precious but I wasn't IN LOVE with him instantly. This was a new little person with their own little personality and I had to get to know my son first. If you are like me I just want you to know that doesn't mean you are a bad mum, or a failure, or that you've made a mistake that can't be reversed. If you don't instantly feel like your baby has changed your entire outlook on life that is okay. You can instantly know to take care of your pēpi while you learn all about them, the falling in love with them may take some time, just like when you start any other relationship. You can admit you are struggling and haven't mastered being a māmā and still be grateful for and love your pēpi.
I had such unrealistic expectations of myself. I wish I had asked all the people who helped us out in the first few weeks to time what they had done so I could have calculated and known it would be impossible for me to do it all when the help went back home; headed to the Rugby World Cup in Japan; or went back to work. In my head it made logical sense that now I was home all day I should take care of the whare, right? Going from full-time work where I had measurable success, to stay at home mum where some days would be a struggle to get dressed, eat, and use the toilet made me feel like the most useless person on earth. If you're in the survival stages right now it will get better! People will tell you it doesn't but I think they just get caught up in the next challenge and forget how hard it is at the start. You get time for yourself back, it might not be for very long, or everyday, but you can make it happen eventually.
The transition into parenthood for my partner and I wasn't as simple as "we'll do this as a team" like we had discussed while I was pregnant and before we even decided we should try for a baby. There are certain things Dad's just can't do because they have useless nipples. It's not that he didn't want to help, but a clustering baby only wants one thing and he didn't always know how else to help. Getting used to the idea that teamwork doesn't quite look how you thought it would while being majorly sleep deprived and hormonal can be a challenge to say the least. The rage may come at 2am while your partner is snoring. "Can you just change 1 nappy so I can sleep for 10 minutes!" Don't beat yourself up about being a little hōhā, he doesn't really care, he knows you're going through a lot. He will be fine to work tomorrow with 20 minutes less sleep than normal, afterall, you've had 2 hours broken sleep in the last 4 weeks. He'll have to sub in on dinners for a couple weeks (or longer), maybe clean a toilet every now and then. He just sometimes needs you to ask. In our household the division of labour before pēpi was basically that I cooked and cleaned and my partner did the rubbish and lawns. That was never a gendered thing, far from it. I like to feel as though I am taking care of him and those are some of the ways I like to show that. For me I felt like a failure that I couldn't continue to look after my partner in the same way as before by cooking him a nice dinner after a long day at work. Realising that division of labour needed to change took some getting used to, some tears, and some 10pm dinners. Eventually you will accept that you can't do it all and that not being able to cook every meal is a part of your new life - if that sounds great I'm sorry to rain on your parade, it's probably not because you'll be sat back with a glass of wine and a massage watching your favourite TV show.
To a well-rested, hydrated, fed, and hormonally balanced person it is logical that a baby can't tell you what they want and crying is their only form of communication. To a new māmā it is easy to get caught up in the frustration of the neverending feed, burp, change, and sleep cycles and forget that you have needs too. Before having a pēpi of my own I never understood needng to put baby in a safe place (like the cot) while you calm down, get something to eat, go to the toilet, or just take a breather. Even go outside to hang the washing if baby is safe, still in earshot, and you can still see him through the window. Sometimes you just need some distance between your ear and his cries so you can come back and be a bit more calm which will benefit you both, it doesn't make you a bad mum. If your village is like mine and all over an hours drive away, remembering this tip will save you many times.
It can be hard work being stuck in a house with a little person who can't tell you what they want. I learned that if all his needs were met and he was still crying we needed to go for a walk. Sometimes he would scream the first 5 minutes and I would turn back, other times he would settle and we would get a good walk in, but every time when we got back home I felt better within myself. Fresh air and endorphins were huge for my sanity, they always have been, even through my struggles with depression, self harm, and social anxiety in my teenage years. If exercise or fresh air isn't your thing insert something else as your 'peace of mind go-to' activity you can do with baby when you just need to get out of the house.
Leaving the house in the first few weeks can feel like a huge mission and cause hours of unneeded anxiety and worry. I learned that you both have to get out and about, if not to get things done, then for your sanity. Use the car as your retreat station and don't go too far at first. With any luck your baby will eventually fall asleep in the pram. Just remember if your baby cries, your chances of seeing the same exact strangers again are so low and who even cares? Other than you? Nobody. Shopping centres are a good place to go because the parents rooms have breastfeeding cubicles with curtains and massive changing benches - It's not just some mysterious room hidden away with a gross plastic change table, they're mostly pretty clean and well equipped. Most of them even have little playgrounds for bigger kids! Use the pram parks, get some fresh air, you don't have to buy anything or see anyone, just practice getting out. It will only take 5-6 times max before you've got it pretty much sorted (minus the occasional unexpected extra feed or poop explosion that will still catch you off guard).
Sleep deprivation will do some crazy things to you. I dreamt I was feeding, burping and putting my baby back in his bassinet all the time and then my partner would wake me up to feed him and I would glare at him like "What the hell man I just fed him, let me sleep", only to find out that was over an hour ago as recorded on my handy app. Lack of sleep will send your hormones all over the place (as if you need anymore of that after what your body just went through). You will probably question whether this is just baby blues or whether Post-Natal Depression is on the cards at some point, whether it is or not. Talk to your midwife, partner, GP, Plunket nurse, any friends or whanau and if you feel like someone isn't listening or not taking you seriously, find someone else to talk to. Everyone is willing to help. Don't try be the tough guy who has to do everything for themselves like I thought I could. They say it takes a village for a reason. Even if people don't offer, just ask. They'll either be more than happy to help, or they'll leave and then you can do whatever it is that needs doing in your baby's next cycle.
"Sleep when the baby sleeps" is rubbish advice! I'll say it. You can't sleep everytime the baby sleeps, you have other basic needs. Eat, use the toilet, and brush your teeth while the baby sleeps would be more realistic advice. Washing eventually has to be done, dishes have to be done, and toilets and showers have to be cleaned - okay the toilet and shower can wait a little while. They don't all have to be done at once though, work them in shifts when you get 2 minutes. Run a load of washing in the morning if you can and who cares if you have to hang it inside on a sunny day because it took you all day to come back to it. Ask for help if you feel like things are piling up and it is stressing you out. You don't have to be the one to do everything that needs doing at home. If it's not stressing you out then just know that nobody really cares what your house looks like - even your partner. He doesn't think you're useless, his baby is cared for. Your baby doesn't care what the house looks like, he has a clean butt and kai in his puku. Your visitors don't care what the house looks like, they came to see the baby.
Your new routine will take some getting used to. Get up and dressed early in the day. Move to the lounge and nap in there when you get the chance rather than cycling in the bedroom for hours. Move some snacks for you in a container near where you feed baby for the days you can't get to the kitchen. I had some days I couldn't leave my son to get something to eat until 2pm. Get outside when you can, even if your baby is hōhā, you can always go back inside. Stand up! I would get stuck in this feed, burp, change cycle and forget about standing up. Apparently it's science that they settle when you stand up (acccording to the results of one of my many panicked google searches). Prolong turning the TV on, listen to music or put on a podcast - you won't get a chance to actually watch TV anyway, I only ever wanted background noise. Routine to some extent will help you both but be open to change it at any moment as well. Being a māmā requires extreme flexibility - something I never thought my stubborn Taurus self was capable of. Thank you Aquarius partner for teaching me to be more free.
Try to remember that crying is your baby's only way to communicate, he doesn't hate you. Your baby will get bigger, eat less, develop more of a personality, enjoy more things, smile at you, laugh with you, and play independently in no time. You've got this māmā!
Where to get help if you feel you may need it:
Your Plunket Nurse
Waikato Family Centre - (07) 834 2036 - you can make an appointment and go here and they will help care for baby, help with sleep training, have private chats about what you're going through, or support groups with other mums
Waikato DHB maternal mental health crisis team - 0800 50 50 50
Plunketline - 0800 933 922
NZ mental health line - 0800 1737 or text 1737 at anytime