Warning: this post is a long one.
I am currently 36 weeks pregnant, and am stuck between the anticipation of meeting my new baby (baby no 2), getting labour over and done with, or just trying to enjoy having only one child in the world and some time to myself.
Having less than four weeks left to go makes me reminisce about the birth of my first daughter, two and a half years ago. As with anyone’s first baby, it was a tough one. Not only was the labour long and traumatising, but the recovery after the birth was, to be honest, unexpectedly difficult. When you’re pregnant with your first you seem to focus only on getting through the labour, because you’ve heard horror stories about the pain your whole life. No one bothered to mention how excruciatingly painful breastfeeding could be, or how physically exhausted you would be after hours and hours of labour, or that on top of this exhaustion, the very minimal sleep you have due to a screaming baby who wouldn’t sleep for more than ten minutes at a time (I’m not exaggerating here) could push you to borderline insanity.
Of course, everyone’s experience differs. Every baby is different, as is every mother and every labour.
Personally, it was one of the most harrowing and testing times of my (and my husband’s) life. We both agreed that people who have more than one child were just crazy. We were questioning ourselves, and our situation. Something along the lines of “What the HELL did we get ourselves into?” ran through our minds. Often. To say the least.
But, you know, the weeks crawled by, weeks filled with lots of tears, a roller coaster of emotions (to the point I’d say I had some form of post-natal depression), lots of doubt, concern and anxiety, but most of all, mounds of love for the fragile creature that had just overtaken our lives.
Eventually the seeming black hole faded. I slowly adjusted to life with a baby. Baby slowly adjusted to being in the world. And life took on a new rhythm and routine (a VERY flexible routine) that made me forget entirely what it was like before this little girl came along.
Fast forward two years and I’m pregnant again, four weeks away from meeting another little girl insha’Allah.
This time, I’m ready to face this armed with lessons of the past. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
1. Giving birth is utterly heart breaking: Yes, I’m sure you’ve all heard the often remarked words that I’m about to list. That birth is empowering, harrowing, painful, unique and essentially, the most incredible experience this life affords. For me though, after I had given birth, I was at an utter loss. I couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened. I remember that first night alone with baby in the hospital. My stomach was knotted, and twisting, and my uterus already started contracting. In my tired state I thought that there was another baby still in there. The doctors had done something wrong. I knew rationally this wasn’t possible, but my subconscious felt terrified that the being I had carried for ten months (yes, pregnancy is ten months people) was not in there anymore. When I came home I’d sometimes find myself in tears for (seemingly) no reason whatsoever. I had an amazing support network of my husband, mum, sister, mother in law etc. But I simply couldn’t cope with the enormity of what my body had just been through. The memories of the pain I had endured and the moments I had silently called out to God for help were still very raw. The moment when she left my body and we were now two separate entities was still fresh in my mind, and also in my heart. I felt like I had been torn from her. And my heart was broken. Sure, lo and behold, she was now in the world and I could hold her, and see her, and smell her and kiss her. But for some inextricable reason, the process of labour actually broke my heart.
2. You need your space: Yes, having a good support system is absolutely crucial to recovery. But what is also crucial is having some time and space away from all the people who really just want to ‘help’. While their intentions are sincere, as a first time mother what you need is some space to just figure it out yourself. To figure out YOUR child. To discover what kind of a mother you are. It does not help to have people hovering around constantly and judging what you do with baby. Or how baby is breastfeeding/feeding, or sleeping, or pooping, or breathing… I know that this time around, having the experience of one baby, I can go into this with a lot more confidence. And confidence is just not something first time mothers generally have. They need an atmosphere that is reassuring and supportive, with just the right balance of advice, care and help, but also knowing when to step back and let the new mother do her thing.
3. Trust your instincts: In a world of Doctor Google and online forums and so on, it’s really hard not to jump onto the net for every little thing and diagnose your own child with some life-threatening disease. Or to get advice on latching. Or to know that the colour of her poop is normal. ETC. It’s also hard to wade through the mounds and mounds of differing opinions on how to do what for your newborn, or 6 month old, or toddler. While I do believe it’s crucial to do your research, ask for the age old wisdom of grandparents and get the support of fellow first time mothers, what I have learnt is that raising a baby has a lot to do with trusting your instincts. You need to understand that EVERY baby is different and what may work for one mother and baby, may not work for you. Treat this as a unique relationship, with its own dynamic. Your baby responds differently to different things. Controlled crying, breastfeeding, sleeping in a separate room, co-bedding, when to go back to work, starting solids at four months or six months or eight months, teething remedies… All these things may have tried and tested methods to be dealt with, but eventually you need to look at your own child and do what works for him or her. If your instinct is telling you that your child simply needs to be comforted, or that they may need more time to adjust to sleeping on their own, then go with that. Go with your gut.
4. Life goes on: This is a really hard lesson to realise. I think it’s very easy to get caught up in baby and soon, everything you do is overtaken by this tiny being. All your energy, time, brain power and efforts suddenly get directed into keeping this baby alive… making sure that baby thrives. That baby is eating well, and is reaching developmental milestones, and gets immunisations on time, and has a routine of some kind… It can become all-encompassing. All the things that you wanted to do before baby, all your interests, career aspirations, personal and spiritual development somehow take a back seat. You think you can’t exercise and make yourself fit and healthy because you just HAVE NO TIME. Not true people. It’s just an excuse. What I realised was that to ensure baby was healthy and happy, I needed to be healthy and happy. And for me to be healthy and happy, I needed time out to focus on myself and my health- physical, mental and spiritual. Rely on the people around you- grandparents fall over themselves to look after their grandkids (generally). Your husband needs time to connect with his child- and IS capable of caring for baby (contrary to common attitudes that men are “hopeless” with kids). The point is, you need to find time to focus on yourself, to engage in activities outside of caring for the baby. You, and your children, will thank you for it later.
5. Patience: From the 10 month pregnancy, to the labour, to the recovery, to raising and disciplining my daughter, it was patience, more than anything else, that I learnt to exercise. Not losing my temper and holding in my utter frustration and anger when she throws a tantrum, or rips out all the tissues from the tissue box in the back of the car, or draws on my white walls with crayon or simply doesn’t want to get dressed in the morning (amongst a million other things) is the most tiring, most exhausting battle of raising a child. I KNOW she doesn’t do these things intentionally. She’s 2. I understand that it’s a process of discovery and curiosity in play. I can see her battling with emotions that charge in with an intensity that I’ve (supposedly) learnt to control as an adult. Yelling at her in such moments would destroy her. I know it will. So I hold myself in. I do my best to exert with herculean effort… Patience.
There is so much I could write here, so many lessons that a child brings with him/herself. The old adage that “children teach the parents more than the parents teach their children” is spot on.
Ultimately though, for me, having a child was one of the most profound lessons in knowing Allah (swt). From the moment of conception to the pregnancy, the birth, and witnessing my daughter grow, I felt like I was privy to Allah’s sheer mercy, compassion and beauty. I caught a glimpse of what patience means. At the same time, I understood that there was an ocean of things about this life, and therefore about Allah (swt) that I didn’t know. Because my daughter never ceases to surprise me, and stir emotions I didn’t know existed, and to show me how to appreciate the beauty and simple things in this world when she is captivated by it. In a time of so much disturbance to the human soul and spirit, being given the opportunity to bring life into this world gave me the chance to reconnect, to reflect and ultimately, to be in awe of the ultimate Creator of all things.