25 October 2013

To My First-time Mother Self

Dear Jess, in 2008.

You have a baby in your arms. A real, live new little person that belongs to you. Whoa. For those first few days, I know you couldn't put him down. You wanted to. But he didn't. And I know that was hard. I know you were exhausted. I know you just wanted half an hour to be your own self again. I wish I could have told you that the moment that little boy entered your world, you would be irrevocably changed. Your definition of self would shift and be redefined to include this small person. I know that shift didn't come easily to you. I remember you sobbing on the phone to your sister-in-law that it was really hard. I remember how awesome she was to come over at 9pm so you could talk in person. That was great. I also know that you loved that baby. That even though you had NO IDEA what it meant to be a full time, first time mother to a newborn and just how demanding that is, that boy was yours, and you were proud of him.

I know that you spent a lot of your pregnancy being told that you were doing the wrong thing by choosing a home birth. I know how much that affected you. I remember the sleepless nights after awful, thoughtless comments from people who thought they were right and you weren't. It wasn't pleasant, but what came out of that was a greater understanding that birth is personal and everyone has the right to choose their place, in an educated and informed way. And that there is never a place for negativity for a woman preparing to give birth for the first time. A calm, loving discussion, yes. Never condemnation. So good job Mama - your first home birth was incredible!

I remember too that a lot of people told you that "babies love routine" and "you can leave your baby to cry." Both of which are true, but only to a certain extent. What I wish someone had actually said to me was that babies like predictability. Knowing that Mum is there, ready for a cuddle and a feed if it's needed. That a baby is not a clock, only needing to be fed every three hours, and not a moment sooner! That making your crying baby wait 10 minutes because "it's not time yet" is cruel. I so wish someone had said that all my baby needed was me to love him and listen to him. I cringe when I remember a visit we had from a man who said "it's okay if you want to leave him crying, it doesn't bother me" and so you thought that's what you were expected to do. And your little baby cried and cried and cried until that man went home and you felt like you were allowed to pick him up. It makes 2013-me angry thinking that I let other people dictate how I should be a mother. I wish you knew then that you had a mother's intuition, and that it was good!

I know how you would like to say that you wish you had taken the time to bond properly with your little boy. But I remember how incredibly overwhelmed you were. How tired you were. How much breastfeeding HURT. How incredibly painful it was for a long time. I know how you still have scars. I know how you lived in a different town to your family and just about all your friends and how isolated you felt. I remember. So I need you to be gentle with yourself. To know that you did the best you could. I need you to know that even though you didn't feel it at first, you love that boy to your very soul. I need you to know that your best - then and now - IS good enough.

My advice to you, my First-time Mother Self, is to prioritise rest and sleep. To tell visitors you were on your way to bed so please come back another time. Because you need to protect your bond with your boy. You need to have enough to be able to feed of yourself to him. To care for him from your heart. I would tell you that nothing will ever change you as much as becoming a mother has. That the change is a good one. A great one. You will not regret it, though it be hard right now. I would tell you that it's great that you know how to look after a baby, and to be patient with yourself and your baby as you learn to be a mother. I would tell you to trust your instincts. No-one knows how to be a mother to your boy except you. You are the authority on your baby. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Love him. Look at him. Cuddle him. When he wriggles too much, cuddle him when he sleeps instead. Read lots about baby things, but filter it all through what works for you and what is right in your heart for your baby. I would definitely tell you that though breastfeeding is an excruciating process for you right now, it is so worth it. It is so worth it. You are amazing that you worked through it and continued on strong.

I would tell you that becoming a mother is a process that makes you more selfless. This is not always an easy thing to become, but it is good to be less selfish. I would tell you that you will never see the world the same way ever again. Becoming a mother makes a connection in you that will never be broken. You and every mother on the planet now share the knowledge of love for a child and the strength therein.

You've just had your first baby and it's intense. But it's incredible. The journey might not be enjoyable all the time (I do remember the time you had to wake your husband in the middle of the night for a poo explosion you just could not handle by yourself!) so I'm not going to tell you to enjoy every moment of it, but do keep your sense of humour (it will serve you well) and your voice of reason. Do understand that you - and your body - have just been through something enormous and it won't all be smooth sailing. But you have a son now. You have a son. You have become a mother, and you are amazing.

Love from,
your 2013 self.


  1. Beautiful thoughts Jess x x you are doing great x

  2. Gorgeous letter, and lovely lovely thoughts :)

  3. I am really glad New Zealand women get a home birth option, full stop.

    In many countries - my country of origin included - it is not allowed. (Or maybe things have changed since, I don't know, but up until a few years ago it wasn't allowed. Some midwives/doulas, more often than others, "happened" upon "unplanned" home deliveries where "things progressed fast enough that transport was unadvisable" - but every time they did that, they risked their jobs.) I know that in New Zealand it's got to do with transportation issues as much as it's got to do with women's rights in general, because in a country where several decent towns are a 4-5 hour drive away from a tertiary hospital, making women go to a hospital is a guaranteed way of making MANY children be born in cars - but still, regardless of reasons I am very grateful to be living in a country where home birth is considered a healthy option.

    I never encountered any criticism against home births, not towards me nor anyone else I knew. In antenatal classes it was discussed as equally as hospital births, and my midwife never pushed me either way, instead letting me choose what I felt was right.

    I didn't consider a home birth - my "home" at a time being a 1-bedroom rental apartment - but I did prefer a maternity unit in Alexandra which is essentially a four-bedroom house that gets used for birthing. Basically, looks like a home.

    In the end, I didn't get an option since (prolonged) ruptured membranes put me on a straight line to a hospital that needed to have all the epidural/cesarean/syntocinon capabilities, but even then I was still grateful for having had that option/freedom of doing what I felt was right.

    I'm sorry you were discouraged from birthing at home. I wonder if even in New Zealand things have changed since then as in 2010-11 I never heard/saw any discouragement. Or was it maybe just part of living in Wanaka where lots of births are home births anyway, given the travelling distance to Dunedin?

    But I am very, very glad you live in a country where legal setting allows you to have your babies at home and I hope that in Estonia where no cottage/hut/house/insert-your-accommodation-here is more than a 90-minute drive away from a tertiary hospital will soon, too, make home births legal so that women can stop circulating home-birth-supporting midwives' names like secret documents, passed from trusted friends to trusted friends.

    There are many things in New Zealand I don't agree with, but the support given to women around pregnancies and births is not among them. I think the system here allows for such freedom and variety that I am honestly and thoroughly grateful I get to be pregnant for the second time here. Even though my first was an extended, complicated, intervened labour with my son then spending another two weeks in NICU, I felt supported all over and have no doubts about entering this experience again. And though I will, yet again, have a straight line to Christchurch Women's now (given the previous experience and scarring), I am glad that given another set of circumstances, I could've opted to simply do it at home instead, and that's awesome.

    Thank you for sharing and making me think.

  4. I hear a resounding "hear hear" from the entire mothering population. This is a great, thoughtful post Jess. You are a beautiful Mama, and those first child moments can be forgiven. Everyones learning then, aye?! xxxxxxxx

  5. Oh my gosh, I love this letter!! Wish I would have read it in my first few days of becoming a brand new mother :) I totally agree with you on prioritise and sleep! I wish I would have done more of that instead of worrying about "not getting everything done" or offending someone who came to visit (and spent ALLLLLLL afternoon holding your sleeping baby so that when they left you couldn't sleep and had a screaming baby instead, ugh) instead of asking them to leave because I needed my sleep!
    You are an amazing mom!!

  6. I have just cried and cried through this... it all comes back fresh. I have two children now - number one is 3.5; but she had silent reflux and cried all day, every day. It was tough, and took a long time for the bonding to take place - but I loved her something fierce, and still do. However some of the mistakes I made has taken a long time to be forgiven (by me), and sometimes I realise (like tonight) that it is still quite raw. I wish I knew then what I know now.


I love to read your comments very much. xxx