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Finding myself in my first year of being a mum

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Grace Talbot
Midwife and mum of 1

Everyone says that becoming a parent is life-changing. Well, I did not expect it to change my life like this.

I was petrified I would not feel that instant love feeling, but I did. Looking down at my squishy little ginger baby, I did not think I could fall any more in love with a human. Despite this, the first two months were difficult. In fact, I found the transition from sleepy, still-semi-teenager adult to mother the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.

Exhausted from a long latent phase, occiput posterior position labour followed by sepsis and a C-section, I was oddly wide awake for the first few days of Elwood’s life. I was lucky to be put into a side room, but with the constant ins and outs of midwives and paediatricians along with cluster feeding a tongue tied and very hungry baby, I only managed two hours of sleep a day. Two hours, that is, made up of the visiting time where Jake could come and see us. Two hours where I knew I had to sleep, but just couldn’t stop crying at the total magic of watching the love of my life with the new love of my life.

The lack of sleep shocked me. When we brought Elwood home it was manic. When I could have been sleeping, I didn’t due to my anxiety. I started to feel like my child was against me, hating me, and therefore not allowing me to sleep. Of course, now I know that the total opposite is true: he doesn’t let me sleep because he is utterly and completely obsessed with me.

I just felt like a completely different person. A bubbly, mostly carefree Grace went into that labour ward, and an anxious, sleep deprived ‘mum’ came out. Who was Grace? Where had she gone?

Some nights I would lie awake and think about my pre-baby life. It was good. I wasn’t the sort of person to be out socialising and drinking every night, but I really enjoyed my own time. My freedom to sleep whenever I wanted. A shower or bath whenever I desired one. As I lay there, I would get anxious and regret not doing more with my pre-baby life, thinking back and obsessing over it. I was so happy to be Elwood’s mum, but I missed Grace.

The good news is that I did get over that obsession with my old life, especially when I could get out by myself or even with Elwood. I loved showing him off to the world, even if it was all behind masks and hand sanitiser.

There was this lovely lady in Home Bargains that I used to talk to a lot before I was pregnant. So it was lovely being served by her again with Elwood. She said, ‘oh she is beautiful, what’s her name?’ To which I replied, ‘it’s Elwood! Or Woody for short.’ She awkwardly stared, said ‘hmm, interesting’, and gave me my receipt. I have never seen such an odd smile, and it makes me chuckle even now.

Through all of this, breastfeeding was my godsend. After a crappy birth and the trauma surrounding that, I was glad that feeding went right. There have, of course, been some hurdles such as slow weight gain, tongue tie, bleeding nips, and a cow’s milk allergy. We overcame them though after a huge learning curve.

In the early weeks, I would obsess over the app that times the feeds. When I didn’t have my phone and needed to feed, I would panic about timing them. As soon as I gave up that app at around 10 weeks postpartum, I loosened up a bit. My body and Elwood told me when he needed milk. I tried to pump to build up a stock so that I could have the occasional night away but that stressed me out and sometimes I would literally pump dust. But I knew this was no reflection of my supply. My tatties just didn’t like the artificiality of releasing milk that way.

There were a couple of months with Elwood’s cow’s milk allergy where I felt trapped. Really got the memo that this person is now stuck on me for the rest of my life, thanks universe! It turns out that the dairy free formula is vile - it stinks. I wouldn’t put it in my body, so I don’t blame Elwood for not putting it in his either. So there I was, breastfeeding him pretty much all the time. With only a very small frozen milk supply, I worried about how I would have my own life. He wouldn’t even drink the expressed milk out of a bottle anyway. But finally, after good weight gain, the dietitian approved of him trying soy milk alongside my breast milk so I could have a break from time to time. He loves soy milk, and took it well. Still, nearly 13 months on, we are breastfeeding with the odd bottle when I am away from him. I am so proud of our feeding journey, and in the end the trapped feeling was totally worth it. So to any breastfeeding mamas reading this, it is normal to feel trapped by a tiny human but it does pass.

During all of this time, I was also having a huge career crisis. I love midwifery and I am passionate about reproductive health, families and everything surrounding it. However, the thought of going back to midwifery gave me panic attacks. I’ve fallen out of love with the job of being a midwife. If I was that stressed about just the thought of being back at work, what was I going to be like when I actually went back? The ongoing birth trauma gave me cause for doubt too - I wasn’t sure I could be a good advocate for those going through the same when they needed me to be one.

I realised that I didn’t - and don’t - want Elwood to see his mummy hating work and hating her job. I probably will go back to midwifery eventually, or keep doing something along the lines of it, but not just yet. What’s more, going back to work full-time would come with lots and lots of childcare fees. Plus I simply didn’t want to be away from Elwood. So what could I do?

When Elwood was nine weeks old, we started swimming lessons. We loved them. The water, the closeness, the singing, plus it wore Elwood out so I’d always get a good two hour nap afterwards. So when a job opportunity came up to train to be a swimming teacher, I said to Jake that I right fancied it. He encouraged me to email and ask, and said that if I wanted to do it, then we could make it work.

After lots of hurdles and things that I thought would put a stop to the whole thing, I’m nearly qualified and ready to teach. I love it. You just can’t be moody in the water. There’s no social media and the outside world can’t get in. The hours work perfectly for me and in time I’ll be able to find something to do alongside it.

The first year as a new mum is really weird. You go through so much in that small amount of time. Elwood is one now, and he’s looking more like a little boy than a baby. I miss baby him so much, but I also cannot wait to see his little personality shine more as he gets older. He actually amazes me every single day with new skills and noises.

I was worried around the nine month mark as Elwood was silent, didn’t really laugh out loud, and didn’t babble much at all. He was crawling but I felt he was super quiet. The health visitor was no help at his 10 month check. Over a rubbish quality video chat she said by 10 months he should be saying three words in context, that she thought he may be deaf and that she would refer us to get his ears checked. Three months on this appointment still hasn’t happened. But a few weeks before he was one, he started chatting away. ‘Dada’ was his first word (eye roll), followed by ‘Olly’ (the dog) and ‘doggy’ (the same dog). It wouldn’t be mama, would it? You know, that person who has sacrificed her skin, body, and boobs for you. Nope, of course not.

Which brings us to now. Here I am, typing this on my phone at 10.18pm with a sleeping baby on my lap. Over the last year, I have felt tiredness, anxiety, and guilt like no other. But looking at his little sweaty head on my lap right now, I couldn’t think of anything better. I love every single part of his tiny body - even though he woke me up every hour last night and got poop all up his leg today.

I should really be asleep right now. But I’ll probably be up another couple of hours looking at photos and videos of the baby on my lap because that’s the craziness that is motherhood.