Jeff needed quite a bit of persuasion before he was willing to draw the pictures for our book. I like to call him “the reluctant illustrator”. It sounds all elusive and brooding – which if you’ve ever met Jeff is totally not how he is.
I love Jeff’s illustrations so much, and it was incredible to watch his drawings get better and better as he practiced. I’m going to do a post about the evolution of the artworks soon.
While we were still coming up with the story, we toyed around with the idea of having illustrations of lots of different parents and babies (a la favourites The Baby’s Catalogue or Look At You! A Baby Body Book). But in the end we decided that the best way to tell the story was to depict one parent (a Mum – the most common primary care-giver) and baby.
A lot of the illustrations you see in the book were inspired by experiences we had had and photos from Leo and Clem’s early life. Here are some examples:
I will spare you the photo of me going to the toilet with a baby on my lap. Although variations on that scenario happen almost daily, we had to stage it because funnily enough that wasn’t part of our family album.
When I was a new mum I read A LOT of blogs and articles about things that I was going through and wanting to learn more about, and I found it really helpful and normalising to read unvarnished tales of motherhood. I hope that in turn it is helpful for people to read about our story.
The main challenges I faced when I first became a mother were:
Mental health issues. I have had postnatal depression (PND), which was later diagnosed as mild postnatal psychosis, after both of my children.
If you’re having a tough time in those early months, even things said with the sweetest of intentions can induce parental guilt. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.
Let’s celebrate the things people have said that were actually helpful! They will be different for everyone but I bet there are some that are helpful for lots of new parents.
One of the cards we got when Leo was born really stuck in my mind. As well as congratulating us and saying how gorgeous Leo was, it read:
I hope you’re enjoying parenthood and there are more ups than downs.
That one sentence, amidst all the cards saying how excited they were for us and how we should enjoy this precious time, meant SO MUCH to me.
It was the kindest little reality check. No judgement was implied – just a simple wish for happiness and an acknowledgement that early parenthood can be hard yards along with all the joys.
Helpful thoughts and practical advice people have shared with me:
This too shall pass (the good will pass, the bad too. So you may as well really be in this moment).
We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Make gratitude a daily practice.
Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed.
Instead of putting your ‘parenting’ hat on, try just being yourself. It’s much more real and less energy.
It’s hard work being a baby – they’re learning so much and exposed to everything new.
You’ve got to be kind to be kind (rather than being cruel to be kind).
Motherhood is a marathon not a race.
Think about the sleep you’re getting rather than the sleep you’re not getting.
Start making dinner in the morning.
Say yes to whatever scares you most. Acknowledge it and then put your yoga to it. The fear will begin to shift and then you can see possibilities again.
Holding on tight is the surest way of seizing up any real potential for growth and change.
If something’s really not working then change it. Gently.
Unless babies have a poo in their nappy there’s no need to change them in the middle of the night.
Remind yourself that you’re doing great! (that’s the advice of our book).
In future posts I’m going to talk about some of the amazing people who have inspired me in my parenting (and inspired our book). I’m also going to write about the unhelpful things that people say to new parents.
What have been helpful things people have said to you? Please share the wisdom in the comments below!
I spent a lot of Leo’s early life on the couch. He spent most of his day either breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or asleep on me. Jeff would leave for work and I’d be on the couch, and then he’d come home and I’d still be on the couch.
Jeff was much better at being stuck on the couch than me. He always seemed to manage to have a snack in his hand and his laptop nearby.
I always managed to be busting to go to the toilet or thirsty or hungry (or all three) but I didn’t want to move in case I woke Leo.
Looking back at photos from that time I have made an inventory of all the stuff I can see in the photos. It was like my office and I had a good set-up going on.
Glasses of water
Pillows covered in blankets and towels
Cloths for wiping up baby vomit
Motillium (to increase my milk supply)
Phone (landline – didn’t have a smart phone yet)
A toothbrush (a lactation consultant said that stimulating the breast with an electric toothbrush could help my supply)
A notebook and pen to write down the times of all his feeds
For those of you who are new to our blog, the reason we are writing about all this stuff is that we have written a picture book for new parents to remind them how great they are doing. It is the book that we wish had when Leo was little. You can read more about our rough-around-the-edges look at early parenting here.
We have been working on it for years (in our heads), and actually did the writing and illustrating over the past year. The book is finished! We will be launching a crowdfunding campaign on the 2nd of August so we can print a small run of board books. We would love your support – more on that soon.
This is is one of the spreads from the book. Our brown couch from this era has a supporting role.
When I first had Leo, I had a major case of FOMO. Not leaving the house to go to work five days a week, and realising that I hadn’t been out at night for months, was a major adjustment. I think Leo was about five months old when I first went out for a quick dinner with a friend (just down the road so I could rush home if I needed to).
All of the measures of success I had subscribed to up until now (academic, career, creative output, good relationships, number of friends, how busy I was) – they all meant NOTHING.
SO WHO THE HELL WAS I NOW? I didn’t recognise myself.
It took me a while, but ultimately I came to like the new ‘me’.
Prioritised sleep over pretty much everything else.
Thought about someone else before myself.
Could say ‘no’ more easily.
Was more comfortable in my own company.
Could communicate my needs.
Three years after I became a mum, my friend Tabitha had her first baby. We have an ongoing conversation about all things to do with motherhood and one day we had a conversation about all the things you give up when you have a child. All the things that go on hold – some of them never to be picked up again.
I am not sure which one of us said it, but we decided that the key question was “Where else would I rather be?” The vast majority of the time, the answer was (and is) “nowhere“, which was quite a shocking realisation at the time. As much as the days drag on sometimes, by the time it’s the kids’ bedtime, I look forward to stories and bath-time and kissing their soft cheeks and having a sniff of their heads (I’m a head sniffer like my Dad). It’s a mixture of exhaustion, growing older and Stockholm Syndrome… It’s also the knowledge that, as Gretchen Rubin says
The days are long, but the years are short.
Some days I need reminding, but much of the time I am in touch with the fact that there will be plenty of time for dinner parties and long baths by myself and going to the toilet without someone sitting on my lap. (I wrote more about my attempt to live in the present moment in my post about Sarah Napthali’s book Buddhism for Mothers).
Comedian and father Louis C.K. put all this very eloquently:
“When I first got married and had kids, I had some friends I played poker with on Mondays and I thought: The poker game on Mondays, that’s the water line. If I don’t make that game, I’m losing something. I’m losing something if I don’t make it to that game. It means I’m letting go of my youth, I’m letting go of my manhood, all these things — my independence.
“But then after a while I realized: Why would I want to go play poker with a bunch of guys in a smoky room when I could be at home with my family? I realized that a lot of the things that my kid was taking away from me, she was freeing me of. There was this huge pride in having a kid and also that I didn’t matter anymore. The greatest thing about having a child is putting yourself second in your own life. It’s a massive gift to be able to say you’re not the most important person to yourself.”
After spending the last six years listening to women’s stories of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood, I have seen women dealing with all sorts of challenges.
Challenges to do with:
Mother’s health (mental or physical)
Sleep (baby’s or mother’s)
Family or relationship stress
Isolation and loneliness
Outside stress (death of a family member, moving house, financial stress).
There are surely exceptions, but I can’t think of a mother I know who hasn’t faced one challenge or another (or multiple challenges). It’s as if this is part of a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood.
Sometimes women face these challenges alone – not wanting to tell anyone what they are going through. Especially if their issues are hidden, such as injuries from birth or pregnancy. Other times it’s very obvious that they are being challenged to their core. At the time it’s not something you would ever hope for, but often there are amazing insights that can come out of dealing with one (or more) challenges in that early time.
I found that the challenges I faced as a new mum have given me deep compassion for other mothers’ struggles. Our book has been borne out of this compassion and everything we have learnt.
Through Leo’s birth I learnt how to communicate my needs and advocate for myself and my child. I don’t feel like I can know for sure what Clem’s birth has taught me until he is a bit older, but one year on it has taught me that surrendering to, and learning from, life’s ups and downs is my life’s work.
It’s so important to honour our disappointment when things don’t go as we had hoped. I remember my despair when I couldn’t produce enough milk to sustain Leo. I needed to grieve. Gratitude would come later, once I’d honoured my sadness and my profound wish that things could be different. (I will write more about my journey with breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue in a later post.)
It’s easy for people who aren’t in a mother’s position to belittle her feelings of loss and disappointment when things don’t go as she had hoped and planned for, or dismiss them as ‘first world problems’. This is so unhelpful. Everything feels heightened with a new baby around and what the mother needs is support and empathy – not “at leasts” e.g. “at least you have a healthy baby”.
I had mild postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression after the births of both of my children. I thought that all the work I had done and the lifestyle changes I’d had would mean that I’d be fine after Clem was born, but it happened again. Mental illness is bad enough at anytime, but trying to recover while you’re also looking after and getting to know a baby with round-the-clock needs is extremely challenging. Beating myself up about getting sick again wasn’t productive, but I have had times when I felt like a failure for having it happen a second time.
Women dealing with challenges: I salute you.
It can feel so lonely to be going through whatever it is you’re going through. I know so well that feeling of just wanting your family to have a happy life free from struggle. I solemnly hope that you find some peace in whatever your sorrow is.
Whenever I am taking parenting too seriously I think about this poem and it never fails to give me a smile. There is something charming and disarming about rhyme. I hope that our book (with its rhyme and all) contains some of the humourous spirit of Larkin’s poem.
Wishing all the mothers out there a happy Mothers’ Day.
The first mothers’ day I celebrated as a mum was a joyful day. We saw my mum and I got to wish her a heartfelt happy Mothers’ Day – aware of the highs and lows that motherhood brings.
Leo was 5 months old and I was recovering from postnatal depression and finding my way as a new parent. Jeff and I were renegotiating our relationship now that there were three people in our family and our responsibilities and lifestyle had changed so much. I was getting to know Leo, forging an identity for myself outside of work, and forgiving myself for all the things that had been different from how I’d hoped (such as breastfeeding)… It was a tender, wonderful, intense time.
It is memories like these that inspired Jeff and I to write You’re Doing Great, Baby. It’s the book we wish we’d had when Leo was born – telling us that we were doing great, that our baby was doing great, and that we were going to make it through those early sleepless months just by hanging in there, taking each day at a time and reaching out for support when we need it.
This morning I was treated to breakfast in bed, made by Leo who is now five years old. Baby Clem was climbing all over the bed, and I was counting my blessings.
We are going to be writing more about our story and our progress writing and illustrating the book. We hope you’ll come along on the journey with us.