Please forgive me when I say that I was a bit of a smug new mum; I actually found I could handle the newborn phase. I didn’t get much sleep, and I was in a lot of pain from a true butchering down below, which made me cry. A lot. But I was lucky and with the help of my husband, family and friends I managed; and I coped.
Six months later however, and I am a circus. I am constantly covered in food/vomit/stale milk/sweat and human excrement (normally belonging to my baby). I cry without provocation, I am almost constantly ratty and go over my worries obsessively with my long-suffering husband on a daily basis. I am exhausted after not sleeping properly for months and I look like I just finished a seriously gruelling stint on Bear Grylls’ “Island”, but in a version where cake was readily available!
What makes the six month mark so hard? And why aren’t we warned about it? I’ve chatted to my NCT friends and they’ve experienced the same, saying this is the hardest part so far. And yet after birth, everyone says ‘it gets easier’.
For me, it’s about our expectations of ourselves and our perception of what others expect of us. Before I had our little girl, I figured that by six months, I’d have it sorted; my friends with children seemed to have it sussed after the newborn phase and I figured that as I my working week was pretty full-on pre-baby, I’d be absolutely fine on part-time hours whilst looking after a 6 month old. I was sure she’d be sleeping through the night, I’d be baking all the time and we’d be having plenty of weekends away. Hilarious.
My little girl is gorgeous at 7 months old, but she wakes every 2 hours or more (I’m fairly sure we’re still in the 4 month sleep regression) she will not eat anything off a spoon and she refuses to nap unless very specific criteria are met. My living room looks like CBeebies has vomited all over it and it’s been longer than I want to admit since I cleaned my kitchen floor. The perception that I’d have got it all together by this point was certainly warped.
Then there’s other people. When I was strolling/limping out on week 2 looking pretty fresh, people flattered me and I loved it “o, you’ve done so well to be out so soon”, “wow, you’re a super Mum”. Their expectations were low and I could exceed them. It’s different now. I feel I’m expected to look good, to have a baby that doesn’t scream in public, to be on top of her sleep, to get the perfect balance between feeding her healthy food and allowing her treats. The tone that people around me take has changed “oh, she still doesn’t nap in her cot? You need to be careful, you’ll be making a rod for your own back”, “Should she be eating that?”. Weaning babies in public is also hard, and messy. I’m more embarrassed about it than I thought I’d be and it’s less straight forward than it looked.
The truth? It’s impossible to know. Maybe people judge, maybe people don’t. Maybe people say ‘you’ll make a rod for your own back’ to be helpful, maybe they are trying to be condescending. Maybe people are opinionated, maybe they are just trying to say the right thing. Maybe people are judging me for how messy it is when she eats out, maybe they are actually shooting me kind looks of encouragement. Sometimes I’m quick to believe the negative, but maybe it would be more helpful for me to consider the realistic.
What I do know is that I’m not the only person to find the 6 month mark tough, I’m not the first Mum to bicker unreasonably with her incredibly supportive husband, I’m not the first woman to wake up some mornings and think she just can’t do it and I’m not the only parent lying in bed some nights thinking about how they messed it all up today. And if the worst is true, and people think I’m doing a bad job; what of it? I know I’m pushing hard to be the best Mum I can be, and that has to be enough because there’s nothing left in me. Off they can trot with their opinions while I get on with my mothering.
So, the point of this article; give yourself a break if you’re struggling and you think you shouldn’t be. It’s probably time to challenge your expectations of yourself and your perceptions of what others expect of you. You’re not the only one feeling this way even if it seems like it. Hold your head high, and know that whether it gets easier or harder, you’re raising a mini human in the best way you can, and for better or worse, you’ll get though it.
You’re a tougher cookie than you think.