Towards the end of my pregnancy, Rich and I began wondering how we’d change after the birth of our baby. We questioned whether we’d find the same jokes funny. A friend reassured us, confidently: “Of course you’ll find the same jokes funny!” and she was right – Joni was born and we were pleased to note that we’d each retained a sense of humour. We still found farts – and other basic humour – hilarious.
But as the months go by (we’re approaching Joni’s fourth month) I’ve been noting the changes in me. Because whilst Rich and I still communicate in the same way, make each other laugh, enjoy film and art, take an interest in current affairs – I feel that having a baby has altered my sense of self quite profoundly.
It’s the small, unexpected changes that I find most interesting. I knew my body would be changed by the pregnancy and birth – for one, I now have a belly layered with stretch marks – so I was prepared for this. What I wasn’t prepared for were the following…
1. Sensitivity to sound
At first, most newborns will sleep soundly anywhere. They’ll fall asleep on your chest and lie there for hours. They’ll sleep in the car, the pram, the moses basket, the sofa, your bed. Anywhere. But then they become more awake and alert; fascinated by the world – and so the silhouette of a tree might prevent them from falling asleep on a walk, or a flashing light will jolt them from slumber.
But the biggest sleep preventer, for Joni, is noise. I’ll put her down to nap, leave the room and accidentally drop my keys on the floor. BANG – awake. So i’ve taken to walking around the house with my index finger perpetually affixed to my pursed lips, going “shhhhh!”. It might be good practise to make noise while a baby naps in the day but I don’t give a shit – we’re all a lot happier when Joni’s had a decent nap.
2. A deeper interest in maternal lineage
As I navigate blindly through the misty landscape of motherhood, I’m often looking to my mum for guidance. Not always asking her for it immediately, but instead imagining how she might have dealt with certain situations. And then I go to her for clarification – often asking about my grandmother and what she would have done, too. I cherish my maternal lineage and the qualities in my mum and grandma that I hope have been embedded in me, so that I can pass them on to Joni. Becoming a mother has reminded me of the time, love and nurturing that my own mum put in to raising me. And her mother before that.
3. Risk assessing
A friend told me recently that the way a new mother’s brain functions could be compared to a psychotic brain. The constant risk assessments – “if she’s not strapped into her buggy properly, a car might career off the road (a drunk driver?) and she’ll fall out and die. But if she is securely buckled in, the whole thing will fly in the air and i’ll dive towards it to make sure it lands safely” – can torment a new mother on every outing. This is in stark contrast to my previously lackadaisical attitude to being a pedestrian. But it is a necessary aspect of parenting: protecting our helpless babies from external dangers.
4. Next level organisation
I thought I was organised before Joni came along but that was NOTHING. These days, an appointment without her means getting up early to express milk, storing it in the fridge until it’s time to leave, making sure the nappy bag is full of outfit changes, wipes, muslins, nappies – and enlisting the help of Rich or my mum, who’ll need to be available to look after her while I go in.
And then there’s the multi-tasking. Try holding a baby on your hip while running a bath (and monitoring the temperature carefully, as it can’t be above 37 degrees), going to the toilet – as bath will inevitably lead to a long feed so no escape – preparing bed clothes and shutting the curtains.
5. Lower tolerance for unkind people
I was called paranoid, hyper-sensitive and controlling recently. Labelling a new mother like this isn’t helpful, or character-building, it’s damaging and unkind. My retort, albeit delayed, is this: what some consider to be paranoia, others would call ‘perception’. You might think i’m having paranoid thoughts, someone else might also see that you are doing those things; i’m not imagining it. If i’m sensitive, it’s because i’m adjusting to a major change in my life. But, to be honest, we’re all ‘sensitive’ when people judge us unfavourably. And to call a mother who wants to keep her very young child close ‘controlling’ is, frankly, ludicrous. It’s in the mother and baby’s best interest to be close in the early months. I have no time for people who put down other people, or who are anything other than kind – towards me, Joni, Rich, or anyone else.
6. Feeling more spiritual and connected to the earth
Having Joni has made me acutely aware of London’s pollution, of people smoking, of chemicals, of waste. It’s made me look at the planet differently because I want Joni to live a long, healthy life in this beautiful world; and her children, and their children. It’s no longer just about my generation. And so while i’ve always respected the earth, I find myself making even more effort to be less wasteful and more green.
It’s also reignited my spiritual self. I’m more in tune with the earth’s energies. I’m contemplating life and death and connectivity. I see auras and believe in karma, once again.
7. Putting someone else first
I’d heard other people say that once you’ve had a baby, they will always come first. But it’s an abstract concept until you look into the eyes of your newly-born flesh and blood. Suddenly you hardly matter at all; all that matters is this new being. Some mothers aren’t prepared to relinquish their centre-of-my-own-and-everyone else’s-world throne for their baby and this is what makes them resent becoming a parent. But they are the minority. Most mums would give their own life in an instant to save their child’s life. It’s a truly unconditional love.
I’m sure i’ll continue to change with each new beautiful moment or challenge that motherhood throws my way. My essence remains unaltered but I feel there’s a new layer on top, and some deeper layers that have resurfaced. And I wouldn’t forfeit any of it.