New motherhood, once again

New Motherhood, Once Again
A document of gratitude and love

The hood goes up; I’m a mother, again.
And it’s not just me whose role changes:
My mother’s a new grandma,
My daughter is now a sister,
My sister is an auntie anew.
My brother – an uncle,
My father a grandpa,
My husband’s a new father, too.

Life shifts and twists; I’m a mother, again.
And it reminds me of all that I have:
A mother who nurtures,
A daughter with such tenderness,
A sister who’s like my backbone.
A brother enamoured,
A father who dotes,
A husband who puts my needs before his own.

As I sit and reflect on being a mother, again.
I’m so grateful for all that I have:
A mother who is generous,
A daughter full of laughter,
A sister who will always give me time.
A brother cracking jokes,
A father eager and willing,
A husband whose ideals reflect mine.

Because becoming a mother; a mother, again –
Makes me feel somewhat vulnerable and in need:
Of my mother’s love,
Of my daughter’s forgiveness,
Of my sister protecting me.
Of my brother’s companionship,
Of my father’s rational thoughts,
Of my husband – with whom I’m safe and yet free.

by Annie Ridout ©

My little ball of wool

I am the needle, with you as my thread;
separate beings but where I go, you’re led.
In those early days, when you were curled up small,
i’d wrap you up in blankets, or muslin to keep you cool.
You were complex and compact, like tightly wound yarn,
and each cry required fixing, so I learned to darn.
We were bonded – and bonding – every waking hour;
you’d wail for my body when I was in the shower
and you’d yearn for my milk as I closed my eyes to sleep
but when nestled near my breast, I wouldn’t hear a peep.
You could say we’re in a bubble – but it’s more a ball of wool
that will slowly be unravelled: you’re the thread and I’m your spool.
I will guide you like a needle, keep you grounded like a bobbin,
let you run, explore, be free –
but keep you safe and bound to me.

by Annie Ridout

Motherhood has changed me

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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 fifth 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. 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.

6. 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.

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Before Joni was born, I spoke with friends about how I intended to continue seeking intellectual stimulation after the birth and to not become completely lost in a world of nappies and newborn baby photos. I was, and still am, keen to socialise with other mothers – but as well as sharing baby anecdotes, I wanted to be discussing adult issues.

And I maintain that it’s important to engage with the wider world. But what I didn’t realise was how utterly all-consuming motherhood would be. You can’t convey, sufficiently, to someone who isn’t a parent how it feels to bring a new life into the world. How besotted you become with this wholly dependent being. And so I didn’t understand other parents’ attempts to relay this to me.

So then Joni was born and suddenly my life completely changed direction. Or perhaps it was the same direction – but just playing out at a different pace. A much slower, more considered pace. Everything I do, including but not limited to: going to the loo, preparing food, shopping, getting on the tube, leaving one room to get something from another, going to bed – requires careful consideration because I’m no longer rolling solo. Now there are two of us, at all times.

I enjoy the challenges of motherhood – there’s nothing as satisfying as soothing a crying baby. Or as joyous as making your baby smile and laugh, or as funny as hearing them release huge farts – and so I want to share these experiences with my friends and family. But then I’m reminded of those conversations during pregnancy – the ones where I said my Facebook feed wouldn’t be filled with photos of my baby, or that my conversations wouldn’t be dominated by poo stories – and suddenly I feel guilty for every conversation about Joni. Like I’m burdening other people with the details of my seemingly mundane life. But to me it’s so far from mundane.

That’s why reading psychotherapist Naomi Stadlen’s book: What Mothers Do (especially when it looks like nothing) – and her stance on becoming a mother – is so refreshing, and reassuring. She compares the initial shock of having a newborn baby to the emotional and physical changes we experience when falling into ‘erotic love’, but we prepare very differently for each event:

‘We don’t go to falling-in-love preparation classes. Rather, the enormity of falling in love is described in songs and poetry, as tragedy and comedy, so it is communicated on many different levels by one generation to the next. ‘Oh, she’s in love,’ we say, and those two crucial words convey a wealth of meaning. We expect the person who is in love to be dreamy, moody, forgetful, unavailable for ordinary commitments and wholly focused on the beloved person.’

This, too, is how a new mother may feel and behave. And yet she’ll often feel guilty for being fixated on the new object of her love and affection: her baby. Imagine feeling guilty for putting up pictures of you and your boyfriend on Facebook? Or for worrying that you’re talking about him too much with friends? You wouldn’t, because friends should be delighted that you’re happy and should revel in your tales and photos. Of course, most of the guilt a new mother feels is self-inflicted. I know that my friends and family love hearing about Joni, and my experience of motherhood. They’ve not once made me feel as if I should change the subject – I issue myself with limitations.

But I want to be out and proud, rather than apologetic, about falling in love with Joni. There’s nothing more beautiful than new love – this is why it’s the subject of some of the greatest films, novels, poetry and paintings – and this certainly is new love. I’m writing songs and poetry about Joni and the new journey I’m on, as well as filling my blog with posts about motherhood because, right now, this is what I’m doing. And it’s beautiful and enriching and eye-opening – and as wonderful and inspiring as falling in (romantic) love for the first time.

The novelty of true love never wears off but we become less utterly submerged in the object of our affection, and more able to focus on other aspects of life. So if my Facebook feed’s a little baby-heavy, or my conversations centre around sleep routines and nappy breaches, fear not: I’ll soon come back down to earth. But in much the same way that your first love opens your eyes to something so all-encompassing and magnificent, Joni’s arrival has changed me profoundly and i’ll never be quite the same again.

Baby. Breasts are for babies, not lads. Lads may like them, but babies need them for nourishment. And yet our Western fetishising of boobs means that breastfeeding mums are stigmatised; they’re made to feel as if they’re doing something naughty.

While pregnant with Joni (my firstborn, six-week-old baby) I was sat in a cafe. A woman walked in, pulled out her entire breast, pushed it into her infant’s mouth and walked up to the counter. Now that i’m a breastfeeding mum, I think: wow – that takes some skill (and courage) but at the time I thought: is that really necessary? Why not just sit in the corner, drape a scarf from your shoulder over your baby’s head and feed her discreetly?

However, I now get why she did that – and fully endorse it. Covering a baby’s head in a scarf not only upsets the already hot, sweaty baby but it also means that the mother can’t observe the baby as she feeds. Keeping a muslin covering both the breast and the baby is quite an art. And all so that the men (and women) around you don’t feel uncomfortable.

That woman got her breast out because her baby was hungry and newborns will NOT wait to be fed – when they realise they’re hungry, they need milk immediately. So finding a muslin, positioning herself, latching the baby on and making sure they were both covered up – so as not to offend – would have been a faff, probably resulting in a screaming baby. And the reason she walked across the cafe is because she wanted to order a drink. If her baby was settling down for an hour-long feed, she was going to get thirsty. There was no other option.

As a society, we frown upon women openly breastfeeding. Women who dare to do so are accused of being exhibitionists, of trying to flirt with the men around them or of showing off. But in most other cultures, feeding a baby milk from your breast is the norm and so needn’t be hidden. We’re not a prudish nation when it comes to baring flesh if it’s on display for men to gawp at – and we shouldn’t be in a breastfeeding context, either.

I was in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago and Joni started pursing her lips, signalling her hunger. I decided to finish my shop then walk home to feed her. Except as I mentioned earlier: baby doesn’t wait for mum to be ready because she’s not yet a rational being. And so she started crying softly, and then loudly and then she was WAILING. People were looking at me like I was an incapable mother. So I dumped my trolley, found a seat by the toilets, got my tit out and shoved it in her mouth. She was instantly appeased but the people around me were appalled.

I was frowned upon for having a crying baby and I was frowned upon for stopping my baby from crying.

Many of the women within close proximity were wearing burkas, as there’s a large muslim community in Walthamstow. So here were two ends of the spectrum: these women completely covered – with only their eyes showing – and then me, exposing a part of a breast, as well as arms, legs etc. Perhaps each of us making the other feel uncomfortable.

The Qur’an encourages women to breastfeed and within female only groups, behind clothes doors, muslim women often breastfeed openly. But in public they’re told to dress modestly and breastfeed discreetly so I wondered what they made of my behaviour.

Before Joni came along, I didn’t understand anything about breastfeeding in public and how taboo it is, how difficult it is to do discreetly – and comfortably – and about the stick (perhaps unspoken, but we’re sensitive to every glare) women get for feeding their baby with their breasts. So I get that other people feel the same. But it’s high time we made breastfeeding public again and dropped this limited view on what boobs should be used for. Enjoy them during sex, if that’s your thing, but let mums enjoy using them to feed their babies; in private, as well as in public – if they choose to.

Sometimes I want to go to my room and feed with no one else around, and at other times I’m happy to be around friends and family. Then there are times when we’re out – because mums, like everyone else, do need to leave the house – and Joni needs feeding. Whether I do it behind a cloth or openly, in a park, supermarket or café shouldn’t matter to anyone else because these are my tits and right now: they’re for feeding.

So get over it and cast your judgmental gaze elsewhere. Maybe on the woman with the hoiked up cleavage who has hers out because she wants you to look – and gives a shit about what you think.