An Open Letter to all Expecting Parents
Dear expectant parent,
I am writing to you as a mum, midwife, first aid trainer, wife, daughter and friend. I am writing to give you the heads up on something you are going to undoubtedly experience; and something that is going to occur in the coming days, months, years and even decades of your life - or so my mum informs me.
And that thing is parent's guilt.
So often I have patients and friends say to me, “Why does no one ever tell you being a parent is so hard?”. It makes me feel that sometimes as a society, we aren’t honest with each other, or even ourselves about what being a mum or dad is really like.
Before I begin, a bit of a disclaimer: this is purely my personal opinion and observation. I am not the perfect parent, and I do not pretend to know it all. However, I feel so blessed to be a mum and privileged to be able to love my two little ones every day. I would not change it for the world.
As an expecting Mum or Dad, parents guilt is something you may already be experiencing, but you weren’t aware of it. It’s that feeling you get when you start questioning every little thing you do. Am I making the right choices? Will doing this hurt the baby? Can I eat that? What pram do I buy? Should we have private or public hospital care? Should I write a 10-page birth plan and laminate it? Should I buy 500 newborn singlets?
If these thoughts are familiar to you - rest assured, you aren’t alone. It is so common to feel this way. You obviously care very much for your unborn baby, and in addition to this, you are constantly being bombarded with lots of information regarding the wellbeing of your bub.
Don't get me wrong either Mum and Dad - these are all great questions to ask, and it's awesome to educate yourself on these matters plus much more. However, it's also just as important not to send yourself crazy in the process. Find a midwife, doctor or support group that you trust and is reputable and follow their lead.
You can plan and prepare as much as you want, but at the end of the day, the baby will have its plan, and it will trump yours. And I’m sorry to say; this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Soon you will meet your baby.
It will hands down be one of the most incredible experiences of your life - no matter how they enter the world.
Enjoy meeting this little person you made. You will hold this tiny bundle, and suddenly its exit route doesn’t matter so much. This little squashed and messy face will be the thing that now occupies your thoughts.
Now also starts a new chapter in Parents’ guilt: feeding your baby.
“Breast is best” you will hear.
Well, let me tell you about breastfeeding: it's hard work. As a midwife, I can attest that I have come across many people that simply don't understand this; some think you hold the baby in your arms, get your boob out and the baby drinks.
Sometimes it does, and if that was your experience then you are a magical breastfeeding unicorn, and that is so wonderful.
However, this is not what most people experience. It takes time and patience for you and your baby to learn exactly what to do. It can hurt, it can be tiring, and it can take a while for your milk supply to establish. It is all normal, and more often than not, it gets better.
When breastfeeding works, it is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it doesn’t, and it doesn’t make you a failure or a bad mother or parent.
And some people for various reasons can't or won't even try, and that is okay too.
You need to remember that having your baby fed and thriving is what is important. All babies, all parents, all bodies, all situations are different. There is never a perfect solution that will suit everyone. Draw on the expertise of the health professionals around you and ask them to support you. Breast, expressing milk, formula, bottle - any or all of the above.
I could write you a list as long as my entire body of all the times I have felt mothers guilt, and they usually have all stemmed from the expectations I put on myself. I always imagined I would be a radiant and glowing pregnant woman, and that I would love every minute of it. In the end, I didn’t - and of course felt guilty about that. I thought I’d be a calm and relaxed mother and be able to breastfeed like one of those previously mentioned magical breastfeeding unicorns, I struggled and mix fed. I used to feel guilty that maybe my children didn’t have enough tummy time. I thought I would only feed my kids organic food; they have already had chicken nuggets three times this week.
Life is busy for us all with varying pressures and responsibilities.
As parents, we want the absolute best for our children, but we put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to achieve this with perfection.
We see perfect social media posts and think people have it all together. Remember these are just lovely moments in an otherwise chaotic day - because, with children, there are always messy and hard moments.
All you can do is educate yourself on how to keep your children safe, fed and healthy, love them unconditionally, surround yourself with knowledgeable support people or groups and don’t feel bad to ask for help.
I am giving you permission to be kind to yourself. You are going to be a beautiful and nurturing parent.
All my love,