Things no one tells you about motherhood
‘I’m ten months into this grand experiment they call motherhood. I’ve learned a lot,’ says Lucy Mangan. ‘But there are some things I wish I’d been told beforehand. So, to prevent you being as blindsided as I was – or having to reinvent the wheel – I thought I’d pass some of the key points on…’
Washing yourself every day will become a risible goal
I don’t know how keeping yourself clean comes to seem so low a priority that it slips off the to-do list at least four days out of every seven, but it does. ‘I only need ten minutes,’ you think. ‘I’ll just wait until there’s a natural lull in proceedings.’ It has taken me nine and a half months to realise that from now until the grave there will be no natural lull in proceedings.
Before you know it, the day will have disappeared and you have doomed yourself to sitting through another feed while experiencing untimely itches in unreachable places. You must stick the baby in his father’s arms, the cot or a bouncy chair in front of the shower, and then just start sluicing before people start backing away from you in the street with their handbags in front of their noses.
With very little sleep you can still do a passable imitation of being on the ball – or at least sufficient to fool passing strangers.
However your family, who will routinely see you standing in the middle of the kitchen muttering, ‘What did I come in here for? An oven? Do I need an oven – or was it a sink?’ will be harder to fool.
You will be permanently outraged
that although this world is full of people with children, full of people who even if they don’t have children WERE once children themselves, it is so goddamn useless at catering for them. But you will also be too tired to do anything about it. You will weep with gratitude for the people who campaigned for anti-disability legislation that brought about all the ramps, wide access points and automatic doors on which you now depend, and vow to repay the favour one day, just as soon as you’ve had some sleep.
It can be easier not to have a routine.
This is especially true in the early days. As the baby gets older, a routine becomes more necessary and also easier to devise and maintain. But the early days are something between war and penal servitude. Your only goal is to get through them. Some people need a routine from the off and this does them a power of good.
But for others, this is not the case. Unfortunately, routine-lovers tend to be more vocal and extrovert personalities, so they will harp on about the need for order. Simply ignore them if you’re happier just letting the day dictate itself and having a pattern that suits you, your baby and your (new) lifestyle. My moment of liberation came when my husband picked up the Gina Ford book, now heavily stained with tears of failure and frustration, that my schedule-loving friend had given me. ‘Hmm,’ he said, after skimming a few pages, ‘I imagine it reads better in the original German.’ We tossed it in the bin and moved on. Chaotically.
Strange things happen to your body.
I mean, aside from the obvious. (Oh, and by the way, that perfect bladder control you took for granted all those years isn’t coming back. Ever. You’re never going to be a champion trampolinist now. That dream is over. Let it go. Also, doing a poo will trigger mini-flashbacks to labour for months. Just so you know.) Among just the five of us in my NCT group we can field:
They don’t love you until 18 months.
That’s right. You think it’s going to be all gazing into each others’ adoring eyes from the get-go, but no. You’ve got to wait a year and a half before they show the slightest flicker of enthusiasm for you. Nice, eh? Nice way to recognise and reward the ceaseless blood, sweat and tears that went into delivering and maintaining you thereafter, kid. Cheers, thanks a lot.
Oh, they’ll gurgle with anticipation and delight when your boobs heave into view, but this only makes it clear that you’re just an ambulant piece of meat and dairy to them, not an actual person with a brain and needs and feelings. I ask Buggerlugs every day, ‘Do you love me yet?’ but answer comes there none. Little tyke.
Unless by some miracle your baby sleeps through the night, you will sell your soul for a bigger bed.
The greatest, most reliable, accessible, free and pleasurable activity will be ruined for you for months if not years
I’m talking, of course, about television. Almost everything is now off limits because almost everything, you discover, is based on some kind of human suffering that is, even in its most fictional, far-fetched or ridiculous form, unbearable now that you have a tiny, tiny baby out in this dreadful, dreadful world of ours.
Crime dramas use dead mothers and missing babies as mere side plots while you stare, frozen, devastated at the screen. Preposterous scenes in preposterous hokum like Touch or Desperate Housewives will mention something even slightly nasty happening within the vicinity of someone under 18 and you will be wailing face down in the sofa for hours.
The humiliations and inherent cruelty of anything Simon Cowell-based will similarly prostrate you with grief. Downton Abbey has the war. Nothing is safe. Nothing. And neither are books. Just sit quietly facing a wall at least until your child goes to university. It’s all you can do.
Feminism may as well never have happened.
Whatever your plans, however willing and able your partner, somehow the bulk of the childcare and anticipation of the child’s needs will fall to you. You will worry ten, 20, a million times more about everything than he does. You will understand why women don’t rule the world. It’s because we can’t take any more pressure (other than the responsibility for an entire human life!). This will change as they get older, but until that time, just put the Mad Men box set on repeat and pretend you have not yet been vouchsafed a glimpse of a better world than this.
You will become a much worse friend, daughter, sister, neighbour and member of society in general.
But people will be so kind to you, giving you stuff, cooking, cooing over your baby, helping your buggy up steps and off buses, letting you pass first through doors, picking up the things you drop as you weave madly down the street and telling you when you’ve come out without doing up your trousers/shirt/both that you promise, one day, to give it back in spades.
You will not like your baby all the time.
You will like your partner EVEN less of the time. This too shall pass.
If you’re worrying about giving baby the non-organic purée or food from a jar and ruining him for life, just calculate how many meals he is going to have in his life and what kind of state we would all be in if just one of them
Or ten, or 20 or 100 – had any kind of deleterious effect at all. We’d be a nation of helpless, wizened fools. And we’re not. So don’t worry about giving him an occasional bottlefeed (because your nipples are about to drop off). Forget to put the nappy cream on, forget to change the nappy at all (I can’t tell you the number of times Buggerlugs has gone all day in the same one because, amid the endless feeding, soothing and carting him from one location to the other – supermarket, health clinic, grandmother, whatever – to keep us all semi-sane and fed, the idea of changing him has completely left my head). It’s okay. Don’t panic.
Written by Lucy Mangan