By Gemma Gooch, Suffolk Babies Felixstowe
A lovely friend recently went on maternity leave before having her first baby. Before the baby arrived, I went round for dinner and she chatted about how odd she was feeling about stopping working. I have watched her, over the years I have known her, build a fantastic career. She is successful beyond her years and has been repeatedly promoted. She explained to me that for years she has felt defined by her career and ambition to succeed, and now she is contemplating a change of direction. She is confident in her profession; knows how to command respect, manage a team and make decisions that matter, but by taking a break from that she felt a little lost.
I found this really interesting and it got me thinking about how dented women’s confidence can be as they transition into motherhood. You can prepare and attend all the fabulous classes on offer, (please do – they’re great,) but you really have no idea until you get your baby home and start to try to figure it out. This little person (or persons) is a stranger and it takes a great deal of time to get to know each other, never-mind establish feeding and sleeping. It can be easy to feel shortchanged, you did the classes, maybe read the books, so why isn’t your baby behaving like the babies you saw on TV or read about? How can you go out if you can’t predict how your baby will behave? What if she cries? Or needs feeding? What if people look? You’re exhausted, rampaging hormones have invaded your body and on top of all these worries it’s difficult to feel confident.
When I fell pregnant with my first son, I had to give up an amazing opportunity for career progression. Then when I found myself a single mum when he was two weeks old I had to accept that picking up where I’d left off wasn’t going to be possible. I struggled, I was young and lost, with no idea where to find support or how to feel like the fun-loving girl I was, when I spent my days dealing with the mundanities of motherhood. So I learnt to drive, it might not seem like much but it really helped. Two hours once a week with a lovely driving instructor was like a chat with a mate. When my son was a little older, I went to University as a mature student and got my degree and slowly my confidence grew and grew.
I had my second son a year ago and I was determined this time would be different. And it was. I was more confident and more prepared, though various issues meant my confidence and belief in my instincts still took a knock. Along with postpartum hairloss followed by regrowth that has left me resembling Pat Sharp (see photo – Pat Sharp left, me right)!
Slowly, we made it out to the odd baby group and made friends, each trip felt like a massive milestone. And, with time, I started to believe in myself as the best mother for my sons again. My confidence returned so much that when the opportunity to train to be a Suffolk Babies teacher came up I grabbed it with both hands. I was so excited to have the chance to support women through those early stages.
I’ve rarely felt more terrified than delivering my first antenatal class to a group of pregnant women and their birth partners, never-mind singing in front of a group of strangers! But afterwards I felt fantastic, and when people asked questions, nodded along or really seemed to enjoy it I realised they saw me as an expert. My confidence soared as I realised I wasn’t defined only as someone’s mummy.
Becoming a mother for the first time or the tenth is a massive life change, frequently underestimated by society. The changes you undergo mentally, physically and in terms of your relationships are impossible to quantify or anticipate. Not everyone needs to take on big challenges like learning to drive or retraining – I rarely do things by halves! However, small things can make a difference: giving yourself time, time to recover, along with a little bit of head-space every day. A regular treat; be it a haircut, beauty treatment or lunch with a friend. If you can, get them booked in while you’re pregnant, and keep to them! Get out and about, ‘find your village,’ remove the isolation, and share experiences. We all benefit from a support network we can turn to or to just let off steam about another cold cup of tea, how the washing basket is never empty or compare the contents of a nappy.
Women supporting women is why I decided to join Suffolk Babies and why you should come and see me or one of the other teachers at the fab groups and classes. One of the main aims of the new bumps to babies groups is getting parents meeting parents, if it’s your first visit drop us an email beforehand and we’ll watch out for you. There’s two a month in Kesgrave and from September I’m hosting one a month in Felixstowe, at the Leisure Centre soft play. So come along and ‘find your village’, get planning picnics, BBQ’s or (don’t shoot) Christmas nights out.