I wanted to tell her that there will be bad days – when you can’t believe how tired you are, how crappy you feel, how much crying a little one can do – but that there will also be great ones.
I recently caught up with an old friend of mine who, at 35 weeks pregnant, was about to become a first-time mum. It was great to see her and to hear her voice overflowing with excitement as she spoke of the upcoming arrival. We spoke about her future plans; how she intended to take three months off with her newborn, and then return to full-time work. How she was planning an overseas trip to attend a friend’s wedding a few months after the baby was born. How “I won’t change who I am for a baby; the baby can fit around our schedule, not the other way around.”
I smiled into my glass of wine as I listened, and held my tongue when I was so tempted to do otherwise. The truth is that I’m only a few years down the track from her. I, too, remember this excitement, and the pre-baby plans. Oh, the plans. What life with a baby would be like. How I would “relax and finally get a chance to get back into running” (actually her words, not mine, as I have never been a runner, though I did harbour similar thoughts about relaxing and getting fit).
As the evening wore on, I began to feel torn. I desperately wanted to give her advice, to let her know, through my own experiences, how little you can know about a baby before it arrives. I wanted to explain how overwhelming the love is, how life turns around and your ideas and thoughts are changed forever by a tiny little being. I wanted to tell her that there will be bad days – when you can’t believe how tired you are, how crappy you feel, how much crying a little one can do – but that there will also be great ones. And then, the baby you longed for will be a toddler and oh boy, the tantrums she will have!
When I was pregnant, women seemed to appear out of nowhere with a knowing look in their eye and words of wisdom that I did not ask for or want. I didn’t understand it. Why was everyone trying to get so involved? And scare me about their birth stories? And warn me about how much babies cry?
The truth is, all those words of advice I received while pregnant floated above my head in a fog. I listened to everyone’s advice and then stored it away in a different compartment, one I chose not to revisit.
The other day I watched, anxiously, as my daughter raced up a hill so fast that I was sure she’d fall. “Slow down!” I called out after her. “Leave her, sweetie, she’s happy,” my husband said. “But what if she falls?” “So she falls.” “But what if she hurts herself?” “Then she hurts herself. Look, we can’t stop her falling, but we can be there for her if it happens.”
I remembered these words as I sat with my glowing friend. I wanted to tell her all the things I wish I had known before becoming a mum, but I could see how irrelevant they were to her now. I could see how she would view me as being another one of those women pushing their ‘words of wisdom’ onto her, when all she wanted was to revel in the joy of pregnancy. That, regardless of what I said to her, she would start her own journey, and no well-meaning advice could stop her from having bad days – nor prepare her for the beauty, exhilaration and exhaustion of life as a mum.
I couldn’t stop her from falling, but I could be there for her when it happened. And only then – and only if she asked for it – would I offer her advice.
This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of CHILD Mags.