If I have learned one thing since becoming a parent eighteen months ago – and yes, I believe that parenthood begins at the moment of conception – it is that being a parent means “appreciation in hindsight”.
It doesn’t matter how much you think you are appreciating your child in the moment (if you remember to appreciate them at all), you always appreciate them more when the moment has passed and what they are content to do and who they are content to be has changed forever.
Whether it’s the fact that before your child can see properly, they are happy to lie quietly with their head resting on your knees and gaze into your eyes for minutes at a time. Or that the predictably unpredictable sleep cycles of a newborn provide you with plenty of opportunities to nap during the day – opportunities you will miss once your not-so-newborn is on the move. Or that for the briefest of moments, you are your child’s world, their whole world… until you are supplanted by a never-ending stream of stimuli and your role becomes simply that of “mamama”.
The same holds true for pregnancy.
To the new mothers out there, those saints among you who are getting slower by the day waiting for your precious cargo (and by precious, I mean wriggly-monster-butterflies) to make its transition to the outside world, I say:
You think it’s difficult to sleep now, with the midnight toilet trips and the abdominal aches and the heartburn; these are the last few nights you will have to yourself for the rest of your life. Certainly until your children leave home, and even then, you will wake in the middle of the night worrying that something has happened to them when you see a missed call from an unknown number or hear sirens in the distance. Make the most of this time to do things for you – get a leisurely coffee with your girlfriends, spend a whole hour in the shower, wash your hair three days in a row. You will not regret any of it.
For the birthing horror stories that will inevitably come your way in the last few days leading up to your due date. Until now, you will have heard only sage advice and encouragement from your close friends and family. Do not be tricked into complacency: the labour nightmares are there and they’re coming to get you. Try not to set too much store by them. Labour is a unique experience – unique in terms of other life experiences, and unique to you. You will navigate it in your own way and, inevitably, will perfect your own horror story to pass on to your nearest and dearest when their time comes.
Do not try to be a hero.
As my old Religious Studies teacher used to say: we must accept suffering because it comes intertwined with love, but you’re a fool if you allow yourself to suffer unnecessarily. If pain medication is offered to you, take it, and take it before you feel as though you really need it. I made the mistake of asking for pethidine, the strongest form of labour pain-relief other than an epidural, when I was already seven centimetres dilated, at which point the midwife wouldn’t give it to me because of the risk of the sedative effects being passed on to my son. So I had an epidural and that took a good twenty minutes to set up and another twenty minutes to take effect, by which point I was extremely uncomfortable. The whole episode could have been avoided if I’d asked for pain medication sooner.
Lastly, there is no point trying to hurry things along. When your due date passes, as it will for many of you, you can eat as many hot curries as you like, go for thirty kilometer walks in the blazing sun, and walk up and down stairs sideways for half the day, it will do basically nothing, despite what your doctor might tell you. Your baby will come in his or her own good time, and when those contractions start, you’ll wonder why you were so keen to get started.
Many of the pregnancy apps out there allow you to track your baby’s development on a weekly basis. Some even include animated graphics of your baby in utero. Looking back now, I wish I’d had a way of recording my part in the journey as well. Even something as simple as being able to create a photo journal for my husband and I, or recording “the last bike ride”, “the last swim”, “the last time I slept all the way through the night”. Not only because it would have allowed me to compare future pregnancies with this first one, but also because when I’m old and grey, I would like to have as many memory prompts as possible – tools that will allow me to remember the most treasured moments in my life.
So we will add this feature to Nabta, and by doing so will enable all mothers out there to make pregnancy not just about the baby’s development, but about the transition to motherhood – recording it, celebrating it, immortalising it.