I’ve lost count of how many pieces of advice I was given when I was pregnant. Eat this, don’t eat that, do this exercise, you shouldn’t over-exert yourself, have a birth like this, definitely don’t do labour like that… the pearls of wisdom came at a constant trickle, refusing to ebb.
And then I had my baby and that stream turned into a tidal wave.
From sleep positions to breastfeeding positions, the merits of the bottle to the best babygrows, my head was left spinning from the barrage of well-meant opinions sent my way. Whether it was an old lady in the street or the person taking my cash at the supermarket, everyone seemed to have something to offer me. It was like I was walking round with a huge placard above my head saying, “I AM A NEW MUM AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING, PLEASE HELP ME”.
Except I wasn’t carrying a placard. And I didn’t have no idea – not at first anyway. Before I even welcomed my baby into the world, I had one clear plan for how I was going to do things: I was going to trust my instincts and do what felt right at the time. And if I had no instinct then I was going to be open-minded and, again, do what felt right at the time.
But then I started listening to the advice. Maybe I SHOULDN’T pick her up straight away if she’s crying? Maybe I should have picked her up sooner just then? Should I leave her for a bit longer? I should have gone to her more quickly!
I started reading a couple of baby books that I’d stoically avoided during pregnancy. I tried to implement a routine and spent about three days panicking that I’d missed a secret baby signal and got the whole procedure wrong.
I bought a woven sling, determined to carry my baby around all day and not put her down, afraid she wouldn’t bond with me if she was left in her moses basket for a few minutes. And then someone told me that could lead to “bad habits” so I started wheeling her around in a pram. For about three weeks, I swung from one approach to another, listening with attention to every slice of advice that was slung at me. I read forums online, I lapped up the nuggets of wisdom Facebook had to offer me, I even started to soak up the words of strangers in the street.
And then I spoke to my dad. He’s wise, my dad. “The thing is with being a parent,” he told me, “Is that you can only do what feels natural to you. And what feels natural is bound to be what is right, for you. There’s no ‘right’ way you know, only the way that is right for you.”
It all slotted into place then. Finally, with a daughter aged 3 months old I felt ready to turn a deaf ear to the advice I didn’t ask for. Of course there are always moments when it’s good to thrash out a problem with someone who’s been there and done that, but if you’re perfectly happy with what you’re doing and you see no problem in the first place then that “advice” just becomes a confidence breaker.
Sometimes you have to make your own mistakes and work out your own path. Sometimes, you have to accept that what works for one baby won’t work for another. Sometimes you have to step back and see that what makes one mum happy will make another miserable.
I spent the day with a new mum today. She is amazing and doing an incredible job. How do I know that? Because I can see with my own two eyes that she loves her baby and also has a whole lot of common sense. And when it comes to being a parent, love and common sense go a very long way.