Your mum reality check

Today’s mum is under intense pressure to pretend a baby has little effect on her life, body or career. Oh, pur-leeze – leave it out!

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Gossip mags are full of celebs sashaying down catwalks two weeks after giving birth or pictured with their new baby, in full make-up, a stain-free designer outfit and a perfect home. No ‘real’ mum could hope to pull it off.

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So, back away from celeb mags and start revelling in your pregnancy, birth and the first few months with your new baby!

‘Being pregnant won’t stop me going out’

Celebrities love showing off their neat little designer-clad bumps at premieres and parties. You don’t often see them staggering up red carpets with swollen faces and ankles, desperate for a wee, or being sick into their handbags (Jordan and Jade excepted).

Reality check: Louise, 28, from London, says:

‘The last thing I want to do is go out. I can’t stay awake past 9pm, and if one more person says, “Blimey, are you expecting twins?” I‘ll scream. My childless friends always point out some amazing pregnant mate of theirs who went to Glastonbury. I can’t wait for them to get pregnant and realise how unhelpful that is!’

Way forward: Celebrities wisely keep their ‘bump outings’ down to the middle trimester. During the first trimester, you feel fat and cross, and by the time you’re in the last you‘re the size of a bus. But the middle is when you look relatively neat and glowing.

It’s great to make the effort once in a while, as people with a few drinks inside them love pregnant women, which is nice and flattering – until 11pm, when they start pawing your tummy and repeating everything they said earlier. That’s when you‘ll be pleased you brought your car.

‘I’ll be back in my jeans in two weeks’

Of course you must starve yourself and have extensive tummy surgery for your next nude scene with Jude Law. What? You’re a marketing manager from Watford? You’re not even being photographed for Hello? Your husband loves you as you are? Then what are you trying to prove?

Reality check: ‘Six months after I gave birth, on my way to work, someone offered me their seat on the train,’ says Lucy, 32, from Winchester. ‘I was mortified. The one thing they never tell you is that the bump doesn’t go away immediately – or just on its own.’

Way forward: At first, anything more than gentle swimming, walking or eating healthily is just plain dangerous. Remember that you’re a mum now: you‘ve got more going on in your life than any Atkins-starved single woman could hope for. Get some roomy trousers, have your cake – and eat it, too!

‘I’ll breastfeed – it’s best for my baby’

If you’ve been to a breastfeeding work-shop, you’ll have seen the video of the woman skiing, whipping a boob out to feed her child and hopping back on the chair lift. If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a bad mum.

Reality check: ‘Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone,’ says Sandra, 34, from Somerset. ‘But there’s a Breastfeeding Mafia. If you get cracked or sore nipples, you’re doing it wrong. If the pain’s so unbearable you have to stop, you’re selfish. People are so busy fighting for our rights to breastfeed in public; they never stop to think whether or not women actually want to get their huge, milk-spurting boobs out. Even with family, it can feel intensely personal and embarrassing.’

Way forward: Virtually no-one gets breastfeeding right first time, which is why it’s important to get lots of expert advice from the off. It does get easier, and it’s worth putting in the effort, because breastfeeding your baby can be the most rewarding thing. But lots of brilliant mothers just can’t breastfeed for any number of reasons, and at the end of the day it’s more important that your bond is unbroken by pain and discomfort. Your baby needs a happy mum, so just trust your instincts.

‘I’ll have a natural, drug-free birth’

You’ve packed your whale-music CD, your flouncy new nightie, aroma-oils and scented candles. Birth classes make it all sound so natural and, like, wow, don‘t they?

Reality check: Anne, 27, from Kent says: ‘The first thing to go was the CD. Every sound irritated me, especially my husband’s voice. The rest stayed in the case: all I wanted was total silence and pethidine.’

Way forward: There’s a lot of pressure to have a natural birth and while that’s great for some, those of us with normal or low pain thresholds are made to feel like failures if we ask for pain relief, elective caesareans – basically anything that costs the NHS.Don’t let anyone browbeat you. Only you know what you can handle.

‘We’ll still go out with our mates – we’ll just take the baby along with us’

True, babies are small and therefore quite portable, so make the most of the first three weeks, when all they do is sleep. But it’s also true that a baby is not a handbag – handbags don‘t throw up on your best frock, or scream when people admire them.

‘My husband was obsessed about our first baby not changing our lives,’ says Justine, 30, from Surrey. ‘I took Tilly to weddings and parties, along with the sling, travel cot, nappies, wipes, clothes, baby alarm…’

Reality check: ‘Sadly, the reality,’ Justine continues, ‘is you’re alone in a room either breastfeeding or trying to calm the baby down, listening to the laughter and clink of glasses through the walls. It‘s not worth it.’

Way forward: Just see this as a temporary social blip in exchange for more important things, such as creating new life and a healthy child. Embrace your hibernation – get Sky Plus, or order DVD box sets on the net. As luck would have it, your average breast-feed is the length of one episode of West Wing/Six Feet Under/Sex and the City (delete as appropriate)!

‘I’m not going to give up my career’

Good for you if you have the money, energy, willpower (or nanny). The big shock will be that there’s suddenly very little left of you, and working can be good for self worth, not just the all-important cash.

Reality check: ‘I love my job,’ says Jo, 35, from Brighton. ‘But I wasn’t prepared for how guilty I felt leaving my 6 month old with a childminder. Or how having to leave at five to pick her up would be frowned on by colleagues. Instead of feeling fulfilled, I felt like I was letting everyone down.’

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Way forward: Discuss part-time options with your boss. Convince yourself this is just a blip in your career that you’re happy to take a back seat instead of being Employee of the Month, while also keeping your oar in – very important, since mums who quit find it much harder to go back. Remember, motherhood is the most fulfilling, frustrating, hard, exhilarating, wonderful unpaid job in the world. The perks are obvious, even if it is a while before you’ll ever finish a senten…

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