Immediately after announcing a pregnancy or giving birth, after the obligatory oohs and aahs and coos have been inflicted, there will inevitably come the slew of unwanted advice ... from every person you've ever known.
A few of my friends have been pregnant or had babies recently, and, though I was dying to spew out advice about every aspect of parenthood from every orifice for seventeen hours, I told them I'd only offer them advice if they asked for it. Perhaps they had specific topics in mind, but I did feel compelled to share with them the thing I believe all new mums need to hear to be able to get through those first few tumultuous months, or perhaps even years.
From the moment you give birth to that tiny, slimy, prune of a person, your life has incomprehensibly changed forever. It has metamorphosed from an entire, fluid, easy-to-navigate world which, quite honestly, revolves around our human propensity for selfishness, to a globule of a sphere that orbits solely around our mammalian instinct to protect a creature so small, you wonder how it can demand so much.
But demand it does, and though it gets easier as they get older, the demands don't stop at the school gates, the phases persistently burgeoning ("it's a phase"), and you never again remember what it feels like to not be tired.
When I was exhausted beyond comprehension, I cried into my nursing pillow and dirty hair. "How will I survive?" I asked myself, my husband, anyone. "How will I get up and carry on in the morning?"
Then my nipples started to crack, bleed and blister. "How the hell can I carry on feeding him? I'm in so much pain!" I sobbed, I was angry now. "How will I ever sleep if he needs to feed every two hours from the time he started feeding?"
I felt the baby blues advancing upon me, lurking around in dark corners, and then they found me. They were chasing me down the cavernous hole of early parenthood and I couldn't escape them. As soon as darkness set in each evening, they would arise once more, like a herd of immortal white-walkers, cornering me even deeper into this dark pocket of space, this separate realm, from which I could not seem to lift myself.
I have a baby, I thought to myself, the baby I've wished for for so long, and he's healthy. What is your problem?
I was scared of being tired. That was what my problem turned out to be.
Before having a baby, if ever I had one of those nights where I couldn't sleep, I'd stare at the clock as its incessant ticking oscillated away what I thought were important moments of my life, of my sleep time. I panicked. How will I cope in the morning? I'm sure many people can relate to this nocturnal hysteria.
When my son was three weeks old and the red-hot thrum of mastitis had started to pass, and my husband was back at work, I thought to myself, what's the worst that can happen if I'm tired? I'll be tired. That's the worst that can happen. The washing may not get done when I want it done; I most certainly won't be able to write for a few months; I will not even attempt to bake.
I will allow myself to be tired.
That was the clincher. That was acceptance. And that is what saved me.
You are going to be tired. So what? You are not going to look great. So what? Feeding might not be as easy as you hoped. So what?
Once you fully accept that this is life for the first few months, and you learn to embrace all the things that are surprisingly remarkable about it, you can submerge yourself into its perfection, into the sublimity of its idealism. Because when else in your life can you ever just sit back and watch box-sets in your pyjamas without anyone having anything to say about it? Yes, he feeds all day. So I sit here on my spot on the couch, my new and improved but much brighter cavernous hole, and I feed my perfect prune-child.
And that is enough. You are sustaining the life of another human being and for those first few months when that baby is an extension of you, you need not do anything else. And no one need judge you on that. I advise three months, the period of the fourth trimester, because any less and you are not allowing yourself the precious time you need to heal, to come to terms with and digest your new position, to bond with your baby, to establish feeding. Any more and you risk becoming institutionalised. You may feel too comfortable in the embrace of your warm house and fleece pyjamas, and you risk not entering life again, and as much as accepting your new-found motherhood is integral to your sanity, re-entering the real world so you can be a person again, not solely someone's mother, is just as important.
But in the meantime, whilst you meander your way through the quagmire of those first few months, ACCEPT that you will do that and not much else, that you will be tired, that not much else will get done. Transcend into motherhood with open arms; ACCEPT it, and I can assure you that you will regain some of that happiness that felt adrift in the chasm of despondency during those first few weeks.
It's an old, well-worn proverb, but never more pertinent than now, so I shall leave you with the wise Persian adage:
'This too shall pass.'