A year of motherhood: my survival story

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 Photo: Emma Lord

My clever, cheeky, happy, determined little girl turned one recently.

In the weeks leading up to the party I made 'practice' cakes, sourced my girl a special birthday outfit (complete with a pair of highly impractical cowbaby boots), and loaded up on so many fuzzy pink decorations our house look as if a pink muppet had broken in and blown itself up.

Admittedly we (I) went a little overboard, as was apparent when my sister found me in the kitchen the night before the party, colour-coding the Smarties for the cake edging.

But it was important to me make a big deal out of my girl's first birthday. First and foremost because she deserves to have a fuss made over her, but also because – holy sh*t – we made it.

We survived the first year of parenthood.

I know that sentence seems a little melodramatic ... unless you're currently white-knuckling it through your very own first year of parenthood, in which case you're thinking, "There's a remote chance we'll survive this? Our bodies won't finally pack it in from relentless exhaustion and constantly rocking 3-10 kilos of merciless mini-human while singing 5 Little Ducks?"

Before your firstborn actually arrives, the idea of new parenthood equating to a survival slog is just another one of those things people casually suggest to you. Ooooh, buckle up! Everything's about to change! Sleep when they sleep! And remember, during those first few months you'll just be in survival mode!

But they mean what they say, and of course you think you know what they mean. But really, your concept of the oncoming sh*tstorm is abstract.

Because once the baby is here, your old routines are gone. Your daily rhythms have changed. The body you inhabit is alien to you. And, for a while at least, the freedom you once had is utterly out of reach.

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Despite all the books I devoured and all the questions I asked and all the lists I made to get myself organised, I wasn't anything close to prepared for it. Emotionally prepared, I mean.

Because you know what?

No one can tell you. No one can prepare you. And most sane people don't want to frighten the maternity pants off you by trying. I get that now.

But what advice would I impart to my old self, the me that existed before my waters broke a month early?

I suppose I could tell her this:

Stop watching One Born Every Minute and PACK. YOUR GODDAMN. HOSPITAL BAG. Right now. Oh, and those two novels you're planning on packing for the 'downtime' you'll have between contractions? Yeah, you can leave those.

And breastfeeding? Despite what people will tell you, it doesn't hurt because your nipples are too small, your daughter's mouth is too small, your let-down is too forceful, you aren't feeding her enough, you're feeding her too much, you're feeding her too often, you're feeding her for too long, you aren't using the right hold, etc etc etc.

Basically, it's like your boobs just have to undergo their own (long) Rocky training montage to toughen up until they can handle it.

But I wish I could convey to you that – for some – the collective physical and emotional toll of breastfeeding can sometimes outweigh the benefits. And that's a balance that every mum should feel empowered to decide for herself. It's okay to call time if you need to.

Oh, and the same constant hormonal rollercoaster that makes breastfeeding possible will be a big factor in the postnatal depression you'll be diagnosed with at three months postpartum (but you'll know in your gut that something isn't right way before then).

That a sh*tty bomb to drop. Sorry. But I can also tell you this: you're going to beat it.

Exactly how you'll manage that is a story all of its own, but I can tell you it won't be easy. It won't be easy on you and it won't be easy on your husband, who is unfortunate enough to be in the passenger's seat – yet somehow he will never fail to hold you and tell you it's going to be okay.

Postnatal depression is a thief; it will steal from both of you. It will steal joy and focus and time that should have been yours to spend just basking in your beautiful daughter, breathing her in.

Getting it on the ropes will be the hardest thing you've ever done. And the insidious, relentless nature of this beast demands you do it again and again. You have to beat it back, every day, until somewhere along the way you land a knockout punch.

There'll be days where you're convinced things are never going to be okay again. I wish you didn't have to live through those days, because it's not true. Postnatal depression is a thief and a liar.

Things are going to be more than okay.

You're going to be happy again. You're going to see the world in colour again. You're going to carve slices of your life back and stitch yourself together.

You know what? All of this will come regardless. There's no preparing yourself; parenthood and whatever comes with it is a learn-on the-fly, baptism-of-fire, thrown-in-the-deep-end gig.

You have to live through this shit to comprehend it; that's just how it works.

So let me tell you just one thing instead. The best thing ever:

You're going to meet your little girl soon. She's incredible.

You'll take one look at her, bloody and squalling as the obstetrician holds her in the air, and you'll think: It's you. Of course it's you. I'd know that face anywhere.

Your love for her will burn through you until what was tough and unyielding is gone. Until that thick skin you spent years forming is torn away, and your heart feels paper-thin.

It will take you a long time to get used to this recalibrated, vulnerable you. But you will. And you'll reconstruct yourself around her, with stronger foundations this time – and a bigger heart.

Motherhood burns you down, but it rebuilds you too.

This is an extract of a post that first appeared on The Hangry Wife. Read more of Emma's writing on her blog or follow her on Facebook