I was expecting a certain level of worry when I became a mum for the first time. I had read up a little bit on what to expect, but nothing had quite prepared me for the first wave of “New Mum Neuroses” that consumed my every thought when BG entered the world.
The first set of worries came as a trio: Germs, Temperature and SIDS. These hit me like a truck and I was not prepared for them… at all. At one point, I even became concerned that I was perhaps developing OCD!
My “obsession” with the presence of germs started when BG and I made it to the ward after I had given birth. I washed my hands after touching anything that wasn’t BG. Everything. If I had put her down and had been doing something else, before picking her up – I would wash my hands. When we got home, this got more and more frequent. I would wash my hands after washing my hands… and then use hand sanitiser. I washed my hands so much, they actually became red-raw. This obsession lasted for the first couple of months… I began to worry I was developing OCD about hand-washing. At one point, I was actually really worried that I might wash my hands away! Don’t even get me started on other people’s potential germs… a true nightmare. Did you just sniff? Get your germs away from my child. Who are you lovely stranger wanting to look in my pram? Have you got germs? When did you last wash your hands? Get away anyway, just in case. It settled and calmed down after a while and the obsessive need to wash my hands (and make others wash their hands) before touching BG faded. I felt as though I was getting back to “normal”. It turns out, this happens quite a lot with new Mums – but I wish I had known that before I started worrying I was having a germ-related mental breakdown. I think that once BG started crawling, her hands would be in absolutely everything anyway and attempting to keep her away from germs was pretty much futile… it was at this point I truly got over my mild germophobia!
My second “New Mum Neurosis” was temperature. Temperature of BG, the temperature of the house, the temperature of BG’s room, the temperature outside… just temperatures in general. Was BG too hot? Was BG too cold? Had she got enough layers on? Had she got too many layers on? With the advent of the Hive home heating system, I was able to move the thermostat of the house to wherever BG was, which meant that I could pacify this neurosis a little easier than that of germs – but I still fretted about temperature. I was told a good “rule of thumb” that baby should have one more layer on than I did… this was a rule I always followed – almost obsessively. I think I probably fretted more about BG becoming too hot rather than too cold… she was a winter baby and so it always seemed easier to be able to put more layers on that it would be to take layers off! I had also heard that cold babies cry whereas hot babies become lethargic and so my new mum neurosis logic told my brain that BG would let me know if she got too cold. I used to take her temperature with our thermometer. A lot. Just to check. Just to be safe. Just to make sure she was at an OK temperature. As I’ve settled into “motherhood” – this has become less of a worry, but, unlike the almost germophobia I suffered, my “obsession” with temperature is still there. I worry that she’s too hot during the day. I worry she’ll get too hot overnight. I worry she’ll get too cold overnight. I worry that the constant changes in temperatures in the British climate will affect her in some way.
I would imagine that every parent’s worst nightmare is not being able to wake their baby and discovering that the most tragic thing has happened. I panicked a great deal when BG first came home that something in her Moses basket would suffocate her. I would check on her several times during any extended nap. Sometimes I would just sit and watch her sleep – just to make sure she was still breathing. Babies snore – quite loudly. No one ever really tells you this… They also don’t tell you that they are noisy sleepers all the time! So when they’re no longer loudly snuffling near you that also causes a panic to rise. To a certain extent I still panic about this now. I think I sleep with one ear open, one ear listening out to the monitor – just to make sure I can still hear her. I always check on her in her cot a few times a night too. Its eased off over time and so I am confident that it will continue to get even easier as time goes on – but worries can consume you when you least expect it.
It is strange what things stick in a new Mum’s mind. Simple, off-the-cuff, seemingly innocuous pieces of “advice” can really play on a mum’s mind – especially when they are doing this for the first time. If I was going to offer any advice to a person considering giving a first time Mum a piece of well-meaning advice, I would say “don’t”. Not unless you’ve been specifically asked for that piece of advice.
I am not an expert on mental health. I am not a midwife, nor am I a health visitor with any training on the matter… but I would say – trust your instincts. Know that you will most probably worry about something (or everything!) as a first-time Mum. Know that most other Mums have also been through this phase. Talk to someone about your concerns and anxieties – no worry is “too small” when you’re doing this for the first time. Talk to your health visitor. Don’t use Google to search for an answer though – that’s a bad idea – the internet is a wonderful place, but not for everything. I once Google searched “baby cry sounds like a cat” and I got some very scary results about a syndrome caused by chromosome deletion – I shut the laptop after that. Steer clear of mumsnet for pieces of advice too… it’s good for some things, don’t get me wrong (and this is just my own personal opinion) but for others, it’s better to ask an actual person.
What were your “neuroses” when you became a mother for the first time? Please comment and share – you never know, you might help someone out there feel a little less lost at sea in this manual-less life we’ve entered into.