If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I really struggled with adjusting to motherhood and the first year of E’s life was one of the hardest of mine. I was expecting the second year to get easier, but then a worldwide pandemic struck and things became somewhat of a challenge for me again. Being a mum is certainly full of surprises and difficulties, but COVID-19 was definitely something we weren’t expecting. It turned what should’ve been a fantastic year of getting to know my toddler into days filled with tears, the unknown, and everything feeling so hard. Taking that all into account, what I was promised would be an “easier” year (although, being a parent is never easy), was not an easier year, by any stretch of the imagination. It was challenging, it was painful, it was tearful and it was wonderful. So, here’s my take on my second year of motherhood – bear with me, it’s a long one!
No More Newborn
Somewhere along the way, my baby became a proper toddler. In fact, she’s more and more grown-up every single day and it sometimes baffles me that I’ve managed to make it to this stage. The night before her second birthday, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia (if you can be nostalgic over something that only happened two years ago), and I started scrolling through the pictures on my phone; I felt sad. Sad that I no longer had a newborn to cuddle. Sad that when I had a newborn, I didn’t always want to cuddle her. Sad that when she was a tiny little being, I sometimes felt detached from her. Sad that I hadn’t soaked in every single second. Sad that her second year of life was sheltered and she’d missed out on so many activities and experiences, it felt like such a loss.
Then, I scrolled into the photos from 2020 and I smiled. I felt happy. Happy that, due to being furloughed, I’d been able to spend an extra half year at home to watch her grow and develop. Happy that I was there for her first steps and they weren’t at nursery. Happy that she has such a secure attachment to her mum and dad. Happy that we did manage to get some breaks away in the short space of time that they were allowed. Happy that she got to experience some of the world outside the safety of her home. Happy that she’s acing nursery and life in general. Happy at the little person she’s becoming and happy at who she’s making me too.
Last year was difficult, there’s no other way of putting it. My mental health suffered, but to see how much she has adapted, developed and grown makes every hard day worthwhile; they melt away and my heart sings. The tough newborn experience is always at the back of my memory and sometimes I let them cloud how I feel; then I look at this toddler, this little girl, in front of me and it reminds me that I got through it and she is thriving! I don’t always believe it, but I had a big part to play in how much she has changed in a year; my husband always makes sure that I know that! We’ve grown together – from (literal & metaphorical) newborns to toddlers!
“Are you still feeding?”
Once E turned 1, I was fully expecting this question to start getting asked and it did. To be honest, when she turned one, I made plans to reduce feeds with the view of weaning her before she was 18 months old. That did not happen. Thanks to the pandemic and getting furloughed, we actually increased feeds for a while! I was at home ALL the time and if I dared to sit down, E took that as a signal that the milk buffet was open, and used to try and help herself. Eventually, I stopped trying to fight her for a while and trying to savour the few moments of calm in what is a very hectic life with a toddler.
Around May/June, I’d had enough of not being able to sit down without having to get a boob out – even when we were playing, she’d plonk herself on my legs and grab at my top. So, I decided to start saying “no” more firmly and using distraction and, within a week, she was day-weaned apart from nap time.
Cutting out feeding to sleep came much closer to her second birthday. Around 8 weeks before, I tried to stop fully feeding to sleep. I would feed her for a while, then as she wasn’t drifting off, I would put my boobs away and say “no more boobies” – initially, this wasn’t met with the best response, but after a while, she got used to it. Then I started to reduce the time I was feeding her for, until one day, we just got in bed and cuddled until she fell asleep. It felt like such an amazing achievement for a child who had been fed to sleep since she came out of my vagina; this child would scream if I dared try to shush her to sleep, now, she was happy to cuddle up and drift off. I mean, she takes an hour to actually GO to sleep, but she did that when I was feeding her too, so at least now boobies aren’t needed too. Next came completely night-weaning her and it went much better than I expected. The first 2 nights she cried profusely for about 5 minutes when I said no, but then, she got used to it. Now, all she needs is a cuddle or to feel that I’m there and she (usually) goes back to sleep.
Am I sad that our breastfeeding journey is over? The answer isn’t straightforward. When it’s been a long day or night, and I just want five minutes peace, I miss the chance to have a cuddle and to zone out. I miss feeling like I’m building a strong connection with her. However, I’m enjoying not constantly having to feed through the night and her settling better because she’d not falling asleep with my boob in her mouth – it’s nice to have a cuddle without exposing myself. It was a rollercoaster journey and I’m beyond grateful I was able to nourish her the way I have, and for so long, but yes, I’m rather glad to have finished.
People are right; toddlers are hard work, they’re relentless, they’re savages, they’re feral, BUT, I’ve enjoyed the last 12 months far more than her first 12. A lot of people look back at the newborn days with rose-tinted glasses, for me, it’s still very raw. I was unhappy and possibly had undiagnosed post-natal depression/anxiety and I very much struggled to enjoy my tiny baby.
Yes, toddlers are non-stop, but for me, it’s much more rewarding. E’s personality has really started to develop – she’s a smart cookie, she’s cheeky, she’s daring, she’s not afraid to ask for help and she knows what she wants. We can now play with a genuine interaction between us. Her love of books grows by the day, it’s her favourite thing and to see her start finishing sentences and pointing out different things makes my heart grow. It makes me proud. She’s excited to see familiar faces and places now; she absolutely LOVES going to nursery and runs in to have her breakfast now. I can’t wait until restrictions are lifted and we can take her out to explore new places – in the UK and eventually worldwide. Nurturing her brain and sense of adventure is so important to me. I can’t wait to see how much she enjoys her new experiences.
I found that my love for her has grown so much deeper since she turned 1, because I started to see the hard slog of the first 12 months coming to fruition and that’s something that will continually amaze me. Year 2 has certainly has its ups and downs, but it’s made me clearly see that everything I went through wasn’t my fault and was 100% worth every single tear, cracked nipple and sleepless night. That little girl of ours is absolutely wonderful and she’s becoming more so every single day – even if she can be a complete gremlin at times.
Who am I?
Over the first six months of E’s life, I really feel like I lost some of who I was before motherhood; I’m assuming this may have had something to do with my mental health, loss of sleep and loss of freedom.
I took for granted not having to plan every single outing with meticulous detail. I missed dressing without wondering how I would be able to pop a boob out to feed her. I massively took a full night’s sleep for granted! It was hard, but somewhere around 16 months in, something clicked. I wasn’t the old me, but I wasn’t just a mum either! I was a combination of the two. I didn’t have to restrict my life to the degree that I had been doing, I just had to make decisions that were the best for my family and me. So, whether someone agreed with how I chose to spend my time, or not, as long as I (and my husband) knew it was ok, and we were comfortable with those decisions, that is ALL THAT MATTERS. That’s all you need to remember: it’s your decision, you know best.
Parenting in a Pandemic
On E’s first birthday, January 2020, we’d heard about COVID-19, but we weren’t too worried! Then come April, I was furloughed, E was taken out of nursery and were locked down. At first, I didn’t mind, at least the weather meant we were outside most days. Then, it started to get hard, I missed my family and friends, my support network was gone in one fell swoop. I missed anywhere that wasn’t my house and garden. It was very much like Groundhog Day.
It was very lonely some days and I was desperate to see the outside world. Parenting a toddler, when my mental health was in the pits, was a Herculean task for me. Some days I didn’t know how I was going to survive the monotony, but I did; we did it! 2020 was a true test for all parents and I salute you all.
What’s to Come?
The answer to this is simple: I don’t know. All I can do is continue to do what I think is best for E and see what the future holds one day at a time. I’m excited to see what we’re going to get up to in E’s third year of life (lockdown rules pending), watch this space…