5 lessons I learned from baby number one


A second-time mother feels more prepared to take on the challenge of welcoming another child into the world. By Saltanat Bora.

Image: Dreamstime
Image: Dreamstime

I am currently 36 weeks pregnant, and am stuck between the anticipation of meeting my new baby (baby number two), getting labour over and done with, or just trying to enjoy having only one child in the world and some time to myself.

Having less than four weeks left to go makes me reminisce about the birth of my first daughter, two and a half years ago. As with anyone’s first baby, it was a tough one. Not only was the labour long and traumatising, but the recovery after the birth was, to be honest, unexpectedly difficult. When you’re pregnant with your first you seem to focus only on getting through the labour, because you’ve heard horror stories about the pain your whole life. No one bothered to mention how excruciatingly painful breastfeeding could be, or how physically exhausted you would be after hours and hours of labour, or that on top of this exhaustion, the very minimal sleep you have due to a screaming baby who wouldn’t sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time (I’m not exaggerating here) could push you to borderline insanity.

Of course, everyone’s experience differs. Every baby is different, as is every mother and every labour.

Me (18 weeks pregnant) with my little girl
Me (18 weeks pregnant) with my little girl

Personally, it was one of the most harrowing and testing times of my (and my husband’s) life. We both agreed that people who have more than one child were just crazy. We were questioning ourselves, and our situation. Something along the lines of “What the hell did we get ourselves into?” ran through our minds. Often. To say the least.

But, you know, the weeks crawled by, weeks filled with lots of tears, a roller coaster of emotions (to the point I’d say I had some form of post-natal depression), lots of doubt, concern and anxiety, but most of all, mounds of love for the fragile creature that had just overtaken our lives.

Eventually the seeming black hole faded. I slowly adjusted to life with a baby. Baby slowly adjusted to being in the world. And life took on a new rhythm and routine (a very flexible routine) that made me forget entirely what it was like before this little girl came along.

Fast forward two years and I’m pregnant again, four weeks away from meeting another little girl insha’Allah. This time, I’m ready to face this armed with lessons of the past. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Giving birth is heartbreaking

Yes, I’m sure you’ve all heard the often remarked words that I’m about to list. That birth is empowering, harrowing, painful, unique and essentially, the most incredible experience this life affords. For me though, after I had given birth, I was at an utter loss. I couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened. I had an amazing support network of my husband, mum, sister, mother-in-law, etc. But I simply couldn’t cope with the enormity of what my body had just been through. The memories of the pain I had endured and the moments I had silently called out to God for help were still very raw. The moment when she left my body and we were now two separate entities was still fresh in my mind, and also in my heart. I felt like I had been torn from her. Sure, lo and behold, she was now in the world and I could hold her, see her, smell her and kiss her. But for some inextricable reason, the process of labour actually broke my heart.

2. You need your space

Yes, having a good support system is absolutely crucial to recovery. But what is also crucial is having some time and space away from all the people who really just want to “help”. While their intentions are sincere, as a first-time mother what you need is some space to just figure it out yourself. To figure out your child. To discover what kind of a mother you are. It does not help to have people hovering around constantly and judging what you do with baby. Or how baby is breastfeeding/feeding, sleeping, pooping or breathing. I know that this time around, having the experience of one baby, I can go into this with a lot more confidence. And confidence is just not something first-time mothers generally have. They need an atmosphere that is reassuring and supportive, with just the right balance of advice, care and help, but also knowing when to step back and let the new mother do her thing.

3. Trust your instincts

In a world of Doctor Google and online forums and so on, it’s really hard not to jump onto the net for every little thing and diagnose your own child with some life-threatening disease. Or to get advice on latching. Or to know that the colour of her poop is normal. It’s also hard to wade through the mounds and mounds of differing opinions on how to do what for your newborn, six month old or toddler. While I do believe it’s crucial to do your research, ask for the age-old wisdom of grandparents and get the support of fellow first-time mothers, what I have learned is that raising a baby has a lot to do with trusting your instincts. You need to understand that every baby is different and what may work for one mother and baby, may not work for you. Treat this as a unique relationship, with its own dynamic. If your instinct is telling you that your child simply needs to be comforted, or that they may need more time to adjust to sleeping on their own, then go with that.

4. Life goes on

This is a really hard lesson to realise. I think it’s very easy to get caught up in baby and soon, everything you do is overtaken by this tiny being. All your energy, time, brain power and efforts suddenly get directed into keeping this baby alive; making sure that baby thrives. All the things that you wanted to do before baby, all your interests, career aspirations, personal and spiritual development somehow take a backseat. You think you can’t exercise and make yourself fit and healthy because you just have no time. Not true, people. It’s just an excuse.

What I realised was that to ensure baby was healthy and happy, I needed to be healthy and happy. And for me to be healthy and happy, I needed time out to focus on myself and my health – physical, mental and spiritual. Rely on the people around you – grandparents fall over themselves to look after their grandkids (generally). Your husband needs time to connect with his child, and is capable of caring for baby (contrary to common attitudes that men are “hopeless” with kids). The point is, you need to find time to focus on yourself, to engage in activities outside of caring for the baby. You, and your children, will thank you for it later.

5. You will need patience

It was patience, more than anything else, that I learnt to exercise. Not losing my temper and holding in my frustration and anger when she throws a tantrum, or rips out all the tissues from the tissue box in the back of the car, or draws on my white walls with crayon or simply doesn’t want to get dressed in the morning (amongst a million other things) is the most tiring, most exhausting battle of raising a child. I know she doesn’t do these things intentionally. She’s two years old. I understand that it’s a process of discovery and curiosity in play. I can see her battling with emotions that charge in with an intensity that I’ve (supposedly) learned to control as an adult. Yelling at her in such moments would destroy her, so I hold myself back with Herculean effort.

Ultimately though, for me, having a child was one of the most profound lessons in knowing Allah (swt). From the moment of conception to the pregnancy, birth and witnessing my daughter grow, I felt like I was privy to Allah’s sheer mercy, compassion and beauty. At the same time, I understood that there was an ocean of things about this life, and therefore about Allah that I didn’t know. Because my daughter never ceases to surprise me, to stir emotions I didn’t know existed, and to show me how to appreciate the beauty and simple things in this world that she is captivated by. In a time of so much disturbance to the human soul and spirit, being given the opportunity to bring life into this world gave me the chance to reconnect, to reflect and ultimately, to be in awe of the ultimate Creator of all things.

This post was originally published on The Modest Bride

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