Sunday 22 October 2017

'Having a large family is a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun too' - Mum-of-seven Jen Hogan

Mother-of-seven and regular Mothers & Babies contributor Jen Hogan explains how parenthood has been the most rewarding experience of her life, as she introduces her new book

Jen Hogan. Credit: Sabrina Dunny
Jen Hogan. Credit: Sabrina Dunny

The birth of a first baby also brings the birth of a first-time parent, while the birth of subsequent children brings a whole new dynamic to the family.

Motherhood is often played out on social media as an idyllic time, full of picture-perfect moments, some with filter, some without - largely depending on the level of tears, tantrums and breakdowns involved ahead of that perfect snap.

These social media moments rarely reflect the true reality of the sometimes monotonous days and the never-ending workload. Pictures of snot-bubble-blowing babies against the backdrop of a house that looks like it has been turned over by burglars, comparatively, rarely make their way onto the various social media platforms.

Motherhood isn't just about baby; it's also about a new you, in a role that you can't completely prepare for. Practical preparations don't allow for feelings, and the intensity of feelings that you'll have for this little person - in spite of the large quantities of snot and poo they can produce, in spite of the fact that it's usually a one-way conversation, and in spite of the fact that they inflict tortuous levels of sleep deprivation upon you - can be more than a little overwhelming.

While you may have sworn prior to baby's arrival that you would continue certain aspects of your life in a similar fashion to before, the realities of grappling with the demands that go hand-in-hand with having a young child can lead you to feeling cut off from the world around you and a very different person to the one you used to know.

But you're not different, you're still you - you just have a different perspective on things. Looking after yourself is just as important as looking after baby. The saying 'happy mum equals happy baby' isn't just a phrase that's loosely thrown around; it's a true and valid statement.

Parenthood is a learning curve for everyone. It doesn't just teach you about children, what to expect and how to take care of them. Parenthood teaches you about yourself, your strengths and vulnerabilities, and brings new challenges and lessons to the table.

While discovering the new you and trying to find your feet in the world of parenting, it's important to remember that you are not alone. The rewards of parenthood are well-documented and celebrated, but the challenges of early parenthood, in particular, are faced by us all. Therefore, knowing what to expect, acknowledging that many mums feel the same, and understanding how to help yourself muddle through the many adjustments can play a big part in the reconciliation between the old and new you.

A Lonely Time

They say it takes a village to rear a child but these days the villagers all seem to be busy, off doing their own thing. The first days after baby's birth are often filled with excited visitors, as newly appointed grandparents, aunts and uncles come to dote on the newest member of the family, while friends stop by with gifts and words of admiration. Excitement is at an all-time high. Baby (and hopefully you too) is the focal point of everyone's good wishes, concerns and delight. But when those initial days pass, the visitors slow down and a new and unfamiliar normality takes hold, feelings of loneliness and isolation can creep in.

Taking care of babies and young children can be all-consuming. In addition to subjecting their parents to the progressive and cumulative effects of broken sleep, planning a trip outdoors with a baby or young child generally requires military-style planning and often the packing of half the house's contents.

Great plans can be made to get out and purchase that badly needed pint of milk but following an hour spent dressing and redressing yourself and baby, after a poo explosion leaked through baby's nappy, writing off their first-time-worn babygro, and leaving a giant yellow/green stain on your clean jeans in the process, the efforts involved can sometimes appear to outweigh any benefit. Add to the equation the fact that you now have approximately 15 minutes to load up the buggy and get to and from the shops before baby lets everyone know with their powerful lungs and impressive pitch that it's feeding time once again, and your convictions that you should just stay put seem even more justified.

It's easy to fall into bad habits and if nobody calls to see you either, you can find the whole day passes without any adult interaction. Unlike the days of yesteryear, there is a less collaborative approach in society to parenting, as women are not necessarily giving birth at the same time as their peers. With more women working outside the home, friends and neighbours are not necessarily around during the day. The sense of community is different to our own parents' time and many mums live a distance from their families.

It's not easy to reach out and admit you're feeling lonely. It seems a contradiction in terms to say you're lonely when getting a moment to yourself is one of the biggest challenges of motherhood, but we all need adult company and stimulation. We're social creatures by nature. The big shock to the system can be the realisation that if you want company you may well have to ask for it or get out there and find it.

Overcoming Isolation

People don't necessarily mean to abandon you and leave you to your own devices when baby comes along, but in the confusion about the busyness of motherhood, friends and family can think that they are giving you space and time to get to know your baby and to get on with your busy life. Those who have never had children may not even be aware of the isolation you feel - so tell them. Tell them that you'd love if they popped in for a cuppa and a chat. Tell them that you'd love if, instead of meeting you somewhere, they could come to your house to help you to get organised, so that you could go to your planned destination together.

My tardiness when I had a new baby was a sore point for me. I felt frustrated when people teased me for running late, even though it was only ever in jest. I felt they couldn't appreciate the frustration and efforts involved in loading the car and getting out. Even after having several children, my latest arrival could always hold me to ransom with a stinker of a nappy just as I was about to leave the house, or the deposit of a regurgitated feed in my just brushed hair - brushed you'll note, not washed, because if I was to have a morning shower then I'd never manage to get out of the house. The days a friend came to the house and held and soothed my baby while I cleaned my teeth, put on my shoes and grabbed my coat, ready to face civilisation, or at least the inhabitants of the local park, made my life so much easier.

Extracted from 'The Real Mum's Guide to (Surviving) Parenthood' by Jen Hogan. Published by Orpen Press, out now, price €14.99

Irish Independent

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