I remember reading this article when Primrose was about 9 months old. I felt like I’d come out the other side of the anxiety I’d been struggling with and was finally relaxing (most of the time) into motherhood. I wanted to hug the author and congratulate her on her ‘the strength is in asking for help’ stance. For whatever reason, she’d felt unable to turn to anyone for support and guidance in the early days of first-time motherhood. No-one should feel like this but SO MANY do. She vowed to be a ‘Mayday Mom’ to others in the future.
Despite my somewhat shaky start as a new mama, I quickly realised that there are some people who just ‘get it’. In amongst the visitors who rock up, stay for hours, don’t make their own drinks and leave you wanting to tell them to “GET THE HELL OUT!” there are those who bring provisions, do your washing up, don’t assume they can hold the baby and make not only their own tea, but yours too. I looked upon these people as I would usually look upon my heroes!
In amongst these heroes, you may well find your ‘Mayday Mama’. This is the person who instantly puts you at ease; makes you realise that everything you’re feeling is normal. She will advise without making you feel belittled, judged or patronised. She will listen without interrupting. She may be one of the few people who you feel comfortable passing your baby to, but will instinctively know when it’s time to hand her back. When she’s not there in person, she’s always quick to answer your calls and texts. She reassures.
My Mayday Mama happens to be my best friend. Her ‘babies’ are now 12 and 10. She was having babies whilst I was at Uni and was rarely home. I tried my best to be a supportive friend but as a student living 150 miles away, and no experience of children, my ability to be ‘present’ was limited. I do remember, however, being amazed by her girls every time I saw them. Through the toddler years, into primary school and now, as they approach their teenage years, they have remained two of the most gentle, loving and sincere girls I have ever met. They often sidle up to her, just to ‘cuddle’ and their emotional wellbeing was always at the forefront of her, and her husband’s, mind. I remember a conversation with my husband, a few years before we decided to start a family. We’d just spent the weekend with them and said that, if we could guarantee children like those two, we’d have them straight away! Just how HAD those girls turned out the way they had? It is only since having my own baby and understand a bit more about them that I realise…
After I’d had Primrose, I did a lot of reading on the ‘fourth trimester’, gentle parenting and the importance of building a secure attachment. Almost everything I read, I recognised from watching my best friend raise her babies. When she’d had them, smart phones weren’t around, mum blogs were few and far between and social media was limited to MySpace. She’d simply followed her maternal instincts, eschewing the societal pressure to turn her girls into robots with strict routines, feeding schedules and ‘crying it out’. Whenever I mentioned things I’d read that seemed to make sense, usually by people like Sarah Ockwell-Smith or Gill Rapley, she gave me a knowing look. As a social worker, she has seen first-hand the effects of insecure attachment and shares my frustration at the awful advice online, in books and from Health Visitors about (amongst other things) leaving babies to cry and using discipline techniques on tiny children that they are simply too young to understand – all things that seem oh-so-tempting when you’re sleep deprived and don’t have a bloody clue what you’re doing, and when there seem to be no alternatives in mainstream society! When I mentioned that Primrose needed to nurse to fall asleep, she reassured me that it was both natural and normal. When I told her I didn’t want to leave her for the night at 11 months, she told me that that was normal too. She ‘got’ it.
I came to realise that she’d done all of these things and it hadn’t created that ‘rod for her back’ as so many parenting ‘experts’ lead you to believe. Her children weren’t hanging off her apron strings because she had cuddled them and responded to every cry. And they certainly weren’t still breastfeeding despite being breastfed until they were toddlers! I cringed when I remembered telling my Dad not to rock Primrose to sleep at a week old ‘in case she got used to it’. I’d believed the things I’d read online and been told by other friends and was so grateful that my Mayday Mama helped me realise how daft that was. She ‘got’ it.
I looked back at the gifts she’d given me in pregnancy – rose quartz to protect me during pregnancy and labour, and to help with bonding once baby arrived; a rose quartz bracelet to switch from wrist to wrist when feeding, to remind me which boob I’d fed on last; a drinks cup with a lid so I could have HOT tea; an adult colouring book for relaxation and a spa day to help me chill out. She knew that a relaxed mama would help aid a positive birth, ease the anxiety of getting breastfeeding established, and encourage me to self-care. She ‘got’ it.
We have a wedding to attend in a few weeks and it comes as no surprise that, as we need someone who isn’t her Daddy or I to put Primrose to bed for the first time since she was born, it is my ‘Mayday Mama’ who has stepped in to help. Consequently, I feel completely comfortable heading to the wedding and enjoying the day.
So, here’s to the mother who’s helped me understand mothering. Thanks to her, I know that following my baby’s lead and my maternal instincts is OK, and for that I am eternally grateful!
Tell us about your Mayday Mama. Is it your own Mum? Another family member? A friend? Or someone you didn’t know particular well until you had your baby? Do you wish you’d had someone to call on? Have you been a Mayday Mama to somebody else?
Here’s to Mayday Mamas in all their guises… helping new mamas relax and realise that all they need to be is themselves.
Jo, The Mother Side xx