(No) Thanks for the Memory

490People have very short memories, don’t they?

Perhaps it’s just as well. There’s probably no mother who hasn’t sworn (often quite forcefully) during labour that there’s no way she’s ever going through that again, only to find the whole shattering business fade into insignificance as, awash with feelgood hormones, she cradles her new arrival to her breast.

My antenatal classes were great fun. I learnt how to do a mean pelvic tilt and to pant and puff with the best of them.  Parentcraft was a hoot, watching worried-looking dads-to-be ending up in half-nelsons attempting to change a teddy’s nappy.  But something no class can prepare you for is what labour and motherhood are going to be like for you.

You will find, however, an endless stream of women all eager to tell you about what labour and motherhood was like for them.

As an L-plate mum you’re understandably keen to get everything right, so of course you believe it all. But healthy maternal scepticism can be a valuable asset – because people really do forget.  And in my experience, they forget one of two ways.

First come the die-hard brigade, who remember things as worse than they actually were because it makes a darn sight better story.  They’ll describe how many agonising days they were in labour and the exact number of stitches they had.  The episiotomies.  The C-sections.  Haemorrhoids.  Sciatica.  Broken nights until baby was three.  It’s colourful and compelling, yes; but is it really what you need to hear?

No. They’re insensitive drama queens. Ignore ’em.

Species two are irritating superwomen who claim to have sailed through pregnancy and childbirth without any disruption to their lives. Their waters broke while they were shopping in Sainsbury’s and they breezed back to work within hours of giving birth. They never had morning-sickness, cramp or back-ache; they had painfree labours and text-book babies.  At least, that’s the image they project.

Your own mother, sadly, might occupy a peripheral position in this camp. “When I had you, I managed without a car/baby buggy/washing machine/disposable nappies,” she may intone, sounding offputtingly capable.   And this on a day when you feel that if the baby slept long enough for you to actually make a cup of coffee, you’d deserve a medal.

I once lived next door to a woman with nine children aged between seven and twenty (astonishing carelessness, I know) who solemnly assured me that she’d never had a broken night with any of them. Apparently they never, ever had wind either.  She seemed to genuinely believe this; this is how she remembered it.  I, however, was highly dubious.

Admittedly, it is difficult to remember objectively.  One mother looks back and sees nothing but grind, petty frustrations, teething and the endless administration of Calpol. Another recalls only that magical gummy grin, the infectious chuckle and those wobbly first steps.  One’s forgotten the fun, whereas the other’s forgotten the utter devastation – both of which every new baby trails behind them.

Probably the best preparation a learner mum can have is spending time with friends with young families. You’ll see how another mother copes (or, more revealingly, doesn’t); you’ll pick up tips and shortcuts you’d otherwise discover the hard way.  And above all, you’ll discover that perfection is optional.

That’s why I feel antenatal classes should add another item to the list of Important Things Every Pregnant Woman Should Learn; Selective Deafness.  Ignore the ripping yarns and unrealistic expectations.  There are times when you just need to smile sweetly and then do what’s right for you – and blow what Mrs Next Door says.

© Sue Williams

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