Why going your own way can be lonely and fantastic at the same time
I can still clearly remember the first time we gave our (now 3-year old) son his first bath. We carefully tested the water with our elbows, made sure it wasn’t hot, got the towels ready and lowered him in, ensuring he didn’t slip and his precious head was supported at all times. He screamed blue murder. And he did the same the second time.
It wasn’t until we asked our midwife to show us how to bath him that we realised that you didn’t need to have the water at approximately 20o, a temperature that would have made me scream too! A nice, comfortable 37o bath wasn’t going to scald his precious little body any more than it damaged mine.
The problem with pregnancy and birth is there is so much information out there, and so much emphasis on the things you can do wrong, that it is easy to lose sight of common sense and your instinct as a parent. If we’d taken a minute to step back and think about what temperature of water we would like to be put naked into, we’d have got it right first time.
When you are a first time mum, your baby is so precious, and – more importantly – often so completely baffling that you can end up spending more time worrying about the things that might be going wrong than relaxing in the joy of watching them figure out the world and their place in it.
I used to worry about everything.
The first time I took him out in his pram down the busy main road to the supermarket, I worried that I was poisoning him with the traffic fumes.
When he was 5 months old, and still showing no sign of trying to turn over, I worried that I hadn’t given him enough tummy time and was stunting his development.
I worried that using wipes for his bottom instead of clean, healthy (and frankly useless) cotton wool buds would lead to permanent skin problems.
The one thing I never worried about was weaning. I knew before I had my son that I was going to do baby-led weaning. I knew this based on one pub lunch I had with a friend about 2 years before I even got pregnant, when I watched her share her sandwich and salad with her 6-month-old child. I watched the pleasure both of them got from him trying proper, grown-up food, testing the different, textures, colours and flavours and figuring out what to do with it all. It was lovely to see both mum and baby happy and relaxed around food – the thing that brings families together, but can so often turn into a battleground.
And as I sat there and watched, I thought “When I’m a mum, when I’m the world’s most perfect mum, who never gets stressed about anything and knows exactly what she’s doing, I will do that.”
It was the easiest and best decision I have made as a parent so far. I loved baby-led weaning; my son loved baby-led weaning. Even the grandparents loved it, despite it going against everything they were told when they were bringing us up.
The only negative aspect was losing my peer support. I have a lovely, supportive, fun and honest set of friends with children of a similar age, but I used to sit in cafés with them on a regular basis, listening to their stories of endless pureeing, freezing and spoon feeding and feel entirely on my own. It would have been great if I had known one other person who was doing what I was doing, to swap recipes, stories, successes and failures with. I was sure that I was doing the right thing, but being different and going it alone can be scary.
At the end of the weaning story, I am proud of my healthy, active, inquisitive and energetic son. What I’ve come to learn is that being a mum is all about doing what is right for you and what is right for your baby. Sometimes that means following the advice to the letter (I would never have given him formula in a bottle that wasn’t sterilised, for example), but sometimes it means going your own way, and having the confidence to know it’s the right thing for you and your family.