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Motherhood: The First Year

I think I start every Phoebe-related blog post the same way, but goodness me I can’t believe I’ve been a mum for a year already. I am definitely still winging it every step of the way, and I imagine I’ll be doing that forever.

When I look back at this past year, I struggle to comprehend what we’ve been through. When I was pregnant, I thought I had an idea of what motherhood would be like. I knew it would be the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but I didn’t quite grasp just how much it would change me as a person, and how much it has taken hold of every fibre of my being.

I feel like my brain and my heart have expanded to fit this whole new part of life in, and I know that no matter what, it’s never going to shrink back down again.

It’s strange to feel so entirely altered – never before have I experienced a feeling like it. Leaving school and university just felt like an exciting new chapter – I’d be leaving the school environment to enter a workplace and learn a whole host of new skills. Getting married was just a piece of paper and another day. It was amazing and I am so glad I’m married to my amazing husband, but afterwards I felt pretty much the same as I did the day before!

But becoming a mum feels like a complete before and after. BP (Before Phoebe) and AP (After Phoebe) feel like two different people, two different lives, and a year on I’ve definitely come to terms with that and am embracing it.

It’s busy, it’s hard, it’s tiring, but my life is so full and there is never a dull moment (aside from the days when Little Baby Bum is all we can find the energy for – if I get ‘There Are No Monsters’ stuck in my head anymore I fear I’ll lose the ability to sing anything else).

I think it took about six months for me to really get into the swing of things. Before that, I was definitely having an identity crisis. I had always been quite in control of my life and I was normally pretty good at things if I put my mind to them, but there is just no controlling motherhood and it is so difficult to be ‘good’ at it. Every time you think you’ve mastered it, your baby changes and you have to learn all over again.

Motherhood and mental health

In the very early days, I had a small bout of Post-Natal Depression and Post-Natal Anxiety. The anxiety still creeps in and I know it always will, but the depression thankfully only lasted for about three weeks before I felt the fog lifting.

I have found that the anxiety comes from a fear of sleepless nights, worries about Phoebe’s health and the thought of a long, lonely day with a grumpy teething baby. If we’re in a leap, she’s getting teeth, or she has something not quite right with her health, it sends me into a dizzy spiral of anxiety that leaves me on edge and exhausted.

One of the worst times for me that stands out (aside from those first three weeks, during which I was definitely suffering from a chemical imbalance that was quite extreme in comparison to my experiences since) was when she refused a bottle and I got so anxious that I couldn’t actually breastfeed either – my body refused to let any milk out! Patience, deep breaths and perseverance over that week or so meant it all worked out in the end, but I was in an anxiety hell for a while there.

I talk about these feelings openly, because the more I do the more I find other mums reach out and tell me they have been feeling the same way. Some of them have been afraid to admit it through fear of being seen as a bad parent.

It’s ok not to love every single moment of being a mum. If you do, I think you might be an alien! However long you’ve dreamed of being a mum and however you achieved it, you are allowed to miss the pre-baby days (and we know that doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby to pieces), and you’re allowed to ask for help or a break. Mumma, you need one!

The joy of motherhood

Now that I’ve been honest about how difficult I’ve found becoming a mum, I’ll talk about the good stuff, and wow there’s a lot of it. The absolute joy and pride I have felt watching this tiny human that we created become a proper little person is unlike anything I could imagine.

I am convinced that Phoebe is a genius. Every little thing she does amazes me. I watch her eyes light up and focus on something new, and before I know it she’s trying to master it herself. It’s fascinating to watch and I can’t believe this is just the beginning, she’s only one and there are so many more milestones in her future.

Her laugh is completely infectious, and she still gets hiccups when she laughs too much. I love seeing her discover new food she likes, and I’ve really enjoyed trying out new recipes for her. I’m not normally much of a cook but I love challenge of creating something she’ll like.

When Phoebe learned to crawl at the slightly late age of almost 11 months, she suddenly (and finally!) started sleeping through the night for the first time. She has always been a great sleeper though, despite holding on to her night feed for so long. The snuggly night feeds were tiring but in many ways I miss them, it was a beautiful thing to share.

She started saying Cat at a really young age, I think it was around 8 months or so, but she didn’t learn any new words for quite a while and still only knows a few. It’s so funny to hear her chatter away, though, because she quite clearly thinks she’s talking in full sentences and she just doesn’t stop. It’s adorable.

She’s great at animal noises. She can roar like a lion, buzz like a bee, woof like a dog, ooh and ahh like a monkey and sss like a snake. I never get tired of it, and the more she learns the more fun it is to read books with her and watch her recognise animals throughout them.

Lockdown has meant my maternity leave wasn’t quite what I expected, but during the six months I had out of lockdown I loved taking Phoebe to classes. We went to baby massage (and we even got our first certificate!), baby sensory, a weaning class and a first time mum’s class.

We also went on walks in the countryside with the pram, we went to farms and the Sealife Centre, we went to an insane number of shops to just browse and look around. We went for lunch with people all the time and while it was never exactly relaxing because Phoebe would often need feeding or pushing or just holding, every day that we went out and did something I’d go to sleep with a smile on my face knowing we smashed another day and Phoebe saw new things.

When lockdown happened, Ryan had three months off. We didn’t use those three months particularly well, but we did manage to spend so much time together just the three of us and the bond Phoebe has with her dad now as a result is undeniable. She loves him so much and I’m so grateful we had that time together. We transformed our conservatory into a playroom and got Phoebe into a proper nap routine too, so it really wasn’t all bad.

I’ve been back at work for two weeks now, albeit from home. I’m grateful for the extra time I’m getting with Phoebe while our office isn’t open properly, but I’m enjoying putting my mind through its paces again and regaining a bit of the Ashleigh I lost during maternity leave. The juggle is a struggle but we have a brilliant childcare setup and so far, so good.

It’s incredible how much our lives have been turned upside down by such a small person, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you for an incredible first year of motherhood, my beautiful, clever, cheeky daughter. We love you so much.

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