The impact of your baby - from conception to adulthood.
Working with pregnant women and new mums, I am often drawn into discussions on the concerns about lack of sleep and lack of quality evening time with your partner in the first few months post birth. The tiredness that blights your life. How long will it go on? When will we be able to eat supper again together? When will we have a full night’s sleep again? What’s normal? Etc, etc.
As my own children are now teenagers, I felt somewhat relieved (not to mention smug!) that I had left that disruptive part of my life behind me. Then I realised that, in some ways, it has come round again, albeit in a slightly altered state. It got me thinking of the three trimesters of pregnancy, and how there are echoes there to the rhythms of parenting.
First trimester of pregnancy - up to 12 weeks
You’re growing this new little person inside you, and the energy that this takes causes you to feel totally exhausted, and often pretty grotty. Some women sail through these weeks, not experiencing any pregnancy symptoms, feeling wonderful, cherishing the knowledge that they have a new life within them, but perhaps not ready to make the news public yet - at least until the first scan. Either way, you’re excited to be pregnant, and want to give your baby the best possible start to their creation, so you accept the responsibility that growing a human brings with it. You eat well, try to rest, cut out alcohol, and do your best to make your way through these early weeks, perhaps not always enjoying your experiences but knowing (hoping!) that it will get better, probably around Week 12.
First trimester of parenthood - up to primary school
Your baby has arrived earthside, and your world has turned upside down in so many ways. You are overwhelmed with love for your new arrival, and also by the huge responsibility that now stretches into the future, as you start your parenting journey. You feel constantly tired - firstly because your nights are broken, then just by the relentlessness of motherhood - you realise there are no days off, no coffee breaks, your spontaneity has completely vanished, time with your partner is rare, and when you do have time together or alone, what you talk and think about most is your child. As your child gets older, and you pass the milestones of teething, weaning, potty training, temper tantrums and accepting boundaries, things definitely get easier, but you know it will never go back to how it used to be.
Second Trimester of pregnancy - 12 to 28 weeks
You’ve come through that first challenging period (hooray!), and things get noticeably better. The overwhelming exhaustion has gone, the sickness has improved, you are starting to feel your baby move and beginning to look pregnant. You can share your news with your friends and family, and share in their joy and excitement. Your hair and skin look great - you are “glowing”. You are really enjoying being pregnant, and hope this feeling will continue.
Second Trimester of parenthood - through primary school
Once your child has settled in to school, your life develops a reassuring rhythm. You and they each know what your days will consist of, there is regularity and they go to bed in time for you to have uninterrupted evenings with your partner. You have fun family times together, it is easier to find time for yourself as you can leave your child for longer periods with other people, you are not as tired as you were before and your sense of self is returning. You are feeling confident in your mothering and are enjoying being a parent.
Third Trimester of pregnancy - 28 weeks to birth
As your baby continues to grow, your bump becomes bigger, and with it you notice other pregnancy discomforts creeping up on you - heartburn, backache, broken sleep through not being able to get comfy or needing the loo multiple times a night, swollen ankles, pelvic girdle pain. Suddenly, being pregnant is not so much fun anymore, and you long for your baby to be born so that you can get back to some semblance of normality. But you are also all too aware that “normal” is never really going to happen again, is it? Either way, you are getting progressively more excited about meeting this little person who you have been growing, caring for, connecting with and responsible for throughout your journey together - you can’t wait to find out what they will be like! But maybe you’re also slightly sad at the thought of no longer having your bump - of breaking that intimate connection that the two of you have had for so long, and of having to share your baby with everyone else out there.
Third Trimester of parenthood - secondary school to the birth of an adult
As your child enters adolescence, you are catapulted back to elements of your first trimester of parenthood, except now with an older child. Where they had been going to bed at a reasonable hour in the second trimester, now you find that you are frequently going up before them, asking them to remember to turn out the lights before they go to bed themselves. Evenings alone together with your partner are once again a thing of the past, and having uninterrupted conversations with them is like the Holy Grail of parenting! Your evenings are a round of taxi services to after school clubs and events, sports activities and parties (which require later and later pickups as your child gets older) - your child appears to have a much more active social life than you do! Or, once they start going out with friends who have passed their driving test, you lie awake till the early hours waiting to hear them come home safely - then you can switch off and go to sleep. The responsibility of parenting does not leave you - in fact, as your child’s birthdays march relentlessly towards their 18th, you become more and more aware of how this child-soon-to-be-adult is a direct result of your parenting skills over their lifespan. Part of you is deeply excited at the thought that they will soon be venturing out into the world themselves, as independent people, and part of you is heartbroken at the thought of them no longer being such an active part of your daily life.
Parenting is a constantly changing and evolving experience, as we and our children grow and develop together. Parents of young babies often ask me “Does it get easier?” and my only answer can be “It gets different”. You lose some of the hard parts, and they are replaced by other challenges, whilst the easy bits get even easier. Even as our children reach adulthood, and make their own way in the world, we are still their parents.