When Vicks BabyRub got in touch with me to see whether or not I would like to write this post, my first thought wasn’t “ooh, what would I tell myself as a first time Mum?” but “oh my God, Vicks do a BABY RUB?” I can’t tell you how many times I lamented the fact that Vicks famous VapoRub wasn’t suitable for babies when Angelica was smaller – that powerful, nose-unblocking eucalyptus hit, the comforting warmth and reassuring medicinal vapours that soothed the coughs and colds of my own childhood.
And now there’s the gentle, moisturising Vicks BabyRub, formulated especially for babies aged six months and over. It has actually been designed as more of a multipurpose soother than a dedicated cough and cold-buster, but it definitely has a lot of that VapoRub magic going on – it has been working a treat on Ted with his rattly chest and constantly runny nose!
BabyRub has more of a delicate composition than the Vicks we are all used to, with Aloe Vera and the fragrances of Rosemary and Lavender, making it gentle enough to use at any time of the day or as a regular part of the bedtime routine. The scent is so relaxing and a few minutes of massaging into Ted’s chest and tummy after his bath have made him much calmer before bed. (We’ve made a lot of changes recently, in terms of Ted’s routine, in an attempt to get him to sleep through the night! One of them is making sure there’s a proper wind-down time before he goes to bed and this little massage session has been a nice addition.)
So thank you Vicks for answering my Mum-with-fractious-and-congested-baby prayers – I wanted a soother that was suitable for babies and you provided. If you could now come up with a one-stop teething solution that works instantly than that would be great.
But I’ve gone totally off-piste here, because I was supposed to be writing a letter to myself as a first time Mum and then slipping in a bit about Vicks BabyRub at the end! I’ve gone about it all wrong! This is what happens when you don’t get enough sleep, you see – all sense of order and reason goes flying out of the window. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: wise words I shall be imparting to my past self in just a few minutes’ time. I’m hoping that this letter will provide some sense of support to any first time mums (or mums-to-be) and help to make things seem a little less overwhelming. We all have our own particular set of worries and fears when it comes to raising babies, but you can guarantee that whatever your problem is, however niche, there will always be someone out there going through the same thing. Do feel free to use the comments section as a kind of forum, if there’s anything you want to discuss!
Here we go with the letter…
(Is that how you address your former self? Past self? I feel as though I’ve slipped into The Matrix and I haven’t even started the first proper sentence yet.) You’ve just had your first baby and you’re holding her, shell-shocked, feeling slightly annoyed that all of a sudden all of the attention is on her and not on you. You’re the one who’s had to have their stomach sliced open! And a catheter! You’re the one with weird things happening to her boobs, with what feels like a whole set of intestines falling out of her nether regions, with a sanitary towel the size of a cot-bed mattress stuck into her pants. Who’s having to administer a hideous injection every night, into her own stomach fat, and who has seen her lovely taut, blooming body turn from a ripe pod into an empty, wrinkled sack.
Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it. It’s not about you, now, it’s about the baby. I’d like to say that things change, everything gets “back to normal”, but it doesn’t and that’s fine. Because – as you’ll come to realise, though it might not be instant – having this baby will be the best thing that you have ever, ever done. You will never feel so tired, so frustrated, so (at times) angry or (at other times) sad, but you will also never feel such immense highs. Proper, soaring-above-the-clouds highs that have you questioning what you ever did to be quite so lucky.
There are a few things you can do – and need to do – to navigate these highs and lows. To be honest, I didn’t know about them (though I’m sure people tried to tell me) and I survived, but it’s nice to be pre-warned, so if you fancy a slightly smoother ride through the post-partum period then remember these things:
It’s all just a phase. They won’t be teething forever, you won’t always be constantly breastfeeding, they (one day) will sleep, you won’t have a mattress-like sanitary pad in your knickers until the end of your days. Soon – and it comes around fast – you won’t even need to change the baby’s nappy. Imagine that. They’ll feed themselves and chat to you and request “more snacks?” around seventy-five billion times a day – they’ll laugh when you drop the shopping, which will in turn make you laugh, and they’ll do impromptu dances in public when they hear a particularly jazzy ringtone on someone’s phone. It’s all just a phase, whatever it is, so make note of it in your head before it disappears, live for the moment, and if it’s a hard, testing phase then know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Nobody knows better than you. OK some people know better than you about some things, but in general you know your baby best, because you are with them all of the time, so trust your instincts. I can tell you that even after baby two, I’ve forgotten all of the newborn stuff already and would not have a clue what I was doing if one was placed in my arms this second, so people who had their babies decades ago might not be all that – er – fresh in the memory department. I’m not saying that other people’s advice isn’t good – and my God, it’s welcome when you’re feeling all alone and frantically worrying about something – but just bear in mind that you forget a lot of stuff almost as soon as your baby isn’t a baby anymore. So someone bulldozing in and telling you that you should be swaddling/formula-feeding rather than breastfeeding/giving more Calpol/giving less Calpol/bulking up the night feed with broken-down Rusks/taking the baby to the doctor to get their wheeze checked out is more often than not a real annoyance. In fact it’s pretty much always a real annoyance.
It’s OK to take all of the help. You’re so, so proud at the moment and you’re the sort of person who likes to do everything yourself, to never be indebted to other people, to be seen as coping and as strong. You want to do it all and you’re even trying to get work done when you only gave birth three weeks ago. Stop: lie down. Take all of the help. A cup of tea? Yes please. The baby taken on a car journey so that you can get some sleep? Do it! Pass the baby over! I can tell you that the way you’re going is down the slippery path to a proper burnout. Luckily, it won’t happen with this baby, but (little do you know) you’re not far off having another one, and you’d be better off setting up some good habits now. Allotting some “me time”, which is a phrase that makes you heave, I know, but it’s so important. Turn off the laptop, switch off the lights, lie in the dark and think about stuff or listen to a funny podcast or have a long bath.
Take a maternity leave. You work for yourself – I get that. I’m you, remember? But the world won’t implode if you take a few months to just get used to being a Mum. I know that you love documenting things on your baby blog (which I’m now typing into, MY MIND CAN’T COPE WITH THIS IT’S TOO CONFUSING) and I also know that you find it relaxing to write, but you’re going to take on a load of proper work with deadlines and client demands and you just need to chill and enjoy having a baby. Do some cooking. Some pottering. Read some books about baby sleep – that’ll set you in good stead for some of the problems you might encounter further on down the line! Nobody – and I mean nobody – will even remotely judge you for taking actual time off to have a baby. In fact, people will think you’re completely bat sh*t crazy for not taking time off, so please. For the love of God, woman. Take some time off. (She says, typing with one baby on knee and a toddler trying to hammer part of a plastic helicopter into the Eames chair.)
Take your thoughts and ideas seriously. This sort of contradicts my last piece of advice, but whatever, let’s plough on; you may have lots and lots of time to think, with this new baby. She’ll sleep a lot, and because you only have one, you can either sleep at the same time (recommended) or sit there staring at the wall in a kind of semi-conscious stupor. These stupors tend to be incredibly productive in terms of brilliant brainwaves: please do not dismiss your postpartum ideas and thoughts as the ramblings of a crazy woman. Write them down, either in a dedicated notebook or on your iPhone, and write them down in detail. Some of the best and successful entrepreneurs I know have set up businesses that they thought up during the postpartum period. It’s equally ok if you fail to have any good ideas – some days it might be a struggle just to remember how to turn on a tap.
Right, that’s enough from me. I sort of hate you because your hair hasn’t fallen out yet – I have a literal mane of baby hairs around my face and it looks ridiculous and also you haven’t yet developed “the pile that refuses to leave” – but I also feel sorry for you because you don’t have a house to live in and still have to make about a hundred decisions about stupid house renovation things like radiator valves and window frames and drains and doors that won’t shut properly. And you still have another pregnancy, c-section and two house moves to go before you catch up with me! Good luck with that. I can tell you that you’ll barely be sane by the time 2018 rolls around, so make use of your faculties now.
I can also tell you that you’re going to need to start your heart-strengthening exercises, because your heart is going to break and mend itself around twelve times a day, sometimes feeling as though it’s going to burst from your chest. Babies do that to you. It’s lovely. Enjoy it. See you – er – never, because I’m always going to be about two and a half years ahead. (Oh my God we could have an epic gambling moment here, if I told you some horse-racing results! Why the hell am I giving you baby advice when you should be out there at William Hill, placing bets! I’d be a billionaire now!)
Ruth Crilly Aged 37 and One Month
*this post contains advertorial for Vicks BabyRub. Specially designed for babies aged 6 months and over, Vicks BabyRub is available at: Boots, Superdrug, Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and all good pharmacy chains. RRP £3.99