Occupation: Photographer - Rebecca Lupton (http://www.rebeccalupton.co.uk)
Child: Winnie, aged 2 and one more due in November
Expectations of Motherhood: I knew children would be part of my life but I hadn't dwelled on the idea of motherhood very much. My expectations of how my life would change were way out though (because I hadn't pictured my life changing all that much). You expect your child to slot into your lifestyle and assume you'll get a good sleeper and eater, and because they're your child you will teach them to be well behaved and adaptable - because naughty/difficult children are the result of bad parenting (of course).
Reality of Motherhood: The reality is that when they come out their personalities already exist - they just aren't fully formed yet. This becomes more and more clear as time goes on and as their character emerges. There is very little you can do to change the way your child is. My husband and I were convinced we'd have an easy baby, saying, 'we're both pretty laid back, our child will be'. Yeah right.
The first year of Winnie's life was the hardest year of mine. Life as I knew it changed and I had to learn to compromise and be less selfish (because pretty much every decision I made suddenly revolved around my family). Despite the emotional and physical changes that I underwent in those first months/years, that first year was in equal measures amazing and without doubt worth it.
I don't think you can prepare yourself for what the lack of sleep does to you, and I imagine even the strongest of couples find themselves in wars over who's the more tired and the more overworked. It's only when you emerge from the haze of the sleepless nights that you can see clearly. I remember when Winnie was in the full throngs of teething, the first night in months that my husband and I slept for an undisturbed night, our 'house' literally woke up smiling, bird song filled the air. It was like something out of a Disney film.
I do agree with the whole 'stronger person as a result' theory and I have a totally different perspective on what is actually important now. I've become much less materialistic and despite the fact that it's still nice to buy a coffee and sit on my own reading a magazine - and I still love clothes - I understand that there are more important things to think and worry about.
Taking your child/children home for the first time: I was desperate to get home with Winnie, I didn't like being in hospital. My labour had been quick, so i wasn't massively tired after she was born, but I remember staying up all night, high on love and adrenaline. The grumpy mum in the cubicle next to me who had given birth to her 4th (but unplanned) baby kept commenting on the other babies crying, so I'd been determined to keep Winnie happy and this had meant feeding her all night practically. After jumping over hurdles to be allowed to leave we finally bundled her into her seat and carried out the most unfamiliar journey ever back home. At home she stayed in her car seat and we sat on the sofa just watching her and soaking up how surreal the whole thing was. She was an angel baby for about 8 weeks, then colic arrived.
The best/worst advice: I was so incredibly lucky that I knew about 10 women who were all going through pregnancy and motherhood around the same time as me. We saw each other loads and discussed every single last detail about what we were going through. I'm also very lucky that they are a bunch who give great advice and who don't judge. Quite often I'd be at the end of my tether with the latest phase Winnie was going through and someone would mention something that worked for them, so I'd try it and sometimes it'd work for me. The good thing about getting advice from mums with kids of the same age is that their advice is fresh. I'm reluctant to give new mums detailed advice because I cannot remember very much from those early days, even though it was only 2 years ago (- I think it's called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder!)
I think I read too many parenting books in that first year too, but there were certain issues (like Winnie refusing a bottle for year) that lead to desperate parenting. I did get some great advice from books, but reading baby manuals does nothing for your self esteem. You can't help but feel guilt from the moment the baby is born, so to be told by someone (who doesn't necessarily have any children of her own) that your child's behaviour is your fault, can send you under at a time when you are already pretty fragile. Somehow you have to get a balance right between doing what's right for the baby and what's right for you.
The hardest parts of being a mother: Hormones and lack of sleep can do some strange things to you. You become scarily aware of how much you love your child and weird primal instincts manifest themselves in the strangest ways. I remember the first few days of having Winnie were filled with me being aware of how fragile she was and how it was my job to keep her safe, and that was very scary. The lack of sleep can make you an unbearable person to be around too and can lead to you losing all sense of logic, so stupid arguments are commonplace.
With regards to Winnie, I didn't expect her to be so wilful. For a year she refused a bottle, so this made working and going out (and basically being on my own) practically impossible. I felt breastfeeding had been forced upon me rather than something I had chosen, I was her food source and so could not leave her for any length of time. 'Food sources' aren't particularly sexy or fun and so it took a long time to feel like myself again.
The best parts of being a mother: Now Winnie is 2 when we hang out together we have lots of fun (most of the time). She is hilarious and has a brilliant character and I am so proud that she is my daughter. I see my husband in her a lot, but also see glimpses of her grandparents and aunties. Every day she astounds me in one way or another and I cannot believe how much she is learning and how quickly she is growing up (but this is also hard, because I know she's not going to be little for very long). My husband and I talk everyday about how brilliant and funny she is, and at this point can't see when this will stop (but we've not dealt with the teenage years yet).
Hopes for your family:
I'm currently pregnant with baby number 2 and cannot wait till Winnie has a sibling to play with. I hope I can manage to give them both enough love and attention, so that they grow up to be happy and balanced. Maybe one day I'll convince my husband that a 3rd sibling will be a good idea. I want a big family, I want our house to be full of love and laughter.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: (Before your baby arrives) go out for as many meals as possible, indulge in sleep, read the papers with a coffee and a cake frequently and keep your core muscles strong. (When your baby arrives:) don't feel guilty when your parenting slips, don't feel guilty when you get fed up of cooking organic meals for your fussy eater, don't feel guilty when you need some time on your own, don't feel guilty when you stop breastfeeding - don't feel guilty full stop. Relax if possible. If you're baby is happy and healthy you are doing a good job.
*Updated 14th February 2012:
I had my second daughter, Pearl, on 3rd December. After 9 months of unspoken worry about how on earth I'd cope with two children, she has been nothing but a breath of fresh air. I had a home birth, which seemed like a totally natural decision when it came to it, and the morning she was born Winnie woke at the perfect time to meet her new sister.
....Ok, so it's not all perfect and we've had to bide the time while Winnie adapts to being a big sister, but she definitely loves Pearl to bits (so far).
Motherhood has developed for me in an unexpectedly lovely way. I know it's very early days - I shouldn't speak too soon - but Pearl sleeps, eats and makes noises to a very predictable schedule. Yay, I have been blessed with a text book baby this time! I am therefore relaxed and able to enjoy her - something I never allowed myself to do with Winnie. For the first year of Winnie's life I hurried the weeks along anxiously thinking, 'it gets easier as time progresses'. I also wanted to rush her on to the various milestones (in excitement). With Pearl, (because I know how quickly these early stages pass) I actually wish I could pause time for both of them now and I regret the anxiety I felt with Winnie.
Even though being a mother to two little girls is hard, I think I'm relaxing into my role a lot more now and embracing the changes. In my first year of being a mother to Winnie I think I battled against this totally new way of life - I think it's taken a while for the shock to subside. Yes, Winnie still gets the lions share of our attention, but I think Pearl benefits from not being fussed over. Yes, I have enough love to share with both of them (one of my pregnancy worries) and yes, it seems to be 'the more the merrier'.