I’m putting on a parenting conference in Manchester this October. I’m organising it with three friends, and we’re not making any money from it. We’re doing it because having worked with and supported thousands of families between us, we passionately believe that there is information to be given out antenatally that can help enormously as parents navigate those postnatal weeks and months. Are you pregnant? Is your partner having a baby? Let me explain why I truly believe this will be the best £30 you spend on yourselves and your child.
You’re having a baby! It is hugely exciting. Or scary. Or both. It may have been planned, it may not. When do you announce? Straight away? After the “dating” scan? Just as and when you see people? Months of other people’s advice and views and warnings and stories. Mostly all about THE BIRTH. It looms large doesn’t it? That moment when baby goes from inside to outside, and however it happens, whatever you choose, whatever medical circumstance chooses for you, baby is going to go from inside to outside. Oh my goodness!!
And that’s it really isn’t it? You are flicking through catalogues, browsing the shops, making lists of things that you need (or maybe don’t really need but definitely want because they are cute and come in a range of colours with bunny and teddy motifs). But really it’s all a bit theoretical. Baby is inside, and at the “end” of that journey baby will come out. What happens next is a foggy haze and all you really know about it is that apparently you will never sleep again and, if you are the mother, a lot of people think they know what you should do with your breasts.
Trouble is, it stops being theoretical the moment baby is born. Even if baby is unwell, or you are unwell, and therefore you don’t get those first hours together, you have still become A PARENT. You were a parent beforehand, but that was a bit different. Now baby is here in the world and needs you. And you need them. And you love them. But suddenly it doesn’t seem to be that simple.
You love baby, and baby will be fine. Love suggests care, care suggests attention, attention suggests effort….. Love is all you need. Yet so many things can get in the way of this simple equation. And whilst your love for baby might not change, the way you feel about yourself may take a battering. And that isn’t good for you, or your growing family.
The information you can read about parenting seems to fall into two categories: books about routines and strategies that appear to make life easier for parents but don’t much take into account the needs of baby (and of course anyone can write a baby book. It’s not as though there’s any regulation). And books/websites about the biological and evolutionary needs of baby, that don’t seem to offer many solutions as to how on earth a normal person in the 21st century can meet those needs without losing their mind.
Love is all you need. But the baby books tell you not to cuddle “too much”, not to get into “bad habits”, not to do this or that or the other thing that love tells you is natural because of dire consequences, rods for your own back and a child that still needs you to help it to sleep when it is away at university.
Love is all you need. But sometimes our bodies get confused after birth and present us with mental health problems that make love very very hard to access. Or sometimes physical health issues mean that love is not enough, the skill of medical professionals is required and parents can feel helpless and left out.
Love is all you need. But then the way you thought you would feed your baby is apparently all “wrong” and it doesn’t work and it’s really hard and the advice changes every day and you haven’t slept and baby is so unsettled and WHY IS IT NOT THE WAY IT WAS IN THE BOOKS?? And you start to wonder if you have failed in some way. As if you are not enough.
And what about your partner, or other members of your family? How are your relationships with them affected by all of this? What is their role? How can they help? And do you all have to become totally different people in order to do this thing that everyone said was so simple and now that baby is here suddenly appears to be so complicated?
No, you don’t need to become different people. Having a baby certainly changes you, but not beyond all recognition. You are already capable of doing this, you are up for the challenge! You are ready for the rewards! You just need a few additional items in your toolkit, that’s all.
“Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff” – what tools will it provide?
- Understanding Me. Because understanding ourselves is the first step. No book or website or group or system can tell you how to be a parent if it doesn’t take into account who YOU are to begin with. We are not all the same. What can we learn about ourselves that will help us with this new phase of our lives?
- Understanding Baby. Because babies have a lot to tell us! What do they expect? How do they behave? What is ‘normal’ sleep & how can we learn to meet their needs? This event will not dictate to you how you should treat your baby. It will be YOUR baby, with its own personality, and you will be the expert on how to care for it, not us. But what we can give to you is an understanding of the latest evidence and information about infants and their ways, to give you a framework in which to understand this little person who is joining your family.
- Understanding Us. Because relationships are affected by the arrival of a new baby. How can we best approach these new challenges? Come along with your partner, with your father, with your best friend, with your mother-in-law – who is going to be on your team? What tools do you all need to keep that team strong as your family grows?
And what about all of this other stuff that apparently comes as part of “Package Baby”? Breastfeeding? Formula? Postnatal Depression? Other worrying stories you’ve read in the media. Premature birth? Other scary things that you don’t even really want to think about right now….. Relax, we’ve got you covered. When you book onto the event you can choose two out of six breakout sessions, and depending on which sessions you choose you will get these added to your toolkit:
- How to give yourself the best chance of reaching your breastfeeding goals (session led by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)
- Independent information about infant milks available in the UK, the safest ways to formula and bottle feed, facts versus myths when it comes to infant milks (session led by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)
- How to nurture your emotional well-being in pregnancy and new parenthood (session led by a clinical psychologist and a mental health campaigner)
- Ways to cope when additional challenges are added to the parenting journey such as prematurity, illness or disability (‘Parenting Under Pressure’ session led by three mothers, all of whom have experience of these challenges)
- An understanding of the benefits of using slings and baby carriers, and how these can be an essential parenting tool rather than just a fashion statement! (session led by a Babywearing consultant)
- An understanding of what a doula can do for you and your family and why many people choose to add to their postnatal team in this way (session led by a doula mentor and member of the board of Doula UK)
Oh, and you’ll get lunch and a goody bag too!
The one phrase I hear the most from mothers at the end of their first year as parents is “I wish someone had told me.” Growing Families is not about telling you, but it is about helping you to choose what information is relevant to you, and making that information available to you from some of the best people that we know. It is about helping you to face those postnatal weeks with confidence, armed with a range of tools that you can use, adapt, enhance or discard, whatever the circumstances of your growing family.