Getting Things Done With a Newborn: Part 1

So, I have a 6 week old baby on my lap as I type this.

Me & Sam

That’s right.

I have a baby.

WOAH.

He is called Sam, and he is very cute.

See?

Snuggled up

AWWWWHHHHH BLESSINGTON!

Anyway now I actually have some experience of looking after a baby I can talk about a topic close to my heart.

When I was pregnant I stumbled upon a lot of articles and blog posts about what it’s like to be a mum. Without exception they were extremely negative.

Motherhood was compared to losing your identity, disappearing, in one case even described as a DEATH of your old self, something to literally mourn!

They talked about not being able to do things any more and how depressing and inevitable this was.

I didn’t seek out these type of blog posts, they just happened to be what I stumbled upon; ironically often linked to or written by bloggers who I read for other reasons; artists, writers and entrepreneurs.

Motherhood was presented as being some sort of shrinking of yourself into nothingness in the process of looking after a new baby.

I am sure these bloggers also felt that the rewards were incredible too, a worthy sacrifice, but that’s not what they seemed to talk about. It was almost as if the overriding message was, YOU WILL NEVER DO ANYTHING EVER AGAIN.

This article by Charlie Brooker sums it up:

During the pregnancy, whenever a parent spotted me so much as eating a biscuit, they’d chortle and say: “Ho ho: enjoy eating biscuits while you can! Your biscuit-eating days are over, my friend! There’ll be no time for biscuits once the baby arrives!”

And yet when I read these posts part of me thought, hang on, you’ve been able to write a 1000 word blog post bemoaning your lack of ability to achieve things that aren’t baby related? So how does that compute? Obviously you *are* managing to do other stuff, i.e. the blog post you just wrote, right?

It is difficult to talk about this topic because YES, it is obviously very important and valid for mothers to express their negative feelings, to show that life is not just a bed of roses, be honest and show others that you’re not alone in feeling a certain way, and to reiterate how exhausting and challenging parenting can be.

But when I was pregnant, I desperately did not want to be hearing this sort of stuff. In fact, the opposite.

For me, I wanted, and still want, to see and read about new mums who managed to continue do the things they love, the things that made them the unique individuals they are. To continue to eat biscuits, to continue Brooker’s analogy.

Some might find those sort of stories and examples sickeningly smug and unrealistic, the sort of thing that can make you feel depressed in comparison because ‘all’ you’ve managed to do today apart from baby stuff is take a 2 minute shower and watch daytime TV whilst breastfeeding for 8 hours. I can understand that! The last thing we want to do is to create some kind of arbitrary benchmark: ‘she manages to do all that as well as look after the baby, why can’t you?’

But firstly I do not believe and do not want to give the impression that doing baby stuff is ‘not achieving anything’. It is achieving something incredible even if that is the ‘only’ thing you are doing!

A book called “What Mothers Do, Especially When it Seems Like Nothing” by Naomi Stadlen discusses this issue further. A kind person sent me this book on learning I had a newborn and it was very reassuring.

Certainly, for some women being a parent is the only single thing they genuinely want to focus on in life. That’s totally cool. But that’s not me. If you know me you will know that I always have lots of projects on the go outside of my day job: writing, crafting or planning my next hiking trip. And so for me, I needed to hear different stories, positive ones about mums who also create, who do other things as well, against all the odds; they inspire me.

I wanted to hope and believe that motherhood can be an EXPANSION of who I was; to GROW as a person, to ADD motherhood to my list of incredible life experiences, to go deeply into it and enjoy it, but also for it NOT to be a shrinking, a shrivelling of myself into a husk, nostalgically looking back on the days when I had interests and activities in my life, thinking ‘well those days are over’.

Frankly, and sorry for the language but seriously, FUCK THAT.

I am a person with interests and a constant desire to create and that is so important to me that it’s been a major concern of mine to find ways to incorporate that into my life once the baby has arrived.

I want to eat the biscuits. They are MY biscuits. Eating biscuits is who I am!

And I did find a few inspiring snippets here and there.

I noticed that Connie from Dirty Footprints Studio made a video which showed her painting with her 6 week old baby in a carrier (not only the fact that she’d painted but also edited the video and posted it online – activities that are quite time consuming in themselves – was awesome).

I was inspired by Tamara Laporte who runs a successful online art business whilst being a dedicated mother to two young children.

This amazing post by Leonie Dawson encouraged me to value my own passions, even actively prioritising them to avoid falling into the same trap as she did.

A few little things here and there helped:

A brief mention in Marianne Cantwell‘s email newsletter of a woman who’d set up a new business whilst on maternity leave; a woman on Twitter who tweeted about her newborn AND tweeted about band rehersals; friends who’d travelled far afield with their very young newborn babies to friends’ weddings.

I mentioned the blog post I read comparing motherhood being like a death of the self/identity to Andrew and he said: “think about our friend X, do you really think her identity is dead? I don’t think so”.

And I read about a family who’d…

…well, THIS.

In ALASKA.

“Steep gravel can provide soft footing for a rapid descent.” By Erin McKittrick, Bretwood Higman, Ground Truth Trekking

“Nursing while snowshoeing” By Ground Truth Trekking

“Lituya was generally much more interested in exciting new twigs and rocks than the expansive vistas that surrounded us.” By Erin McKittrick, Bretwood Higman, Ground Truth Trekking

I wanted to believe that things were POSSIBLE. More difficult, requiring more planning perhaps, taking a lot longer than usual naturally, but possible.

Even if this belief turned out to be hopelessly naive and ignorant, I wanted to carry on doing the things I love.

That is why I incorporated this issue into my mum-to-be planner.

I told a friend “if I manage to cobble together just 1 hour a day for my projects whilst on maternity leave I’ll probably be more productive than I currently am!”

So how is it going, this life with a newborn?

In Part 2 I will go into more detail on my experience so far; whether I’ve been able to eat any of those biscuits.

And if there is no Part 2 posted here, I guess you will know the answer.

But allow me a few days, yeah?

Update: Part 2 is here! Phew!

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Your Comments

Susie said:

Great post! Luckily I didn’t come across any of those negative articles when I was pregnant and am genuinely shocked to hear there are so many of them out there. I actually have more time now for life’s biscuits, as becoming a mum has made me feel more fulfilled and keen to make sure I am a happy mummy so that I can hopefully raise a happy child. Maybe I don’t feel I have made a huge sacrifice as I hated my job anyway and was delighted to escape, even if being a mum is damn hard and repetitive and can be dull at times!! I say, hooray for the biscuits. Sam is adorable, well done you.

Posted on 7 January 2013

Lotte said:

This completely rings true for me. I have spent so much of my pregnancy fretting about how my life will be ‘over’ once the baby arrives; how I haven’t got enough ‘done’ in my life pre-motherhood and will now lose my chance to do ‘anything’ for me. This frankly scares the willies out of me: I worry it means I will resent my daughter when she arrives, and – in darker moments – that I made a big mistake in planning to have her.

Reading your take on this is really refreshing – thinking about it, a lot of fears I’m experiencing/anticipating are a direct result of what I have been reading in the media or hearing from other people; they might not actually be true for me.

I remember now that when I got pregnant a friend told me that since she had her child she has actually become more focused on her own life and loves; she has less time to flounder and spends her free time more purposefully. Now her daughter is just starting school, she has a great job (which she didn’t before), makes time to invest in her interests and seems to be a great mum to boot. There CAN be life after motherhood!

Posted on 7 January 2013

Hannah said:

I love this post! I was just talking with my mum last week about those insufferable doom-mongers who won’t stop telling pregnant women how they’ll ‘get nothing done’ and how their lives will be over. There’s so much bitterness there, I find. Saying that, the early months are HARD, especially when you have what is supposedly classed as a ‘high needs baby’. It took me a long time, as someone who was used to being quite high achieving in terms of getting things done, to come to terms with not achieving very much by my old standards. As you say though, sitting on the sofa breastfeeding for eight hours IS achieving something and it took me a few months to get that into my head, that what I’ve been doing this year has been so important and worthwhile. One of my main struggles in the summer months especially was feeling lonely. When you’re an introvert and have a lot of online friends, being at home with a baby can be quite isolating. I’ve made a few ‘mum’ friends, but that only gets you so far, so I’ve found online friends such a great support this year. They’ve been the people who have asked how I am and engaged me in discussion about stuff I’m interested in, rather than just asking me how S is.

Happily for me I’ve managed to keep up with blogging (sort of). I’ve helped launch a feminist network too! It’s ridiculous but the day the Leveson Report was published S was having a really bad day and I couldn’t concentrate for five minutes to start reading it, let alone blog about it. I was in such a foul mood by the time Luke arrived home from work but looking back I’m laughing about it.

That book What Mothers Do looks really good, btw.

Posted on 8 January 2013

Jane said:

Inspirational stuff and all true.
For me it was ‘you’re pregnant, so you’re going to sell your horse right?’ To which the answer was a resounding ‘no’. This was followed up by ‘but you’ve stopped riding haven’t you?’ (with a look loaded with judgment). That’d be no again.
Nine months of riding later, along came my first born. Six weeks later, back in the saddle (and I only waited that long as I’d had an emergency c-section). Four months later, 1,800 word article on how to horse ride when pregnant penned and published in a national magazine (my first published article).
Anything is possible whether or not you have a child, but having one has given me more drive and more motivation – I want to make him proud of me, I want to give him courage to follow his own dreams – and I want to do that for myself too of course.
Keep eating those biscuits I say.

Posted on 15 January 2013

Lynne Miles said:

Ha! My life is over! Nothing positive or constructive to add to the debate here – I am a person who used to have interests and friends and now just has a full time job and a baby.

But you’ve caught me on a bad week…

Posted on 18 January 2013

Catherine Redfern said:

Rubbish Lynne! Knowing you I know that’s not true; why, you emailed me just the other day about F Word stuff, for example. Also, I’m sure it gets a lot harder when you go back to work, so don’t be so hard on yourself! :-)

Posted on 18 January 2013

Grace said:

Ah Catherine, love this post – speaking as someone who did lose her identity for a while there :)

I guess if some people choose to see only loss in change, then ‘life is over’ can be seen in so many situations – growing up, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, changing jobs, moving house even!

I even found some people telling my son that his life was over aged 4 when he started school!

Yup sometimes change means loss. Often it also means gain. But really change just means change, and it’s always up to us to live by design and make it as thrilling, crazy, amazing, intrepid, fulfilling, rewarding and varied as we choose.

Posted on 18 February 2013

Gemma said:

*claps raucously* Yep, I agree Catherine – things take a lot more careful planning and time with a baby, but nothing is off limits. I find it easy to remember how much time I used to waste and say that I was busy.

That being said, I found the initial year of motherhood a real struggle. Being a mum to a newborn is not a natural state for me and if I’m honest, I didn’t really enjoy it. I was also the “baby pioneer” for my group of friends, so I was also asked LOADS of questions about what it was like. Problem is, at the time I didn’t really have much positive to say about it.

I would say as well that you should surround yourself with supportive people, especially when you become a mum because it’s TOUGH at the start and you need that support to truly be the best mum you can be. Friends want to bring the shopping round? Let ‘em! MOther-In-Law wants to hoover up? For goodness sake, she can! Grandma wants to look after the little ‘un so you can sleep/work/read/take a walk without a pram? Hand her that moses basket and muslin!

G x

Posted on 18 February 2013

Helen said:

What a totally inspiring post! I’ve also found some (OK, quite a few) parenting blogs mildly depressing even thought they never intended to be that way.

I’ll be sharing this post on my Facebook page so other mums of babies can be inspired too!

Posted on 18 February 2013

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