Nobody Asked: What No One Tells You About Being A New Mother
This is a guest post written by Erica Tenggara, a personal training client at Level. Erica trains with John Cheah (pre and post pregnancy).
12 hours after I gave birth, I posted an Instagram story of me in front of the hospital bathroom mirror with a little update about how I was faring. I was able to stand and walk, but I couldn’t feel any of my core muscles and my butt was very sore. I was feeling all the feelings, but enough of it was good enough to share a bit to the world. One of the first replies in my DMs came in shortly after:
“You should start binding now or that belly won’t go down.”
Maybe that was the start of this journey to become a mother, not unlike kids who are thrown head first, scared and screaming into a deep pool by their parents who think that that’s the best way to teach someone how to swim.
Right after we got home from the hospital, my grandma called me, and for a whole hour told me what to do and what not to do, which included things like “don’t turn on the aircon” “only drink warm water”, “no cold drinks” “don’t hold the baby too much”. I know all of this comes from the goodness of her heart, because this is how she expresses her love.
Advice is like fire – it burns more than it soothes, and for some people, a literal vice where they have internalised that their opinion is truth for everyone because it rung true for them. It was a long time for me to come to terms with these scientifically unproven statements coming from a place of apparent love. That’s another thing, perhaps, with expectations. Well intentioned people expect thankfulness and gratitude for their “nuggets of advice” but don’t quite understand how something can land quite differently from how it’s intended to be said. I think people need to realise there is no amount of red date tea and ginger that will make you recover or have the belly shrink faster.
I’m pretty much the only one in my family apart from my Mum who gave birth naturally, breast fed, didn’t do confinement and didn’t have a nanny. Not that any of those things makes you a bad mum, it does not. But I have chosen the path of excluding external voices, and we’ve turned out fine.
One thing I wish I had known earlier on was the importance of Pelvic Floor and deep abdominal control — read: control, not strength. It’s not about going heavy, it’s about understanding the markers for good strength and playing the long game to get there. It’s much easier to drink red date tea and do the binding than it is to get nitty gritty on your Kegels & navel control. Instagram and YouTube people love to give “advice” masqueraded as marketing and conventional beauty expectations, and even at 6 weeks postpartum when my OBGYN cleared me for exercise, no one gave me as much in-depth information as Monica from Physio Down Under did.
She was the one who helped me understand that my doming stomach was simply due to the fact that I’d lost control of my abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, which now seems so logical, but when you have your Asian family drowning you in red date tea, it’s hard to take in any sense of logic!
If you go deeper into the research you’ll also learn than binding is not actually great for you, especially the cloth kind. It’s just a recipe for prolapse (where the organs fail to support themselves and literally fall into the vagina because the binding has been doing the work instead of the muscles). Supportive postpartum wear that helps control the pelvis and loose belly is great, and much better for the eventual recovery of muscular function in the area, and it’s not as tight as binding is.
Dallas’s head circumference has always been off the charts, and his weight has always been average. He was also a long and lanky baby. That – based on anatomy & physiology – made it very difficult to gain neck strength and head control. As a yoga teacher it’s just something I could naturally see without anyone telling me.
When I was posting a lot of videos of Dallas, people who I didn’t even know would come to me asking if he had mobility issues. That both pissed me off and worried me unnecessarily. I would then do an insane amount of exercises with Dallas to help him sit up more or get better head control. Both of us shed many tears during this process.
Everyone said the same thing: more tummy time. But you know, when your baby is crying at tummy time, is clearly uncomfortable and just wants to be flipped back, you need to ask yourself what YOU need to do, what your child needs at this point in their life, and not what everyone else wants you to do.
I then decided: fuck everyone, I’m unfollowing all of you, I’m taking an IG break, and I’m going to just let Dallas and I be.
Dallas is now almost 2 years old. He runs all over the playground, can climb up the stairs with almost no assistance, eats well, sleeps well and has great head control (I mean, he bangs it against something a few times a day, but which toddler doesn’t). I also only follow 22 people on Instagram.
When you can control what information you receive, you have more breathing space to think and make decisions for yourself. People have been raising families without the internet for generations. All will be fine.
People also told me to make sure Dallas wears shoes, told me everything about sleep training him (yes and no), and “wean him off breast milk but let him lead”.
90% of the time, Dallas doesn’t like wearing shoes. We still have him wear them sometimes but when he takes them off we don’t force them back on. When the ground is unsafe (if it’s too hot or if there’s glass), we’re hard on the shoes. I personally know the benefits of having that sensory feedback through the soles of the feet and I don’t want to take that natural learning experience away from him.
Sleep training is The Big Debate with young babies — you will find whatever information you’re looking for to justify your decision — so at the end of the day, you need to make the decision for yourself. At 7 months, Dallas was waking up every 30 minutes to 1 hour from midnight to 7am. I was suffering, hating life and I was miserable to be around. Something had to give and it was not going to be me. Hard as that sounds, ever since I left him alone, Dallas sleeps 10-12hours a night. Occasionally, he wakes and I tend to him as needed. But overall I became a much nicer person after that, I wasn’t resenting motherhood, and I wasn’t dreading the day when we “woke up” and dreading the night when we “went to bed”.
Feeding your baby today is a huge palaver. It’s amazing how much stress there is about food and babies. I understand everyone wants their babies to be good eaters and to not screw up their relationship with food. Picky eaters are extremely annoying.
Watching all the baby-led weaning videos of kids devouring their food made me so stressed when Dallas wasn’t eating much or a wide variety of food. I decided to stop watching the IG videos, fed him based on my intuition, meal times became so much more enjoyable. Is Dallas the “best” eater? No. But does he HAVE to be eating broccoli and steamed fish everyday? No. Does he love carbs like the majority of the world’s population? Hell yes!
If you are burning with a desire to support new mothers, or wondering what to do with them, this is the secret: Just love them. Lots of empathy, sympathy, understanding and love love love.
I had a rough pregnancy with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (extreme nausea & vomiting), Ptyalism (excessive saliva), and a HUGE belly – everyone thought I was having twins and the last thing I needed was for people to tell me to eat ginger (like fuck. Can we PLEASE stop recommending ginger), I really didn’t need people to recommend me documentaries and books on how to have a drug free intervention free birth and I especially didn’t need people to tell me to do binding when I’d just given birth.
What I needed was a hug. I needed some to say “I know it’s hard, I’m sorry it’s hard, I’m here for you, you’re gonna get through this, I love you”. I just need to be heard and seen for all my body was going through which is so much sacrifice on the mother’s part. I didn’t need someone telling me what to and not to do. I just needed love.
I have a couple of pregnant friends today and I only really give advice when they want it or ask if they want any. I also ask things like “How are you feeling?” Because I know they’re feeling E V E R Y T H I N G. Whether physically or emotionally, I try to be there for them through empathy which comes through in phrases like “Mama, I hear you, it sucks right?!?!” Which is WAY better than “don’t worry only 7 months left/it’s gonna get better”. One makes you feel heard, one makes you feel like it’s never ending.
Love on these women who are using their bodies as vessels to create, house, labour & birth the next generation in a way that makes them feel better about themselves. They already feel like shit, so there’s no need to make them feel worse than they already do.
Raise us up, don’t pull us down.
Read More of our Blog Posts
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Leanne felt a lot of stress and anxiety during COVID in 2020 and working out regularly at Level made the COVID situation so much less stressful.
Helen Chua: “I train so I can improve my mobility”
Due to long hours at work, Helen suffered from mobility issues and had difficulty squatting and climbing stairs. She started training at Level to improve her mobility.
Wing Yee: “I train for confidence, empowerment, discipline and mental clarity”
From only doing cardio for exercise, Wing Yee now strength trains because it helps her feel more confident, disciplined and for the mental well-being.
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