Pregnant at 26, I was certain I would not become “one of those obsessive, weird mothers who stare at their children all the time.” I was, I believed, young enough to be selfish about my own needs and that selfishness would save my sanity. After my son was born and I was wondering, shell-shocked, how the hell childbirth had stretched my nostrils, for God’s sake, I wish someone had told me the following:
“You’re already one of those obsessive mother weirdoes, numbskull. You will spend the next year bound to this incontinent, snurkling piglet creature physically and psychically to such a degree you will lose any notion of who you used to be. Let us be clear - this is not because you enjoy it; rather it seems to be some kind of biological imperative you are powerless to countermand. Even leaving a room with your son in it will seem wrong and unnatural and as you sit and stare at him as he sleeps, because apparently you are now incapable of doing anything else, your helpless co-dependency will terrify and oppress you. But keep the faith. You are still yourself.
That weirdly intense physical connection never goes away, but it slackens gradually, like one of those retractable dog leads and eventually your brain will be - partly - your own again. You will read books, have friends, take an interest in the world, go out for the evening without feeling sick with rootless anxiety, eventually.
Sometimes, even when your kid is a surly, exasperating giant who steals your headphones, the lead will snap taught again and you’ll need to hold him tight and listen to his heart beat until he shakes you off in disgust, but that’s ok too. That retractable lead is love and sometimes love feels like a sudden tightening round the throat, not a fuzzy glow. Embrace it, find an accommodation with it. It's not like you have any choice in the matter. Sorry about the nostrils, they’ll never look normal again. Try a bright lipstick, MAC do good ones.”
After that, I also thought of a third piece of advice which is "learn some really basic baking, but hold it in reserve until your children are old enough to regard it as an act of miraculous witchcraft, then bring it out." I have had more kudos from my kids for whipping up scones in 5 minutes or doing those terrible Pokemon cakes I used to make than for anything else I have ever done. I make scones about twice a week now and everyone looks at me like I'm Derren fucking Brown or something. Satisfying.
Fellow parent-drones, what advice do you wish you'd had?