The Truth About Motherhood: Annie Ridout, editor

“To expectant parents, I’d say: be prepared for the unexpected. Everything you are worrying about now probably won’t happen. And you might be faced with situations you never could have imagined that you find challenging,” says editor Annie Ridout…

Annie Ridout, 31, lives in north east London with her husband and their two children: two–year-old Joni and two-week-old Bodhi. She is founder and editor of The Early Hour, and writes for the Guardian, BabyCentre and women’s magazines.

“I always planned on having a family. I was obsessed with playing ‘mum’ with my dolls as a child and even as a teenager was so excited about having my own children. I babysat most weekends through my teens and early adult years and worked as a childminder while at university.

My husband and I have different recollections about how long it took to conceive. The first time it was a bit stop-start as we kept changing our minds about whether it was the right time. He thinks it took three months in total, I think it took double that. The second time was also hard to record, as various trips away (without each other) slowed it down. It was probably, again, about six months.

With Joni, I was so excited to give birth. I’d been listening to hypnobirthing tapes so felt positive that whatever happened would be fine. I ended up labouring for 24 hours before being admitted to the labour ward where they broke my waters. Five hours later, I had a (magical) epidural. Nine hours after that, she was delivered using forceps. There was tearing, an episiotomy and a long recovery period. She weighed a whopping 10lbs 7oz.

With Bodhi, I felt more scared and couldn’t shake that feeling. I was induced as they knew he was big too. My waters were broken at 7.30pm. I had an epidural at 10.30pm. He was back-to-back so I couldn’t push him out. We were prepped for theatre and fully expected an emergency c-section but they managed to turn him, I managed to push and with the help of forceps, he entered the world at 5am on his due date. We both burst into tears of delight and relief. It was a shorter labour but actually fairly similar.

I did NCT classes the first time, plus lots of googling. Then hypnobirthing classes the second time. I was well informed about childbirth but chose not to hear other birth stories, as I didn’t want to hear the bad stuff. I never watched One Born Every Minute. That’s probably why I wasn’t scared the first time, but was the second – by then, I’d heard all the horror stories.

Motherhood, in a sentence? A magical bubble that other people burst sometimes.

Joni was born in the middle of a beautiful hot summer. It felt magical, amazing. I was so in love with her. But after a few weeks, tiredness set in, my husband and I were snapping at each other, other people and their ‘advice’ and judgments were really pissing me off and it got hard. I always had masses of time and love for Joni, though.

This time round, it was also beautiful and sunny – but uncharacteristically so, as it was mid January. I took a photo of the sunset from the postnatal ward at the hospital. The light was incredible. Someone said recently that the light is different when you leave the hospital with your baby and I totally agree.

I’m only two weeks in but I’m feeling calm and positive. Breastfeeding was much harder to establish this time – it was really painful – but I’m through the hard bit and now we’re settling in to a nice rhythm.

Working for myself is both a blessing and a curse. It means I can work from home and continue to earn money (from The Early Hour and writing freelance articles) but it also means I never stop. That said, I don’t really like sitting around doing nothing so I’m happy to tap out articles with Bodhi hanging off my boob.

The hardest thing to adapt to after having Joni was how it impacted my relationship. We’d never really argued and suddenly, we were shouting at each other and bickering constantly. I said then – and maintain – that if it had been the two of us on a desert island with the new baby, we’d have been fine. It was external pressures/comments/involvement that made it really hard. But that’s life – we survived. And this time, it all feels very calm. We’ve learnt to respect each other, keep our mouths shut at the right time and – most importantly – to be kind to each other.

The best thing about motherhood is feeling the love. There’s no love like it. It blows me away.

In some ways, I felt unprepared for the impact having a baby would have on my relationship and wish I’d been warned. But then, if someone had said: you’ll suddenly find everything your husband does annoying and will shout “divorce” quite a few times in the first year, I’d have said: “whatever. Not us.” You have to just experience it for yourself.

What I’ve found most surprising about motherhood, so far, is how much I value time to myself. I love being with my children but after 18 months with Joni, I was ready to send her off to nursery one day a week. The time apart was good for us both. It still is. I’m very attached to Bodhi right now but a year down the line, I’m sure I’ll feel similarly. In fact, a few months down the line – when I have my first night out – I’ll relish the freedom of walking down the street toute seule.

If I could go back in time, I’d have stayed slow and close to home for longer the first time round. This time, I truly hibernated with my little family of four and it was divine. The first two weeks were just about good food, being calm and relaxed at home and thinking about us and only us. With Joni, I was at a yoga class after the first week, running by the sixth week (which led to mastitis) and generally out and about all the time. Maybe I was trying to prove something (to myself).

To expectant parents, I’d say: be prepared for the unexpected. Everything you are worrying about now probably won’t happen. And you might be faced with situations you never could have imagined that you find challenging. But you will be fine. Everything will settle down in time. The first year is the hardest then it gets a lot easier (until the tantrums. But by then, you’re probably better equipped to deal with OUTRAGEOUS behaviour).

The greatest challenge I face, as a mother, is giving time to everything and everyone that is important in my life. I definitely give enough time to my family – immediate and extended – but there are periods where I’m not so good at committing to seeing friends, especially if I’m working evenings and weekends on The Early Hour. They are understanding though, and we stay in touch even if we can’t meet up regularly.”