“Bank lots of glorious times as a couple as you’ll need to call on those memories when you’re in saggy, stained jogging bottoms screaming at your partner that he’s a dickhead.” Sage advice from Steph Douglas, founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers…
Steph Douglas, 36, lives in St Margarets, London with her husband and their two children: Buster, six, and Mabel, four.
“I didn’t give masses of thought to having a family but I always expected to become a mother at some point. We conceived very quickly, both times. When it came to the birth, I didn’t really know what to expect but for some reason I wasn’t worried about it. My mum is a midwife and has given birth four times and was always quite matter of fact about it – I remember her saying it hurts like hell but you’ve a baby at the end of it so it’s all worth it. I LOVED gas and air, it had to be forcibly removed from my grip, and had two natural, pretty quick births. I felt like a rockstar.
The early days with Buster were a rollercoaster! I just felt so unsure of what I was doing, and it felt like a huge shock – the weeping and leaking and hormones. I honestly don’t think I’d given it much thought – it had been about hospital bags and NCT classes and not a lot of chat about what happened when we got home with this actual living thing. The fact I started a business based around looking after new mums conveys the fact I found those early stages so hard!
I think about six months in it felt like we were through that first patch of heavy fog, and then I think every month without realising it, things had got that bit easier, or perhaps more like I felt like I knew some of what I was doing so I was coping better. About a year, around the time of going back to work, I felt more like my old self. I was Steph again, albeit an amended version.
What has been most surprising about my parenting journey so far is how much it’s aged me. Seriously, don’t look at your wedding pictures.
I think it actually took longer the second time around. Initially it felt easier, which I think can lull you in to a false sense of ‘Oh well this is much better’ – the newborn sleeps a lot and the toddler seems to be taking to it really well, and you do have more of a sense of what you’re doing. Then for us just as the baby reached six months, Buster hit terrible twos. Potty training one while breastfeeding the other was hard, and I suppose that relentlessness kicks in. Everyone has stopped checking in, the days blur and the tiredness is mounting. We call that ‘The Survival Phase’ now. Head down, push on through, cry and eat biscuits a lot.
I took a year off after both and returned to my work in brand and communications three days a week. When I went back I felt a lot less excited by my job, struggled with the commute and the ‘can you pick up your sick child’ calls, and the idea for Don’t Buy Her Flowers was forming at the same time so starting a business began to look like my best option.
My husband and I went from being each other’s main focus to seemingly having very little time for each other. We also both struggled that I, as a confident, independent woman, became needy and *at times* more irrational than usual! We’re six years in and still learning how to survive. Mostly it seems to require being kind to each other and spending time together. You’d think it’s fairly obvious but every single couple I know that have had children has struggled. Some talk about it, some don’t.
Motherhood, in a sentence, is: a beautiful, exhausting, terrifying, exhausting, enlightening and exhausting rollercoaster that makes me sometimes want to scream, but also makes me go in to their bedroom at night and just listen to them breathe because they’re the most amazing thing in the world.
My advice to expectant parents is: be kind to yourself and each other. Wait, isn’t that something Jerry Springer says?
I genuinely don’t think anything can prepare you – you’re not capable of hearing until you’re in it, and there’s no point scaremongering! I’m just glad for all the daft nights out and holidays we had. Maybe that’s what I’d say – bank lots of glorious times as a couple as you’ll need to call on those memories when you’re in saggy, stained jogging bottoms screaming at your partner that he’s a dickhead. (I was a joy to live with). And also, whatever you do, you will be doing your absolute best with the knowledge that you have and you are enough. You are more than enough.
If I could go back in time, I’d go easier on myself – spend more time lying around with the newborn and not worry what anyone else thinks because actually, most people aren’t judging you – the person being toughest on you is you.
Aside from the whole keeping the kids alive thing, I think the greatest challenge has probably been adjusting to what motherhood means for me as a person – my relationships, my career, my body; it’s all been impacted and I think it requires some soul searching to understand all the implications of that and to come out the other side again.
But what makes it worthwhile are those moments when everyone is happy – we’ve slept and we’re fed – and the kids are giggling over something and then we’re laughing with them and Doug and I catch each other in a ‘phew, we haven’t fucked it all up’ look. We had two golden moments over Christmas – one with my parents and a whoopee cushion (it just doesn’t grow old) and one discovering that the kids LOVE charades. They’re a bit bigger and life is easier and in those moments everything else pales.”