Becoming a parent for the first time turns your world upside down. It’s fantastic and terrifying in equal measures. People tell you how overwhelming, intense, exhausting and wonderful it is, but you don’t know what any of it means until it happens. At times, it’s so joyful you wonder if you’re dreaming. At times it’s so hard you wonder how you’ll get through the day. Now imagine doing it all without being able to see. Some mums can see nothing, some can see very little, and although our fears and worries are the same as sighted mums, there are other things that we think about too. This letter is to all visually impaired new mums to let them know they’re not alone.
Dear VI Mums,
When your child arrives in your life, your heart swells with a love you never imagined possible. The happiness that fills your world as you hold your baby for the first time is overwhelming. But what happens when you get home? When the work really begins? Hold on to that love and that happiness and never forget how much you longed for your baby’s arrival, because things get hard, and when you lose your way, you need those things to ground you and get you back on track.
Looking after your newborn
Becoming a mother is a wonderful thing, but it’s the hardest thing most of us have ever done. There’s so much to learn and some of those things can be difficult whether you can see or not.
You want the best for your child, you want them to grow up happy, healthy, kind and confident. You will do whatever you can to help them achieve their dreams. But at this moment, arriving home with your newborn, what do you do? You need to feed them, change them, clean them and make them feel secure. You also need to find time to keep yourself nourished, healthy and happy. Where do you start?
You are bombarded with information, from health professionals, relatives, friends, neighbours, that chatty lady in the supermarket… they’re all full of well meaning advice. But how much of it is actually relevant to blind mums? You take as much or as little of that advice as you want and you find a way to adapt it so that you can make it work without sight. Every mum, sighted or otherwise, has to find their own way of being a mother, because parenting isn’t one size fits all. Each mother and child is unique. But as a blind or VI mum, you just have to be a bit more creative, a bit more patient and a bit more alert. You are used to being these things in your previous life, but motherhood means you will have to practice them more than ever.
You know you can do it, don’t you? Blind women have raised their children throughout history and they have always found a way. So will you. You can’t see the colour of their eyes or the expression on their tiny face, but you will know your baby better than anyone else. You will know what they need. You will care for your baby brilliantly, without being able to see their gummy smile, the colour of the their poo or the measurements on their bottles. It seems like a mountain to climb, and it is – but you’ll get there. Soon you’ll be super speedy at changing nappies, know when they’re getting hungry or tired and even know when they’re smiling. It’ll take a bit more work from you than your sighted peers, but then you’re used to that, and it’s never been more worth the effort. Those early days are hard, sleep is broken and you feel like you’re making it up as you go, but this time is precious and short lived. The thing you worry about one day will be forgotten the next, replaced by something else. When you think you’ve cracked it, everything changes. Just remember that’s normal. Learning to do something, then learning to do it again, but differently, can take longer when you can’t see, but you’ll find the way that suits you and your baby. Trust me. No, actually, more importantly, trust you. Trust your instincts.
With the arrival of this little human, everything from your life pre-baby is a distant memory. You no longer go to work everyday, see colleagues and friends, chat about the weather, the news, what you’re having for dinner… you no longer feel connected with the outside world. Being a new mum can be isolating. That’s true for all mums, and we all have to find ways to reconnect with people in our new roles. There’s a massive community of new mums out there. There’s playgroups, baby massage, sensory classes and even breastfeeding cafes! They’re all brimming with new mums looking to socialise, compare baby notes – and make friends, just like you. Well, not exactly like you. Sighted mums might find a group they like the sound of, pack the baby into the car or get on a bus and pop along to see what it’s like. Of course it’s stressful for any new mum leaving the house with a baby- you over pack just in case, the baby Is sick at the last minute and you both have to change, you wonder if this outing will interfere with naps and feeding… For a VI mum, it’s pretty much the same, except there are lots of additional questions. You find a group you like to sound of, you wonder how you’ll get there, whether a taxi is too expensive, whether you’ll be able to find the bus stop and if the bus driver will spot your cane and stop for you. You worry how you’ll find the building and how you’ll find the door. Will people be able to tell you’re blind and approach you? Will they talk to you or write you off as stand-offish because you can’t see them to say hello and start a conversation? What happens if you don’t know whether someone is speaking to you and you either ignore them or jump in on a conversation you’re not part of? Will they think you’re too different and prefer to stick with mums who are more like them? Will you end up standing in a corner holding your baby, unsure of whether you should move, in case you trip over or stand on someone else’s baby? What if your baby needs changing and you can’t find someone to ask where the toilets are? What if you put your baby down and can’t find her again? Would it be easier if you just stayed at home? The answer is of course, it would be easier to stay at home, but that’s not going to help you find companionship in those early days when you need it most. You’ll find a way to reconnect. Maybe someone will come with you to a baby group until you build up confidence and friendships. Maybe baby groups aren’t for you and you meet people through other activities. Don’t give up before you’ve started and don’t lose heart if it goes wrong the first time you try. Most importantly, don’t force yourself if you decide something is not for you, just because other mums are doing it. You might meet another mum at the supermarket, at the doctor’s surgery or in an online group. It might be someone you already know, an old school friend or a relative. You’ll find one mum who you get on with who sees past your disability. You stay in touch and help each other through the next few months, or years.
It feels like no one gets it
Maybe you feel like you’re the only VI mum around and not even other new mums understand what it’s like for you. Well, you’re not the only one. There’s hundreds of us! And we really do get it. We get that it scares you when your baby cries uncontrollably and you can’t quickly look to see if they are hurt or if they’ve just dropped their dummy. We get that it’s stressful hearing them cry when you’re on your hands and knees feeling around for their lost toy, knowing they’ll have to wait longer than you’d like for you to retrieve it. We get that sometimes you really want them to go to sleep but when they do you worry, just a bit, because it all went quiet suddenly. You wonder if the blanket is a little too close to their face, but to feel for it might wake them up. We get that when they’re ill, it’s frustrating that the NHS website tells you to look out for a rash, discolouration or a pale complexion. We get that you put extra pressure on yourself to do an awesome job so people don’t think you’re a rubbish mum, because if they do, they might think it’s because of your blindness. We get all of it. Because we’ve been there, or we are doing again for the second time. If you don’t believe me, visit Blind Mums Connect, a place where blind mums come together and support each other.
Remember how amazing you are
I’m not saying it’s easier than you think – it’s harder than I could’ve possibly imagined. But then, you are stronger than you ever thought you were. Being VI means that our whole lives people have assumed we can’t do certain things or we have had to work harder than our sighted peers and sometimes we have even had to fight for the things we want. Think of how we have done things that either someone didn’t think we could do, or we ourselves were not sure we could do. Whether it’s big things like going to university or getting a job, or little things that feel big, like getting on a train by yourself or finding the semi skimmed milk at the supermarket, remember how it felt when you thought, or were told, you couldn’t do it. Then remember when you did do it. You have already overcome so much. Now fast forward twenty years from now. You will see what an amazing mum you are. Mothers have an ability to dig deeper than ever before to find the strength and courage to do what they need to do for their children. You will do the same. Sometimes that means you do things you never thought you were capable of. Other times, it’s having the courage to ask for help when you need it. That’s OK. Nobody said you have to do it all, and do it alone. Sometimes asking for help is the right thing to do. Talk to your husband, mum, friend or health visitor and know that by asking for help, you are being a great mum.
Look after baby, but look after you
We’ve all heard the phrase “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. So fill up your cup. You need to look after yourself in order to care for you baby. If you leave yourself at the bottom of the pile, you won’t be your best self and won’t have as much to give to your baby. So eat, shower, sleep when you can. Do something for you, whether that’s having a hot bath, putting on make up and doing your hair, or reading a book. Whatever floats your boat, do a little something to recharge, energise and fill up your cup.
Relish in those moments
“The days are long, but the years are short” is something you hear a lot as a new mum. Probably because there’s truth in it. Yes, it’s tough at times, but these moments will pass, which is both good and bad.
Study your baby and make a promise to never forget these early days. Memorise the contours of your baby’s little head, feel the tiny features on their face. Let them wrap their little hands around your finger and remember how it feels. Bank their newly bathed scent in your memory. Record their little giggles in your mind. Feel how small they are on you shoulder, how warm they feel when they fall asleep on you. Never forget how your baby feels, how they sound and how they smell. I’ve always been doubtful that our other senses are heightened because we can’t see, but use those senses that you have now. Use them to capture as much of your time with your newborn as you can. Because soon, they’ll be walking and talking and they won’t be a baby anymore. They will have grown and become this awesome little person, all because you are an incredible mum.
Sending you love, from one blind mum to another,
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my 10 Newborn Baby Tips for Visually Impaired Mums.