About three years ago, I became a mum. It didn’t exactly pan out the way I thought it would.
After 20-plus hours of labour, I was rushed off for an emergency caesarean.
My teeth were chattering and I was shivering uncontrollably while my insides were being cut open in front of 15 hospital staff.
And when the moment to meet my baby finally came, I was so full of drugs that I actually vomited on him.
Not the best start to a parenting relationship.
Our son bonded instantly with my husband, but with me it took some time. Those first few days were a blur.
But I remember clearly how quickly I felt like a failure.
Rachel with her husband and newborn son on the day of his birth.
Breastfeeding was a nightmare. I was taught every technique under the sun, and I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.
I had no idea how to handle or settle this baby, and I was amazed at just how much was expected from a new mother - who had just had surgery and was wearing a catheter – to automatically ‘get’ this mothering thing.
Every time someone would say, ‘You’ll just know and have that mothering sense’, it felt like a confirmation that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this mothering thing at all.
Nothing felt natural, except how I felt an overwhelming responsibility to take care of this baby’s every need, and not knowing at all how to meet that need.
Two weeks later, we discovered that my son had a tongue tie – which was one of the reasons feeding was so hard - but it still left me feeling like I didn’t even know how to take care of this child properly.
It was not the Hallmark experience full of hearts and cuddles and swaddles that we’re all sold, it was more like going to a bootcamp without any training or equipment and being tested every two hours on this new battlefield of motherhood.
But then I got a simple handwritten note that changed everything for me.
One night I woke up to a note sitting next to my son’s crib. It said: ‘You are doing an amazing job Rach’.
This note of encouragement was left by a midwife after Rachel's son was born.
A midwife had scribbled it on notepaper; one little affirmation from another woman who saw I was struggling.
And somehow, that was everything I needed to make it through the night. And the next day.
Even now, three years later, I keep that note close so I can see it at all times.
One woman’s note of encouragement became an inspiration for me to start encouraging other women.
I wrote a similar note for another new mother in the same ward. She sent me a text weeks later saying she had left the note on her fridge.
Later, I started writing notes of affirmation to new mums; all the little things my sister and my friends would tell me in secret. All the things we never say about motherhood, but everyone experiences.
That one note changed everything because I knew I wasn’t alone.
Even though I was completely new and ‘not getting’ certain things that day, the learning did come. The bond did grow. My ‘mama confidence’ showed up when I needed it most.
Rachel with her son as a toddler.
But nothing can prepare you for parenthood. Trust me, I tried. I did the classes and read the books.
The most important thing you can do is to have a supportive community around you during that first year who can help you practically and encourage you as you become the mother your baby needs.
I’ve learned there are 100 different ways to be a good parent – and they don’t usually look like anything I see on Instagram.
I have learned that parenting is the hardest job in the world, least compensated, and most overlooked by society in terms of how it can positively affect generations – but it’s completely worth the trade-off.
You have to show up and believe you were chosen for this incredible job, and no one can do it better.
Rachel Reva is a toddler mum, writer, publicity strategist and radio host.