I have been watching a series on Netflix called “Glitch”. This post has zero to do with people coming back to life and crawling out of graves, but something resonated so deeply and that was when Sarah didn’t quite bond with her new baby. Granted, she was actually a dead person come back to life, but I could relate to that feeling of hopelessness. And as time went on a little, the midwife prompted her to share her feelings and at some point at the table, she just had tears strolling down her face while trying to convince the midwife that she was ok.
I remember how I felt as a new mother. I was so ashamed to admit that I was struggling. In previous posts I have mentioned how sharing my feelings does not come naturally. I had this warped belief that you just push on through, be strong. As I sit here today, I still feel robbed of an experience that was supposed to be full of joy; but it was shrouded in shame. There were days I wanted to walk away because I truly felt that my son would be better off without me. I would cry silently and scream into a pillow out of frustration because I could not settle my baby. I felt like a failure every single day.
I remember the day I started feeling this way. He was 2 days old and as I sat trying to nurse my newborn, I was crying in pain; he wasn’t latching. I had a nurses hand all over my breast trying to explain to me how to get it right because I was getting it wrong. Why was nourishing my infant not coming naturally? What is wrong with me? The nurse told George it was just “baby blues”. But that “baby blues” lasted many, many months; many, many ugly months.
We get home, my mother comes to stay. Hold him like this… burp him like that. Let me do it. What was probably good intentioned help, came accross as “You are not good at this, I am better”. And to be honest, this came up many times when she would brag about how he would sleep though with her, how she got him to eat solid foods and how he loves being with her. Thats all good and well, but for a mother who already feels like a failure, that was like a stake through the heart. This was also after she said she should take him when he is born to “help me”… So I guess the failure seed was planted very early on.
Every day I cried, every day I screamed, every day I would send a text to George telling him that the baby was safer with the drunk downstairs. I could understand how people could get to the point of hurting their children; but there is also this deep love that exists as the reason I couldn’t. I knew that it was just as hard for him as it was for me; I just wanted to be the best for him, I wanted to be a good mother, but I just felt like I wasn’t getting anything right.
I would read book after book, seeking the answers, but all I found was information on white noise and lavender baths on schedules and then by some miracle babies fall into a routine and the sun shines all day. Those books are bullshit. I wanted to write a book called “The baby no books speak about”. I think I spent more time trying to get my baby to settle and sleep than anything else. I have some of the most amazing photo’s of him looking cute and smiling and thank goodness for those photo’s because all I have imprinted in my mind is the struggle, the projectile vomit that smelt like it could melt metal and the passage pacing that would go on all night. Ok, I actually do have the imprints of marvelling at the most beautiful creation ever to arrive on earth; its those moments that remind you to keep going.
There are days I wish I could wind back the clock. Would it be different if I didn’t take the unsolicited advise of others, try to follow what was written in books and just followed my own gut? I know that part of the problem was how my identity was shaken. Some people are natural mothers, for some it is their dream and when that day comes when they become mothers, their dream is reality. This was not the case for me. And when I was chatting to my therapist about how I felt about cancer, I said I felt the same about being a new mother; weird that I put those two things together, but at both those times I didn’t know who I was anymore.
The lack of sleep and sheer exhaustion of trying to be everything that I felt was expected of me, I struggled to assimilate all this into my identity. I felt so incredibly resentful that George could just get up and go to work and his life hardly changed, I felt like I gave up more. I felt like more was expected of me and I didn’t have more to give. I was comparing myself to others, ashamed that I was not enjoying this new phase of my life and that just spiralled out of control to a place where I felt worthless.
We decided very early on that there would be no more children. For me that was mostly out of fear; fear that I wouldn’t cope a second time round.
I am glad that the realities of Postnatal Depression (PND) are coming out of the shadows, that it is being talked about and that more and more mothers are speaking about about their experiences. When in the throes of PND, there is a sense of isolation and loneliness, shame and guilt. But the stigma needs to be shot down. There is no shame in asking for help, admitting that things aren’t so great and that it is not just “baby blues”. All parents deserve to have the best time with their children, and if we need help along the way; be that medication, therapy or just knowing that it is ok to take a break for yourself, then we need to do it.
What helped me so much was taking more time for myself, discovering what made me tick again. Acknowledging that George is also responsible to care for our son and I should not feel bad for leaving him to be a father. I think as mothers we take on too much of the load. Fathers get praised for being “hands on” when they change a shitty nappy, Mothers get shamed for being “hands off” during a 20 minute soak in the bath. Luckily in my case, George changed most of the shitty nappies and scooped more shit out the bath that I ever did… but in all fairness, I was puked on more! We each eventually shared the load of what was hard (not equally, but more equal than before) and got to take joy in what was really awesome.
I do wish I was able to ask for help, I wish I was not ashamed. But I can’t turn back the clock and when I look at my son now, a very talented teenager, I know that despite the very ugly first year or two, he turned out ok. And I don’t need to feel ashamed or guilty. We have a strong connection and he knows that he is loved unconditionally and always has been.
As I look for the feature image… I have tears in my eyes as I marvel over the most beautiful little human… I love him so much!!