The first 6 months
I wrote this back in 2013, when my oldest daughter had just turned 6 months. I was in Australia, a long way from home and just coming out of the newborn fog. Having had a successful career in the TV industry, I thought motherhood would be a piece of cake. How wrong I was.
I've decided to share this post now because I want new mums who may be feeling like i was to know: you're not alone. It gets easier. Find the joy in small things, ask for help and most of all, keep going.
6 months ago, I sat on a hospital bed waiting to meet my baby. I was numb, nauseous, overheated, shivering, disorientated, sleep deprived and more exhausted than I have ever known. After 2 days of contractions and over an hour of pushing, my labour was going nowhere fast and as Nicks eyes darted anxiously between the baby heart rate monitor and the midwife, i could tell that things were not good. The midwife walked over to the wall behind my bed and pretended to adjust my drip, whilst subtlety pressing the red emergency button to call for assistance.
I didn't feel scared, I was too exhausted for that and needed to focus on the task at hand. I had to get this baby out and it took all of the energy I had left to detect the next contraction through the numbness of my epidural. After what felt like hours, the familiar tightening started and so I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and pushed with all my might. Just as the medical cavalry rushed into the room to intervene, a little blue/red screaming creature appeared as if from no where and my world changed forever.
When I worked on One Born Every Minute, people described being overcome by a surge of love the moment they were handed their baby. I witnessed couples staring at their babies, smiling, crying, saying things like: "there you are" or, "I love you." When my baby was handed to me, I felt mostly shocked and scared. There was no wave of love. I didn't recognise her, she looked like an alien and she wouldn't stop crying. I think the first words I uttered were, "I don't think she likes me." I didn't want to hold her, I didn't want to bath her. I wanted someone else to do it for me. I looked at Nick; he wasn't crying either, although he did seem in awe of this little human. I just felt empty and like the worst Mother in the world.
As the days in hospital passed, my feelings didn't change. I would hold her to feed her, but that was it. I stared at Nick as he gazed lovingly at his daughter and wondered why I didn't feel that way. I looked down at my body, no longer pregnant, and felt totally obsolete, like my work here was done. I couldn't bring myself to name her and would spend all night numbly flicking through a baby name book whilst praying that she wouldn't start crying. When I slept, I'd have nightmares about somehow dropping her off the hospital balcony and would wake up in a cold sweat, terrified that if I fell asleep again something bad would happen.
We eventually named her Olivia Bea. The middle name was a random, last minute decision and when people asked me where it came from, I would jokingly blame the high dose of antibiotics i'd been on in hospital. I thought that by naming her, I'd feel more connected to her. I didn't.
On day 3, the midwife poked her head around the curtain to see how I was doing and I just cried. I cried because my pregnancy hormones were gone and now I was a mother, responsible for a life, physically battered and bruised, unable to sit up unassisted, and hadn't felt the wave of love that everyone had promised me.
For ages, I felt like I was going through the motions, doing my best to keep this little person alive and existing on an endless cycle of sleep-change-feed-settle-sleep. Sometimes I'd feel so crippled by the monotony of caring for a newborn that I wouldn't leave the house and Nick would come home to find me in a crumpled heap on the floor. Breastfeeding was agony and made me feel claustrophobic. I only persisted through sheer stubborness, but could barely speak for envy of the formula feeding Mums.
My postnatal body made everything seem impossible. I lost my sense of self and found it hard to imagine feeling confident again. I became addicted to reading forums and books on the best way to get your baby to sleep through the night and when the techniques didn't work for me, felt like a failure. I was overwhelmed by conflicting advice from friends, family, doctors, midwives, strangers and found it hard to refer to Olivia by her name, instead just calling her "the baby." My mind refused to shut off and when I did eventually sleep would wake up in a panic that I was somehow crushing her, despite having placed her in the bassinet next to our bed just hours before. And when I looked at her little sleeping face, I just felt numb and horribly inadequate.
I went to the doctor to find out of I had postnatal depression. She told me I might, but also, that these feelings are quite common, it's just that no one talks about them. I guess it's not really the done thing to admit you haven't bonded with your baby. To know I wasn't alone in my struggle, however hidden it might be, was strangely comforting to me.
Eventually, things started to change.
I kept myself busy, made friends, left the house every day. Olivia started sleeping though the night and my family came to visit. We stopped having to use the sling to get Olivia to settle and breastfeeding got easier. My body recovered and I was given the all clear for an ocean swim. I got quicker at dismantling the pram and Olivia smiled for the first time. We moved house and got married. I had a job interview, started exercising regularly, made friends with my neighbours and took Olivia for her first dip. I fed her solids, helped her sit on her own, she started rolling on to her front and then back. She learnt how to stand up holding only my hands and put herself to sleep when she got tired. I went into her room one morning and the moment she saw me, she smiled, kicked and reached up for a hug. I learnt how to make her laugh.
She's a little girl now, her vision has snapped into focus, she's aware of the world and becoming her own person. The other day I glanced over at her as she happily tried to stuff about 3 teddies into her mouth and found myself welling up. It suddenly dawned on me that despite not being knocked over by a wave of love in the delivery room, I am now completely in love; a love that's grown in a steady, logical way; a way that actually makes sense.
I looked up her middle name, Bea, yesterday. Derived from the name Beatrice, it means: she who brings joy. Perhaps I saw things more clearly than I gave myself credit for while lying on the hospital bed, drugged up to my eyeballs staring blankly at my new baby.
Now six years on, with another child added to our brood, those early months of motherhood feel like a distant memory. I got the help I needed to settle into my new life, and gradually, things got better.
Today, I feel completely in love and connected to my children, my responsibilities, and truly understand that "mum" is simply part of my identity. It is not all of me: my worth goes far beyond that role.
Not everyone's experience will be the same as mine. But for those of you who wake up every morning after a night of broken sleep and stare into your coffee cup, wondering how you're going to make it through another day: you're not alone. You're not insane. You're not a bad mum. You're more normal than you know.
You may feel broken, but I promise, it won't be this way forever. Talk about how you're feeling. Ask for help. And most importantly, keep going.
RESOURCES AND INFORMATION
Pre And Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDA) Support service for those suffering with depression
Forth Trimester. Ten Real Truths About The 4th Trimester (short article)
Forth Trimester. You can't spoil a baby (short article)
Matrescence. Watch: A new way to think about the transition to motherhood.
The Mother Side. Your village of new mums.