You know that everlasting love they talk about? You know, the ‘You will never know love until you have a baby.’ ‘You will feel such immense love as soon as you hold that little one in your arms.’ ‘Your body will be flooded with so much serotonin that you can’t help but love that baby no matter what.’ That kind of love?
If you remember giving birth and then thinking ‘what the heck have I done?’ Read on. This is about to get very real.
For those of you who read my post on miscarriage, you will know the damage it did to my mental health. Three miscarriages, a lot of heart ache, many tears and a lot of wounds that were left open for far too long without being treated. I liken miscarriage to an open wound, because for me, that’s exactly what it was. An emotional injury that I didn’t get help for fast enough. It was left open. Raw. Festering. It became infected with negative thoughts. Hopelessness. Despair. Anger. Many questions left unanswered. It made me ask why. Why me? Why anyone? Why should anyone have to suffer through this? The emotion came thick and fast. And I didn’t have an outlet for it. I don’t think I ever moved on from it. But I did learn to live with it. It became easier and easier to talk freely about. And it helped that eventually I got pregnant again, and stayed pregnant. Pregnant. For a whole 40 weeks. And that’s when the negative thoughts started again.
I wasn’t going to let anyone else see my baby.
I wasn’t going to let anyone else hold my baby.
I wasn’t going to let anyone else look after my baby.
I wasn’t going to let anyone visit my baby.
Because that baby was mine…… MINE……. All mine! I had waited so long for this baby. And so many times I had got my hopes up. And so many times I had to give up that hope. Because my future with a baby was put on hold. Again and again. So this time. This time when the baby REALLY comes. Like FOR REAL…… Who am I kidding, I couldn’t even think that far ahead. I had gotten so used to not planning for our future with a baby that when the time came that I knew for sure that this baby WAS going to be in our arms, I still couldn’t picture it.
But the one thing I did know, is that I didn’t want anyone else near her. Because she was mine. And nothing was going to take that away from me again. So Instead of spending the last trimester relishing in time off work, relaxing, taking time for me, and getting lots of sleep, I was worrying about whether or not she was actually coming. And if she finally did arrive, how long would she stay with us? How long would I get to spend with my precious baby? I didn’t want other people taking up that time if it meant my time with her was shortened.
You see this is what unresolved issues can do to a person. They make you think silly things. Things that at the time seem very rational.
I should have sought help from a professional for my miscarriages long before I actually had a baby. I always thought about it. I always talked about it. And I always knew I should do it. But I never got around to it. Because I still didn’t know if what I had experienced was really worth talking about. Was it really that bad? Did it really affect me that much? Yes. The answer was a big fat Yes. But I couldn’t see the woods for the trees. And I certainly couldn’t see the clear path that was right in front of me.
Aside from the negative thoughts I had a dream pregnancy. No nausea and vomiting. I gained around 15 kilograms. Small pains and niggles in my pelvis and back but nothing major. No swelling. No adverse reactions to foods or smells. So you would think it would be easy to enjoy the pregnancy. But the negative thoughts kept manifesting.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. It’s hard to be negative about things 24/7. Especially with a husband as positive, supportive and loving as mine. I really tried to stay positive and healthy for the baby’s sake. But the closer we got to my due date, the more I worried.
A few days past my due date the contractions started. But we quickly figured out this was false labour. They would start late in the day, cause me excruciating pain every time I tried to lie down and sleep and had completely subsided by the next morning, only to start up again the next afternoon. And I had terrible insomnia.
This happened for a few days, then my midwife suggested checking my cervix. I was at 2cm. A stretch and sweep took me to 4cm, but also shot my baby’s heartrate through the roof, where it unfortunately stayed. So off to the hospital we went for monitoring.
After being on a monitor for a few hours, everything looked fine and bubs heartrate had come back down. We were given the option to go home and wait for real labour, or break my waters to get things going. I wanted this baby out, so waters it was. Five hours later I was still at 4cm. The contractions felt like my whole pelvis was going to split in half. The pain shot down my legs like someone had fired a gun at both of my thighs. I’m still at 4cm??!! EPIDURAL PLEASE!
Another five hours later…….still at 4cm………this could take a while.
Ten hours of labour and no progression meant a possible caesarean. My obstetrician decided that we should wait one more hour, and if there was still no progression we would go for a caesar. But one hour later……. boom! 10cm! The labour gods were shining down on me. Ten minutes later (I’m a power pusher) our baby was here. HERE. Finally here. On this earth.
Weirdly, the concept of a baby being born, is still one I’m trying to get used to. I cannot fathom how a baby goes from being inside of your body, to suddenly outside of your body and breathing air. I don’t even think medical professionals know exactly how it happens either. Anyone else baffled by this concept? I digress……
When charlotte was born she was a healthy baby. 8 pound 5 ounces. Tall. Lots of BLACK hair (where the *expletive* did that come from?) And she took to the boob straight away. Like she literally crawled down my chest and latched on like a leech. So no problems there.
Birth – straight forward.
Breast feeding – no worries mate.
This bub was content and sleeping in my arms in no time at all. But me? Content? Nope. I was a wreck. I didn’t know why I didn’t feel anything for this babe. I had just given birth. Where were these amazing overwhelming feelings of love that I was supposed to experience immediately?
All my previous thoughts of ‘no one to see, touch, feel, kiss, love my baby but me’ turned into, ‘please someone come and help me with this tiny human. I don’t know what I’m doing! I was terrified.
Charlotte was born at ten past midnight. We didn’t get to the maternity ward until 3am. And we were alone (apart from the lady I was sharing my room with, who decided that talking to anyone and everyone she could possibly summon at 3am was a great idea).
My husband was sent home for the night which was another massive surprise to us. I had no idea they weren’t allowed to stay the night. And on the ward the poor nurses and midwives were rushed off their feet. (I feel like that’s an entire other post – GIVE THEM ALL THE MONEY THEY WANT!!)
I had never felt so immensely alone and overwhelmed in all my life. That night I got zero sleep and couldn’t wait until the next morning when my husband and parents would arrive. I don’t even remember if I fed Charlotte or if she just slept. It was all a massive blur.
We spent about 3 days at the hospital due to me having Group B Strep and Charlotte needing to be monitored. And after leaving the hospital we went to a birthing unit for 2 or 3 nights. So a week after giving birth we went home with our new baby.
The insomnia continued.
I was so seriously sleep deprived. It was so much more than the new born baby sleep deprivation that requires you to be awake every 2 hours. It was constant wakefulness. I Just. Could. Not. Sleep. No matter how hard I tried. And trust me, I tried. Magnesium tablets. Sleep drops. Chamomile tea. Meditation. Breathing techniques. Exercise. Melatonin producing foods. Herbal remedies. All of it. Nothing worked. I think I went about 3 weeks without sleep. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember exactly how long it was.
Those weeks were an absolute time warp. My husband thankfully was able to stay home from work for the first few weeks. But after he went back to work I wasn’t coping. I remember getting up one morning after a particularly bad night and changing Charlottes nappy. I looked down at this innocent little baby and I hated her. Real. Hatred. I couldn’t even speak to her. I was beyond exhausted, and I was taking it out on her. It’s safe to say there was no bonding going on. I was at a point where just looking at her while breastfeeding was a struggle.
I’m pretty sure I called my mum to come and help me almost every single day after my hubby went back to work. And she came, bless her. In all my sleepless, crazy stupor, she made sure me and bubs were ok. I am so grateful to her for helping me through that vulnerable time. It’s true what they say, it really does take a village.
I’m not sure at what point I thought I might need some sort of help for my mental state. Perhaps it was when I thought that if I just put my hand over my baby’s mouth and keep it there, she would stop crying? Yep. That was definitely the defining moment.
I called my midwife (my unbelievably supportive, drop everything, race to my house at 11pm at night without hesitation, amazing, incredible, not enough nice words to say about her, midwife) and said I was going to make an appointment with the doctor the next day.
The doctor went through some routine questions, and I was diagnosed with Post-Partum Depression (PPD). Right there on the spot, I burst into tears. Actually I just cried harder. I’d already been crying for the entire appointment.
They were tears of relief.
Just to hear somebody say it.
To have my feelings acknowledged.
It was an immense comfort.
I was prescribed medication for PPD but I decided not to take it. The side effects were a little too scary for me. Research showed that my symptoms were likely to get worse before they got better and that’s a risk I just couldn’t take. I needed help and I needed it now. I didn’t have time to get worse. And in my head if I actually took the medication, that meant I really did have PPD. I wasn’t ready to admit it. Even though I had just cried tears of joy when I was diagnosed with PPD (crazy mum hormones).
Family rallied around me and I spoke to a friend who is a naturopath. She put me on the right path starting with a remedy to help me sleep.
For some reason I had stopped taking my pre-natal vitamins. I didn’t realise how important it was to keep taking them after the birth. This switched my mood instantly. I was getting some sleep. I was starting to become normal again.
But I still wasn’t bonding with my baby.
The baby that kept me awake at all hours of the night.
The baby that required my constant attention.
The baby that meant I no longer had the life I used to have.
The baby that meant I couldn’t just leave the house whenever I wanted and I couldn’t be away from for more than a few hours.
But I definitely couldn’t trust anyone else to look after her.
I didn’t want to look after her myself, but I couldn’t leave her with anyone.
It was a constant mental battle.
There are many reasons why some woman don’t bond with their babies immediately. Problems relating to conceiving, fertility, pregnancy, birth, trouble breastfeeding and related trauma.
Unrealistic expectations can also play a huge part. At my antenatal classes we were told about this supposed love that we were going to feel. We were made to believe that everyone would, without a doubt, experience this overwhelming sense of joy and love. And when they said it, rainbows poured out of the sky, unicorns were riding the rainbows, fireworks went off, and symphonies played. Ha! It’s like when they tell you that breastfeeding is going to be the most pleasurable and natural thing you will ever experience. Um excuse me, you left out the part where it hurts like hell, your nipples look like the skin on your grandmother’s knee caps (sorry nana) and you consistently forget which boob you used last so one is a bowling ball and the other is still looking like nana’s saggy knee.
It wasn’t until I spoke to a psychotherapist (that’s still a scary word) that I started to feel like I had a hold on this parenting thing. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on the now. I was thinking far into the future. I was worrying about having to toilet train her, and how she would cope with starting school (WTAF?) No wonder I couldn’t bond with the poor poppet, I was putting far too much expectation on myself to know everything now.
It’s in my personality. If I’m going to learn to do something, I need ALL the info, and I need it right now. So when I didn’t know how to take care of this baby, no matter how many books I had read, it hit me hard.
My therapist gave me the most simple advice….Focus on today. Focus on getting through just this one day. Tomorrow doesn’t need to be worried about just yet. Your baby isn’t thinking about tomorrow. So just focus on today. This very minute. This very second. Just focus on Right. Now. And it honestly helped. That was just the start. We had lengthy conversations about my whole life. She thought my issues stemmed right back from childhood, not just from the miscarriages. We even talked about how I was bullied at school and how that might be linked to my anxieties. It was a long process. But it just helped to talk. Talking to someone who had no personal connection to me and could only give me professional advice was a life changer.
I don’t think I started to bond with my baby until she was around 6 or 7 months old. It’s that age when things start to become a little more fun. Your baby is more interactive. You’re getting more predictable responses. More smiles (that aren’t just farts). Perhaps even more consistent sleep. You’re getting something in return. Something for all the time you’ve put into these amazing creatures. But I’m still not there 100%. I still have days when I look at her and think ‘who are you and where did you come from?’ And that’s ok. It will happen. Its going to take a long time, but I will get there.
And you know what? Bonding with your baby is great, but there’s nothing wrong if you don’t bond with your baby straight away. You’re not strange, abnormal, weird. Heck, you may never connect with your child the way you thought you might. But I think we need to stop putting so much pressure on mums to have that immediate bond with their children.
Let’s be honest with mothers.
Let’s tell them that this parenting gig is HARD!! And that it’s not always sunshine, roses and lollipops.
Let’s tell them that those shiny posts on Instagram aren’t always showing the whole truth.
Let’s tell them that it’s ok to not always have their shit together.
Then maybe mothers will find their own way of connecting, without all the pressure, in their own sweet time.