After Birth

{As in, life after baby - not as in my placenta}

Being a mum is hard.

It is harder than I thought it would be.

It is harder than anyone warned me it would be.

It is the most beautiful and rewarding experience of my existence, of course.

But, also, fuck me, it is difficult.

I’ll start in the delivery room.

My son was delivered safely on September 10th, 2019. He was back to back, which lead to a dramatic entry. And there was meconium found in my placenta, which lead to an overnight stay at the hospital. That first night is so vivid in my mind. Rory (at that point affectionally dubbed ‘Baby G’) was this little bundle of loveliness, all swaddled up in blankets (“don’t do it like this at home,” said the midwife) with his little hat on (“don’t put him to bed in a hat at home,” said the midwife) sleeping soundly in a see through open top tank type contraption. My husband was fast asleep on a chair next to us. The lights were dimmed, the lady opposite us was, I swear to god, consuming a smuggled in curry, and I just sat there, staring between my husband and my baby, completely spellbound. I slept for a grand total of 30 minutes that first night, waking abruptly from a very realistic labour dream, and unable to get back to sleep for fear that little one would spontaneously stop breathing if I dared shut my eyes. Adrenaline kept me going all through day two. Through introducing him to great hoards of family members, numerous tests in the hospital, and the drive home. I was delirious with exhaustion, my body was suffering the aftershock of trauma, and I was so happy. And I stayed that way for a short while.

But then the baby blues kicked in. And I realised I’d birthed a piranha.

As you may know (because I think I’ve mentioned it maybe a couple of million times) I wanted to breastfeed. This hadn’t always been my first choice, but after months of being told that breast is best, I was all in. I had all of the gear, I was going to be one of those mums that effortlessly whipped a boob out to feed her little darling on demand, never worrying about sterilising bottles or the cost of formula. As such, my husband and I obsessively checked my latch whilst in hospital, asking absolutely every medical professional that crossed our path to have a gander, and let me know if there was anything I was doing wrong. There wasn’t, I was told, everything was going as it should do, and I obviously had a little guzzler on my hands, because he definitely knew what to do to turn on the mama milk tap. Imagine my surprise, then, when my nipples turned into a crime scene, and basically fell off.

And my horror when everyone told me it was normal.

(It wasn’t, you’re OK!)

The ‘nipple trauma,’ as the midwife would later call it, would have begun on our first feed. Rory latched pretty much immediately when born, and I was so proud that we had both gotten it right without too much drama. But within a few days, feeding time had become an ordeal. And after a 13 hour cluster feed on day four, the damage was officially done. I was a mass of open sores, I was bleeding, and I sobbed in fear each time my sweet baby boy looked my way, terrified that he was hungry again. Day five brought relief, as my midwife picked up on a tongue tie, which we were able to fix a week or so later (it was graded as ‘severe’, and I was told my son had been ‘clamping his gums shut and grinding’ in order to feed. Ooof.) But day five also brought a sense of loss, as I was told ‘not to worry’ if baby coughed up blood, because it was mine and not his, so it ‘didn’t matter.’ As a sensitive new mum in pain, I took this to mean that I didn’t matter, which became the theme of, and motivation behind, the rest of my breastfeeding journey. The seven weeks that followed were absolute torture. I switched to expressing milk in order to give myself time to heal, which meant 8 30 minute sessions a day plugged into the wall. It was dehumanising, and I was missing out on my baby in order to do it, but I carried on for so long because there was a voice in my head telling me I had to. That I was a failure if I didn't. That I was a bad mum for even considering feeding my child formula instead.

The thing about breastfeeding, for me, was that I had the supply. I had oversupply issues, in fact, resulting in not only the need to wear super plus sanitary towels in my bra at all times (so glam) and not only the fact that I smelled of sour milk 24 hours a day (my poor husband) but also that I had trouble emptying my breasts at each feed/pumping session, resulting in a cycle of mastitis, blocked milk ducts, antibiotic induced nipple thrush - rinse and repeat. I was in agony at all times. It hurt to feed, it hurt to hold my baby, it hurt to lie down in a certain way, to receive hugs, to move too quickly. But, I told myself, it would be selfish to stop, because the milk was there, and he needed it. Who cared if it wasn't what was best for me? As a result of this attitude toward my own welfare, my mood plummeted, and I found myself unable to bond with my beautiful baby, who I loved unconditionally and would have given my life for, but who I thought - more than once - had been a mistake.

As such, the first few weeks of my son's life were, largely, miserable. There were so many moments of joy, so much love, and so many hours spent just gazing at his tiny body (and holding his teensy feet) but on a whole, I was so unwell within myself. In addition to breast issues, I was of course in recovery from childbirth in general. I could barely sit down. I was afraid to go to the bathroom. My back was in agony. My stitches were sore. And my haemorrhoids were deeply uncomfortable/mildly humiliating. I spent my days wondering if the chopped liver-esque lumps vacating my womb were a normal size/smell/duration. I barely had time to shower. And I cried, all-the-bloody-time.

But it wasn't all awful. A break in the clouds came on week 5, when I finally bonded with my baby, in the way I'd been told I would the moment I laid eyes on his face, all those weeks ago. My husband had felt the instant connection I'd expected for myself, and had, on so many occasions, exclaimed out of the blue 'he's the most amazing thing in the world,' to which I'd think 'I don't feel that way, what's wrong with me?' Husband didn't know I was struggling, and would have been surprised if I'd said as much, as I had been going through the motions outwardly, and was so obsessed with caring for baby, fixating especially on sleep safety. I remember the exact moment that the tide turned. He had been out for the morning with his grandparents, and I hadn't missed him. We met them for lunch, and although I was happy to see him, I wasn't desperate to take him back. But, obviously, we had to. And as my husband sat working upstairs, I started taking pictures of Rory as we were playing together. And he pulled the funniest faces I'd ever seen him do. I remember laughing out loud at his little expressions and, in that instant, it didn't matter anymore that I was in pain 24/7, or that I didn't feel like a person that mattered now that I was his mum, or that his face resembled that of a family member that has caused me so much pain - he was my son, and I understood it now. In that moment he became the absolute light of my life.

I was later diagnosed with postnatal depression, and put on medication. Frequent episodes of sobbing into the kitchen sink, telling my husband that the two of them would be better off without me were greatly reduced, and I was able to reboot my journey into motherhood.

Being told that there was something not quite right was a huge relief. I had already made the decision to switch to formula feeding, and after crying uncontrollably as I fed Rory his first bottle of 'poison,' as I saw it, had made peace with my choice, as long as I was within my own home. On the outside world, though, I was convinced I was being judged for what I saw as my failures. I had started to isolate myself, not leaving the house, not attending the baby classes I'd so wanted to participate in, and telling myself over and over that everyone disliked me, and that I was a bad mum. The spiral was crippling, and I would sit at home crying, feeling absolutely drained, and unable to pull myself out of it.

Until the drugs, ah, lovely drugs, altered my brain chemistry just enough to allow me to start living a life (mostly) free from tears. I still have trouble with postnatal depression, as it takes more than a pill a day to improve mental health, but I'm getting there. I'm pulling through an episode right now, and can feel my mind clearing of the fog that is made up of fear and insecurity, alongside the question of who I am now outside of motherhood. I am yet to find an answer. But I am semi-confident that it will be OK.

One thing I do know for sure, and that has come from all of this, is that my son is an absolute superstar. He sleeps through the night, and has done since 5 weeks. He gives the best little cuddles. His smile is a ray of sunshine (and he does it on demand!) and watching his little scientist brain whirr and click day after day brings me so much joy. I have the happiest baby on all of the planet, and I wouldn't change a single thing about him. He is my tiny BFF, the love of my life, and my reason for being. I have never been happier than I am when his dad and I spend time with him as a family, and I completely adore being his mum.

But it is hard.

I struggle, and I cry, and I love, and I sacrifice.

This is motherhood, though.

And it is so worth it.

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