I am nervous to post this, if you know me in real life and we haven’t had a discussion about my post-birth experience then this might make you judge me, I hope you won’t do the mental health stigma thing, but talking about it is a new thing for me and I’m being no-holds-barred because it’s not talked about enough.
I’m not writing this out of anger or frustration, but just incase someone reading has had a similar experience, I hear you.
This kind of story, it’s not the one new mothers tell, but for me these stories are the ones that are significant. They are the ones I had to write to stop torturing myself over them.
Time goes on, I fret, I work, I worry about my unborn child and anxiety grows stronger but I don’t recognise it at the time. It is the shape of things to come. If I look at my mobile phone search field and type in ‘pregnancy and…’ a list from my pre-natal anxieties comes up we have ‘pregnancy and eating shellfish’ ‘pregnancy and not feeling baby move as much’ ‘pregnancy and counting kicks’ ‘pregnancy and flu’ ‘late pregnancy and going to wedding’ and last of all ‘pregnancy and feeling blue’
I had three different midwives, no-one picked up on my list making and anxiety, I didn’t even try to hide it, I turned up to each appointment with lists of questions, it strikes me now that someone might have questioned that given my history of mental ill health.
Dear health professionals,
When I came onto the ward with my new baby it was 8pm at night, the lights were out and my husband was sent home. I was scared. You handed me a leaflet about breastfeeding, my baby cried all night, she vomited, I called for help, you said she was fine, you left us to it, she cried, I cried all night too.
You came in to check on us at 1am, I said I was desperately tired after over 50 hours without rest, you tucked my girl into the bed with me and said just get some rest.
The next day I was not feeling good, we had visitors and I relaxed but when they left I felt panicked, I was afraid to leave my little baby in her bassinet so took her to the bathroom with me, you stopped me, and later again when I went for breakfast, “you can’t walk around with your baby in case you drop her but you can push her in the bassinet, it has wheels” – I told you I was afraid to leave her, you just laughed “don’t worry, the ward is alarmed” – I wasn’t worried someone would take her, I just couldn’t explain why I couldn’t put her down.
Later I hallucinated a pigeon in the ward bathroom, I didn’t tell anyone, I started to feel elated and manic, I didn’t sleep but spent hours reading about breastfeeding and a good latch. My girl’s notes said shed been taken to NICU in the night without my knowledge, “don’t worry, that was a mistake, it was someone else’s baby” you said, the damage was done. I was afraid to sleep incase they took my baby.
She was a lazy feeder, a poor latch, I felt like I failed her, you let me syringe feed her and said I could take some syringes home for just in case, later the breastfeeding support coordinator came for a chat, the syringes were a bad idea and later another midwife took them off me, I couldn’t take my baby home or the syringes until feeding was established. I lied, said it was going great not able to face another night of crying in the dark.
Before we left ironically a midwife talked to me about the baby blues, my husband also talked to a midwife about PND, maybe he knew what was coming? Apparently if I was making an effort I was doing OK. Here I am fully dressed and with makeup on, inside I’m crying but I must have been doing OK, right?!
At home a community midwife came out, if I’m honest I felt like I wanted to die. For three days she came bright and breezy, “look at you back in your jeans already etc” I was a mess and utterly panicked by the responsibility I felt, day three she left after ten minutes though I told her I was afraid to be alone with my baby, the next day I told her I was fearful about my mental health, she said she knew I was struggling the day before, so why did she leave in such a hurry?
Day four Joss was weighed by the midwife, before she did so I said breastfeeding was a struggle, my daughter slept through feeds and I wasn’t convinced she was getting any milk. The midwife talked about failure to thrive and hospitalisation without checking latch or weight, I got out the formula I bought just in case, all I heard was my baby would be hospitalised, I cried for days afterwards and two years on and as I came out of the fug and realised I had regrets about giving up, giving in and not fighting for the feeding I always believed and was told every mother could do, until recently I was still heartbroken by how things turned out. A friend later said she was just so stubborn about breastfeeding that she would never give up, every comment, every success story of triumphal feeding hurt.
I came to see my GP day five post partum, “oh its just the baby blues” – I wanted to run away, I told the hospital that on the phone but once they established my husband and mam were here that somehow made it all OK. By this point I was certain my baby would be taken away. By then the dreams and hallucinations had started, some religious some horrifying, still too hard to discuss I lost my grip on reality for two weeks, I cried day and night and the mania was frightening. When I later had counselling for postnatal OCD (that list making again) it became clear I had had a spell of postnatal psychosis. It explained the intrusive thoughts, waking dream/nightmares and the odd conversations I had in my head. I received no help, my midwife signed us off, in the end sleep was my respite and my husband my rock. Those two weeks were hell on earth, I couldn’t see a way through and it got pretty dark.
Intrusive thoughts came thick and fast and I knew they weren’t normal new mum worried but I didn’t say anything. My thought processed were stressy and hard to pin down “last night my baby cried and I cuddled her whilst the milk cooled, we both fell asleep, she missed the feed. Was it that she just wanted a hug or was she so hungry she slept from exhaustion? I must be a terrible mother. I can’t breastfeed my baby, I am a bad mother. She never finishes her bottles, what should I do, make more, make less, am I getting this right? Will she turn out to be mad like me? What am I passing on to her? Are the bottles sterilised enough, there are germs everywhere…”
Later I had a bad spell about leaving Joss to cry for even a minute, not eating or making myself a drink and making lists about her feeding, what she’d eaten, her weight. I look back on it and laugh, I tell people about it because I can now, not talking about it was a pretty heavy burden and I want to help others experiencing similar to speak up about their experiences too. As I hit publish I have doubts about sharing this but you can’t rewrite your history, I tried. I accept responsibility for how things worked out, I should have spoken up but I didn’t; the guilt and anger at myself are hard to let go of, my husband went through a lot, no-one helped him through that and what a brilliant Dad he showed himself to be, but I have no doubt we all came out of this worn down and jaded, that makes me feel terribly guilty.
We have an amazing bond my girl, her Dad and I and there is hope, that when you feel you can’t go on, you’ll never sleep again or you can’t imagine ever being the mother you hoped and dreamed of, you will get there, I promise x
I'm linking this into Motivational Monday as I am setting up a PND support group and wanted to remind myself why I wanted to share this post with others.
I struggled to write a post about my breastfeeding journey, I’ve tried many times but it’s something I have yet to fully make peace with, I decided to post something positive and instructive instead, something that would have helped me. I am not saying this is an alternative to breastfeeding or comparing the two, but it is a method of infant feeding that is not really talked about and I would have liked someone to have told me about it earlier.
They say ‘never give up on a bad day’ – I gave up on the worst day, day six, just as the baby blues should have been lifting I hit rock bottom.
My journey in a nutshell went awry because a) Joss was not terribly interested in feeding, b) I didn’t sleep for three days solid and started to lose touch with reality and c) we struggled to access good support for PND.
Truth be told I was pretty unwell with an infection and a serious bout of mental ill health, when I should have been resting I was experiencing manic highs and frightening lows. There’s a narrative to all of this that I will blog about when I make more sense of it, but generally I stopped feeding Joss because I was terrified, frightened and not coping.
This one precious photograph is so special as it reminds me she had six days of my milk, its the only one I have, a keepsake if you like.
Formula feeding was not easier, I was anxious about hygiene, sterilising, and scrubbed my hands til they were sore, but I knew how much she was taking in, and that was very important to me.
Whilst wrestling with my guilt I came across the idea of bottle nursing, associated with attachment parenting. It took time to feel that I hadn’t failed, I had tried and it didn’t work out, we do the best we can for our children and whether by choice or necessity we nurture our children in different ways.
I chose to see nursing as something that was not exclusive to breastfeeding.
I chose to tell those who said nothing compares to mother’s milk and that they just tried harder than I did that my journey ending at day six broke my heart and my spirit
But I have to point out that I am pro breastfeeding and defend mother’s rights to feed in public just as fervently as breastfeeding mothers do and it upsets me when mums row over feeding, you never know someone else’s back story, what’s in the bottle or how they came to this place (this is important as I did receive some very negative comments, being told J and I couldn’t go to a Christmas party with friends because it was for breastfeeding mams only really hurt)
So what is bottle nursing?
It’s feeding on demand close and instinctual bottle feeding, in a nutshell its emulates breastfeeding with a bottle of formula, pumped milk or donor milk. It is feeding on demand rather than on schedule, often by mum, or mum and dad alone, with skin to skin contact, changing sides as a breastfeeding mother would do support eye development, and maintaining physical closeness.
Why bottle nursing?
The benefits are many:
- Skin to skin with baby fed close to its mother
- Lovely eye contact
- A calm time to nurse and rest
- Closeness and smell to build a strong bond
- Perhaps deciding that only mum, or only mum and dad feed baby to build and maintain a nurturing bond
Deciding to feed in this way was not without its challenges, insisting that only Dad and I feed Joss was hard, the grandparents perhaps found that tough and friends would offer to feed her so we could have a cuppa etc and it probably seemed odd that I turned that down, but it was important to me to see formula feeding as just as nurturing as breastfeeding, a special time for us to enjoy, so often I would take myself away somewhere quiet to feed Joss and spend some quality time together.
In time when she could feed herself I still tried to insist on feeding as quiet time together, I think that this photograph shows that bottle feeding is no less close than breastfeeding
I wanted to share my experience in the hope of helping others to understand this option for infant feeding, it was not what I expected but the benefits for both of us were great.
A short post as it’s been a long day, but this beauty, Oscha Stratos Aequus came to me today and we had such lovely snuggles, I thoroughly recommend a wool blend for winter, looking forward to a walk out with it soon!
Here we are with a wee piece in Prima Baby and Pregnancy doing our bit for promoting babywearing!
I can’t recommend the sling libraries highly enough, they’re brilliant for support, advice, testing before you buy and provide a lovely support network for local parents!
I have carried Joss since she was a tiny dot, here she is in our first sling, a Babasling, at 3w old
I loved the closeness and hands free aspect in the early days, and carrying a toddler in a sling makes a lot of sense too, great for tired little legs and lovely sleepy cuddles on the go. They’ve seen us through poorly days, tired teething days and shopping days as we don’t have a car. I don’t have a ‘stash’ – some people have tens of slings, we have three, a warm winter woollen, a carrier and a cotton summer sling, whether you use a big supportive length of fabric, or one of many in a stash, the benefits to carrier and carried are many and varied. Do you use a sling? I’d love to hear your experiences!
And finally, this made me smile, Happy International Babywearing Week, keep calm and carry them!
I’ve been reading a book about the relationships between mothers and daughters, Mothering the Self by Steph Lawler, for my own university study exploring mothering. The book is about the mother in the relationship, where typically the focus of such studies would be the daughter. It has sparked some thoughts about my own mother-daughter relationship with Joss, about the kind of mother I would hope to be and the kind of life I hope she will have.
Some of the mothers Lawler interviewed talk about advice and to whom they would turn for advice either on mothering or childcare issues. Just this week I have had occasion to be talking to other mothers about Joss, in a week of calling a cab and experiencing some uncomfortable side effects of teething it has also been a week where I said yes to a rare evening out. Talking to friends about it I said that I was quite enjoying being back at work, but that Joss is always in the back of my mind, and I found it hard to head out for the evening without weighing up whether or not I ought to leave her for something that’s not a necessity, like work. The words ‘mother’s guilt’ came out. But why? Did I say mother’s guilt because I’m trying to assuage myself of that guilt, or persuade myself that me time is needed? I don’t know the answer but my friend immediately said, “Oh that never goes away you know, mine are all grown up but I still think, do they need me to be there for them.” I found it really refreshing to hear a mother whose children have ‘flown the nest’ so to speak shared similar thoughts.
Later this week I bumped into an old friend in town, “hasn’t Joss grown!”
She reminded me that not long ago I was worried about Joss’ food intake, I said that she is eating like a trooper and she said “it’s lovely to see them enjoy a meal you’ve prepared isn’t it?” A colleague asked me if I like to cook today and it dawned on me that I don’t really enjoy cooking per se, although I love to bake, but that I love to prepare food that I know Joss is going to enjoy, and I love to watch her eat, there’s a satisfaction that I cannot explain as she enjoys her food, probably that’s why I was so sad that our breastfeeding journey ended too soon, but that’s a post for next week.
Previously I was in a place where most parenting advice was unwanted, I was getting to know Joss and I suppose I felt that other people offering advice was like them saying all babies are the same, or that they knew Joss better than I did because they’d had children of their own. Now that I know that she and I have a bond unlike any other I guess my confidence has increased and I feel better able to ask for and seek out advice! Probably the best advice I’ve had was that which most appealed to my nature! A friend told me to read the books, as she knew as a researcher I would, but then to put them down and follow my instincts and Joss’. Why is this so powerful? It will seem really simple to others but as someone inclined to obsess it is a strong mantra for me!
This leads me nicely into a question to round things off:
Don’t forget my giveaway http://thereandbackagainamotherstale.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/nappykind-boutique-baby-legwarmers-giveaway/ ends tomorrow night at midnight! You might be interested to know that Nappykind now stock Huggaluggs, which I know lots of babywearing mama’s love!