It seems an apt time to be posting this today. International Day of Happiness, the first day of Spring and Maggie is 9 months old tomorrow. Today I can quite honestly say I feel happy. Maggie brings joy into my life every day, her smile lights up the room, is rarely upset (unless she’s poorly or teething) and I no longer feel on the verge of tears for no apparent reason. So, I think its an important juncture in my motherhood journey to reflect upon the first few months where life wasn’t always quite so rosy, I was an emotional wreck more often than I can remember, and at times wondered what on Earth I’d done by becoming a Mother.
Like all first time mothers everywhere, no amount of book reading, pre-natal courses or listening to other Mum’s stories could have prepared me for how our first baby would change our lives. The moment she was in my arms I felt a bond like nothing I’d ever experienced and swore I would do everything within my power to love, care and protect her for the rest of my days. I felt a responsibility that was so strong, it rocked me to my core and nothing else in the world mattered more to me than my baby daughter. I wanted to do everything right by her, wanted to be the best Mother in the world and felt I had her whole future resting on my shoulders.
The first days at home after leaving the hospital are a complete blur. I know there was lots of boobing, crying, rocking, ssshhing, every single white noise maker on the market, late night dashes to the pharmacy for Infacol because she must have colic, car rides to make her sleep, more crying, Googling of ‘baby grunting syndrome’ and her sleeping on my chest night after night with me terrified of falling asleep and smothering her if I rolled over. I’d had quite a traumatic labour and was battered and bruised; sitting up to feed/eat/get up using my non-existent stomach muscles felt like climbing mount Everest and yet I was still in the new-born euphoria, surviving on feelings of overwhelming love, adrenaline, cake and chocolate. One sniff of her new-born head sent my Oxytocin levels into overdrive and I was completely oblivious to life outside the four walls of our bedroom for the first week after coming home.
The first 6 weeks of motherhood seemed to fly by, although night and day all merged into one and those first few nights were never-ending. Breastfeeding was going well for the time being. I had attended a couple of breastfeeding workshops in the lead up to birth, so knew of its challenges. At the time, I felt lucky that Maggie had seemingly taken to breast feeding like a duck to water, and I was experiencing little of the ‘side effects’ I had prepared myself for. Although looking back, she never did feed herself into that milk-drunk coma you read about. Little did I know that come week 8, breastfeeding would take a dramatic turn for the worse but I won’t go into that right now as it’s worthy of a post of its own at a later date. This was it. Motherhood in all its glory. I went about trying to recreate a womb-like environment for my little girl by giving her lots of skin to skin, white noise, feeding her on demand, wearing her in a sling and trying to limit the amount of visitors. I was approaching the fourth trimester in text book style, doing all the ‘right’ things and Maggie seemed to be thriving. Our midwife appointment at day 5 confirmed it. Maggie had put on weight rather than lost any, was a complete gem when it came to her heel prick test and I got a congratulatory pat on the back by the midwife as I walked out of the door. By all accounts (and going by the little red book you get given when your baby is born), I was winning at Motherhood. I’d been popping my placenta pills every day until they ran out and apart from the odd sleep deprived meltdown, I was as balanced as a new mum could feel.
So why was I starting to feel so anxious all the time? Maggie wasn’t ‘sleeping like a baby’ and seemed to be way more upset than all the other babies of her age but we put it down to her having colic, gave her a dummy at 4 weeks old and got on with it. Parenting isn’t easy folks, and we never expected it to be. We knew it would have its ups and downs but I was beginning to feel more down than up with each passing day. I felt like my baby was broken and blamed myself for doing something or everything wrong.
Of course, no one else really saw this side of me. Only Chris, my Mum, sister and lovely next door neighbour would witness me bursting into tears at the drop of a baby’s hat. To everyone else, Motherhood suited me and we were blossoming as a family. I’d put on make up for visitors, meet up with friends for coffee and happily join in with conversations about how many dirty nappies we’d changed that day. All the while Maggie would be furiously sucking on her dummy Maggie Simpson style on the brink of meltdown at any moment. And so was I (minus the dummy). I knew deep down there had to be a reason she was the most alert baby in the world, would only sleep in 20 minute cycles and needed me to play aggressive white noise constantly in her ear. Either she was going to be a massive Black Sabbath fan, or there was something else going on.
In contrast, I just asked my husband what he can remember of those early weeks. His response: White noise in every room, Wimbledon on TV, tea and biscuits, being pooed on, watching Glastonbury late at night with Maggie in his arms whilst doing constant deep squats/lunges to try and soothe her (she’d know if he was giving less than 100%), lots of walks to get her to sleep as she would only fall asleep whilst in motion and me snapping at him A LOT. He also reminded me of the time I was in the bathroom and heard him yelp in pain. I ran in to discover that Maggie had tried to suck on his nipple much to Chris’s dismay. My first reaction was irrational anger that he should shout out so loudly, which quickly turned to uncontrollable laughter. Not a pretty picture at 3 day’s post-partum, naked, my milk spurting everywhere and unable to control my bladder, resulting in a huge mess all over the wooden floor.
With the benefit of hindsight, I am able to understand why I was feeling so blue after that initial newborn bubble burst.
- I had put myself under far too much pressure to be the perfect Mum even before Maggie was born. I had tried to over prepare myself for the arrival of Maggie, read too many books and played out over and over in my head what sort of Mother I was going to be.
- I wasn’t discussing my emotions with Chris. I didn’t want to ruin his paternity leave or first few months as a Dad by talking to him about my anxieties, and pushed it to the point where I would just snap at him. Then I would be so consumed with guilt that I was ruining it for us all.
- I joined far too many baby groups and tried to run before I could walk. I signed Maggie up to baby sensory classes and swimming lessons before she was even Earth-side, and when I had to miss classes due to being knackered and my baby not sleeping, it only served to make me feel even more of a failure that Maggie was missing out. She was only 6 weeks old! All she needed was to be at home with me; she was hardly going to be the next Rebecca Adlington at such a young age.
- I tried to be the perfect homemaker. I had grand visions of Chris coming home to a cooked meal after a hard days’ work. I signed up to a fresh food delivery service where you prepare home cooked meals. All it left me with was stressed at the thought of the food going bad and me sweating over the cooking with Maggie attached to me in a sling – both of which ended up stinking of onions. I hadn’t yet discovered the joys of Cook (delicious, frozen, homemade meals you just have to bung in the oven) and the day I did was a fine day indeed.
- My beloved Grandad was suddenly admitted into hospital shortly before Maggie was born and passed away when she was 10 days old. I was devastated at not being able to make the journey down to Plymouth to say goodbye to him, or that he didn’t get to meet Maggie. Grief teamed with all the emotions of early motherhood is a potent mix and life juxtaposed with death was too much for me to bear.
- I was trying too hard to put a brave face on all of the time. It turns out I am a master at it. People shouldn’t and don’t expect new Mums to have their shit together all of the time. The sooner I had realised that, the happier I would have been.
- That trying to problem solve my baby only led to more stress. I should have burned all the books on ‘how to have a contented baby’ as they made feel inadequate when I couldn’t ‘fix’ Maggie. As did comparing myself to other Mums whose babies slept all the time, never cried, ate at regular 2-hourly intervals and crapped fairy dust.
- That looking through Insta-perfect Mum profiles in the depths of the night whilst trying to nurse a screaming baby was never going to have a positive outcome. I have since unfollowed those accounts that made me feel bad about myself.
I will end this post how I started. I am a (mostly) contented, happy more often than I am sad Mother of one and immensely proud at how far I have come in 9 months. I can now look at Maggie sitting on the floor, annihilating baby wipes and playing with a (clean) nappy and realise I am (and always have been) the very best Mother I can be. I would shed every single tear 100 times over just to be in this moment right now. If I am lucky enough to have another child, I will remind myself to look over these words and remember that even during the darkest of days, it really does get easier as we learn and grow together and to never again put the same amount of pressure on myself as I did in those early weeks with Maggie.