I had imagined whilst waiting for my first baby, that the few weeks after giving birth would be like a kind of holiday. My husband would be off work and so would I, and even though we would be tired we would just have this happy glow. We would look at each other lovingly as we wandered around town with our newborn in the pram and sing nursery rhymes together as we gently rocked our little bundle of joy to sleep.
In this fantasy I would also look and feel fantastic. I would not look pregnant anymore and would just spend hours gazing at my happy baby. Relatives would visit and have a go holding the baby and we would all laugh over the amusing anecdote which my birth story would become.
Something along the lines of, me, plopping down my cutlery in the middle of dinner and suddenly announcing, ‘the baby is COMIIIIIING!!’ whereupon slapstick Benny Hill music starts playing as we pack the car for the hospital, jump in, speed down the road and arrive at the hospital just in time for the baby to pop out with a few minutes worth of gas and air.
Relatives would come and go, marvelling at my natural mothering ability, then maybe we would stroll out (in my pre pregnancy jeans) for a long lunch somewhere and I would do my first public breastfeed by just discretely popping the baby’s head under my (non maternity) top and use my free hand to casually fork a salad into my mouth (ha ha, in this fantasy I am eating a salad?). Such effortless multi tasking!!
I felt that having a baby would be hard in the same way that work is hard and that we would flop down onto the sofa at the end of the day and snuggle our little newborn to sleep while we watched telly and maybe relaxed with a glass of wine.
I imagined that breastfeeding would be as simple and as painless as it looked in those adverts for follow on milk (ironic though, really, because if breastfeeding was so wonderful, why use follow on milk, right?). That my baby would lie patiently and peacefully waiting for milk, latch on like a dream and snuggle up with me while I watched leaves falling off a tree through the window.
I knew that my emotions would be heightened due to hormones and adjusting to being a parent. I imagined calmly brushing a few tears of joy from my cheek as I lovingly watched my newborn sleeping.
What the motherf****ing hell was I thinking? Where on earth did I get these stupid ideas from? The shock of life with a newborn baby was only softened by one kind friend who told me the truth about her own experience. i.e. that it was the most shitty and awful time of her life.
Now, there’s a lot of people saying that you should not tell pregnant women horror stories, but surely now we have created a culture where not telling the truth has become the equivalent of blindfolding a couple and telling them you’re leading them into a room full of friendly puppies when in fact, you are about to fling them into a pit full of venomous snakes.
I am so grateful that my friend told me how totally awful the first couple of weeks would be. It made me feel much less guilty when I found myself, instead of floating on a love filled cloud nine, actually having the absolute worst, most stressful, painful, bloody, sleep deprived, tear soaked, nipple cracking, horrible time of my life. Yes, yes, it was all worth it and yes, I had a beautiful newborn baby and I was grateful and lucky and everything and blah de blah blah blah but oh my God, where to start?
Let’s start with breasts.
On day 3 (or thereabouts) your boobs will feel as if someone has scooped all the flesh out and instead, crammed each breast fit to burst with several bags of heavy pebbles. Around this point you will also start crying hysterically, about everything. Well, I did anyway. It’s just hormones but I had lots of other things to cry about too.
I had trouble getting the baby to latch on properly which led to a lot of intense pain while feeding and eventually, deep, bleeding cracks on one nipple. Breastfeeding should not hurt but it did for me. It hurt despite all the information I had about getting the correct latch and the special breastfeeding antenatal class I attended. The intense suck at the beginning of each feed hurt so much that I wanted to throw the baby across the room. She was so hungry she would be screaming and shoving her little fists in her mouth constantly.
She just cried and cried and cried and we didn’t know what to do with her. She cried from 5 or 6 in the evening till about midnight every night. If attached to a boob she would not be crying but the pain was so unbearable that I couldn’t keep her on my boob all night. I just couldn’t do this breastfeeding thing. I started to dread each feed and with each feed being every two or three hours around the clock, breastfeeding just felt like a kind of 24 hour torture.
Would just like to say at this point that a combination of lansinoh cream, you tube videos about how to breastfeed (more accessible than a breastfeeding support group at 3am), nipple shields when the cracks were really bad and sheer luck got me through in the end. Oh, and there’s a really great website called kellymom for advice and information. My baby just seemed to get how to latch on properly at about three weeks in, otherwise I definitely would have switched to formula. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Sometimes you are doing everything you can but the baby just won’t conform. Once she got it I was ok.
Some Mums have no problems at all with breastfeeding. They might be lying, or on really good painkillers after a c section, or just really really lucky. I have to say that for me, the first few weeks of breastfeeding my child was quite literally, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Harder than labour for sure.
I have not covered labour in this post. I had planned a home birth with lots of relaxing music and an inflatable birthing pool. In the end I was strapped to a dodgy monitoring machine and induced on a labour ward, which included rather traumatic complications and a trip to theatre for an operation after delivery.Here’s what I looked like at the start of my pregnancy.Here’s what I looked like after giving birth.
I looked and felt like a total wreck. I was just as enormous as when I was pregnant except more swollen and insane looking. I had burst a blood vessel in my eye (which my husband named my terminator eye) from pushing so hard during the birth.
My whole body was covered in a mysterious itchy hive like rash, maybe an extra f**k you from my immune system. Down below was the site of some serious damage and Dr Frankenstein like stitch repair work. I felt like, instead of a baby, I had actually given birth to one or all of the following; a live grenade, Edward Scissor Hands, a large coil of barbed wire, a running chainsaw, a stick blender, a cheese grater . . .
. . . you get the picture. Going for a wee was quite a traumatic event.
I was anaemic, knackered, in pain, traumatised, stressed and just constantly sobbing about everything and nothing.
Never mind all that though coz guess what?
You’ve just had a baby and you know what that means don’t you?
Everyone you know, like literally everyone, wants to come round to your house to ‘meet the baby’ (have you make them a cup of tea while they wake your baby up, make it cry, hand it back to you and then go home so that the next lot of people can come).
Can we come over and meet the baby? We’ll come at the time most convenient to you.
Really? Ok then, how about 3am? Oh. Oh, what? You’ll be asleep? Well you know who won’t?
Me. Me and my baby.
After all you have been through, no matter how awful you feel, a good night’s sleep is not on the cards. Neither is an average nights sleep or a bad nights sleep. Forget about night and day, you have left that world behind. The night never ends and neither does the day.
The early hours were the loneliest times.
I found breast pads were very handy for wiping away tears. Shit, I did so much crying. It was definitely not the jolly holiday I was expecting.
After a while though I did have a bit of a revelation. I remember saying to my husband, my poor, poor husband who thought I was going nuts, that all I could do for the rest of his paternity leave, literally all I could do was to sleep and feed the baby. I asked him if for the rest of his parental leave, he could do everything else; all the changing, cuddling, rocking, dressing and washing of the baby, all of the laundry, shopping, tidying, cooking, tea making, cleaning and washing up around the house.
And you know what?
Instead of hanging around in beer gardens having a ‘fun’ time with my husband I got something else. When I really needed him, like I actually had never needed him before, he was there, or more to the point, he wasn’t just there, he was there and changing nappies and driving the baby round the block at 11pm so I could sleep.
I remember telling my mother in law (whilst crying obviously) that she should be so proud of her son because he was really looking after us and that I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, at which point she obviously joined in the crying with me.
Quite a few people cried with me actually. My midwife shed a few tears with me when I sobbed to her about how incredibly hard I was finding it all and when I confessed to her how I had shouted,
‘Will you just STOP SHOVING YOUR FISTS IN YOUR MOUTH SO I CAN FEED YOU!’ Right into my little baby’s face.
My friend came all the way up from London to cry with me (and eat chocolate) one evening when I had txt her in the afternoon saying, ‘I am just finding this so hard. I can’t stop crying. I can’t breastfeed. Please help!!’
My Mum cried with me over the phone and then came to stay with us for a while which was just such a relief. She did amazing things like cleaning and tidying our whole house and sitting up with me through night feeds and everyday, no matter what, telling me I was doing a fantastic job.
And then one morning, when I went to get the baby out of the Moses basket for her first feed I saw this.
I can do this, I thought.
I can do this now.
You can now follow this blog on Facebook, just click here to get to my page and then ‘like’ to read new posts!