Some women seem to have a baby, and manage to carry on with their lives just as they were before. It may all be an act, but it definitely looks possible. I thought it could be possible. My daughter came along like a nuclear bomb, devastating every single thing I valued in my life, everything I thought I believed, and I have spent the past five years trying to rebuild my world from scratch.
Her very first night in the world, whilst all the other babies on my open ward slept silently in their plastic, fish bowl basinettes, she would not be put down. Every time I tried to put her down she absolutely howled, so I would pick her up again and let her sleep on my chest. Over and over I would try to lay her down, and every time she howled. I was so self conscious about all the other sleeping mothers, already felt like a failure for having the one noisy baby on the ward, so I kept trying to balance her on my chest whilst trying desperately not to fall asleep and drop her out of the narrow bed. So at two in the morning, once the spinal anaesthetic had worn off just enough to be able to stand, I phoned my husband and told him he had to come and bring me home, right now. If I had to hold my sleeping baby all night, then I wanted to do it in my own bed, where I had some hope of getting some sleep for myself, and I wouldn’t be able to drop her.
The first three days were a massive adrenaline high. I was so immensely proud of myself and my phenomenal daughter, even if she did look more like a failed boxer than a beautiful baby. I wanted to shout about her from the rooftops, I wanted to show her to every single person I’d ever met. We had lots of visitors and I didn’t stop beaming. I was fine holding her constantly, and I wasn’t too concerned about the fact that she wasn’t really interested in feeding, I thought that was normal in the early days. I hadn’t planned to cosleep, but we were muddling through it. It all felt massive, but OK.
Around day 4 I started crying. Maybe I was just joining in with her. I felt like an absolute failure, and felt completely alone. I spent the next two weeks in bed, just me and my little girl who wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t feed, wouldn’t be put down for anything, and wouldn’t stop crying. My husband did what he thought he should to help me, he made sure the house was tidy, there was food to eat, and the washing up was done. When I asked him to just sit with me in bed he said he couldn’t waste time just sitting around. He couldn’t understand that the most important thing he could possibly have done to help me was just sit there with me, hold my hand, and tell me I was doing ok. He had no idea how much I was struggling and had no idea how to help.
I finally stopped crying at around three weeks. Now it was me and the baby home alone and we were starting to get to know each other. I began to learn that as long as I held her at all times, usually with my boobs constantly out and millimetres from her face, preferably whilst dancing to Paul Simon songs pacing up and down the kitchen, well then she’d be ok. I learnt that there was no point in trying to put her down even for a second, and especially not if I expected her to sleep, that even at night she needed a boob directly next to her face at all times or her super senses would immediately waken her into a tiny pink ball of utter rage. My new normal became going to bed at seven in the evening and being unable to leave, even for a wee, until the new morning arrived. I learnt to always eat one handed, dropping crumbs on her little head, and drinking cold tea so it wouldn’t hurt her when it inevitably got splashed down. I ditched all thoughts of prams, Moses baskets, cribs and nurseries by the time she was about six weeks, realising all the planning I had put into those acquisitions had been a total waste of time. Car journies were physically and emotionally painful, having to spend each minute of the journey trying to be strapped in the middle seat whilst hunching myself over her car seat, dangling my boob into her tiny mouth.
Once I discovered the sling, and even more radically that I could feed her in the sling, life became slightly easier. She now spent all the sunlit hours of the day tied to me with a boob in her mouth. I got used to walking around the supermarket, having conversations with strangers, riding the bus, all whilst secretly boobing this baby that was strapped to my chest.
Before my baby was born my life had not been glamorous, my hobbies not exciting or thrill-seeking. I had loved reading, watching movies, listening to music, writing my journal, chatting shit with my husband, cooking amazing food, eating amazing food, going out to restaurants, the theatre, the cinema, going away for the weekend with friends. I thought these were simple pleasures, things that I could easily fit around a baby. I genuinely couldn’t have believed that those simple things would become so impossible to do. As well as needing to be touching me, and preferably my boobs specifically, every second of every day, she was also highly sensitive, easily overwhelmed by smells, noise, any music that wasn’t Paul Simon, groups of people, anybody really that wasn’t me. Once upset by something she could take hours and hours to settle again and so it became easier not to do things to avoid upsetting her to start with, so quite quickly all the things I had loved got put on hold and forgotten about and the overwhelming incredible, stomach churning, heart exploding love that I had for her grew to fill every single space in my world.
We became the strongest team ever, the two of us connected at all times, as we started to rebuild a life from amongst the ashes of what I had previously held dear. She taught me a new way to be, a new way to think, to love, to live. She taught me what mattered, and what we both needed. It was the most isolating experience to begin with, I felt completely unable to connect with those other new mums, the ones who talked about naps and bedtime and babysitters and me time, seeing their babies happily cooing to themselves laid on the floor, or fast asleep in their prams. I couldn’t join the classes and the groups that they were all going to religiously every day, the mummy circuit as they affectionately called it. My husband at least slowly came to understand and began coming to bed with us at seven, so at least we had some time together even if we had to sit in the dark. Friends and family were full of judgements and advice, “haven’t you tried this, or this, or this?” not accepting that I had tried everything and none of it made any difference to my little girl, who just needed to be with me. I learnt to ignore those clammering voices, and learnt to be confident in my choices, but it took a long time to truly believe in myself and in my daughter.
We are five years down the road now and I still quake when I think of those early days. I still have a little girl who has a strong need to be with me at all times, and who has a high sensitivity to the world around her. We still have daily battles, often on the same side, but often on opposing sides. She still has so much to teach me about this world, this beautiful, delicate world that she has shown me, that I had never even glimpsed before she was born. Slowly I am starting to find myself again, and I like myself more now than I ever had done before. I see we have a long road ahead of us, and it may not be exciting or thrill-seeking, but it will be beautiful, and it will be just ours.