When I was handed my beautiful baby girl I wasn’t struck by an overwhelming rush of love, I’d describe it more as exhausted relief followed swiftly by the sledge hammer realization that I was a parent, then followed even more swiftly by the blind panic that actually I had no idea what to do with her. After a pretty traumatic labor involving many, many doctors and a huge amount of blood lost it was all over; the range of emotion was staggering. I had spent the last nine months building a relationship with the person growing inside me, subconsciously given them a personality and features, I’d also been convinced I was carrying a boy. After the final push and the tense waiting for the first shaky cry, the midwife asked my partner to cut the cord. The second he made the cut I was filled with an almost animal desire to tear his head off, just for a split second. He had separated us, my child and I, for the first time I truly had to share.
The feeling went almost as fast as I had arrived but I felt shaken by it, such a strong animalistic instinct to protect my child, because now she was here, she didn’t feel like my child …
I touched my stomach and it felt like it belonged to someone else, loose and squashy and no friendly kicks and rolls and movement, I felt empty.
I wanted to cry to scream and sob that it all wasn’t right, I was mourning the child inside me when I should be rejoicing her arrival, she is healthy and full of life and beautiful, and this is not how it is supposed to be!
It took three days to sink in, for my hormone-addled brain to make the connection. My daughter didn’t sleep, she also wouldn’t feed, for three days and nights I paced the maternity ward with a screaming bundle of hunger and fury. In my head it was my fault, I was too young to be a parent (I turned twenty-one the month after she was born) I had no idea what to do, she knew I hadn’t bonded with her, I was a failure. The ward sister, a horrible woman who indeed thought I was too young and as such made my life miserable came and took my baby from me and suggested strongly that I go take a shower and have a good cry to “pull myself together.” I obeyed meekly and as I could hear my child screaming across the ward I took the fastest shower I could manage. As I left the bathroom I saw the ward sister leaning over the cot and she shouted at my three-day-old daughter and kicked the leg of the cot.
The animal instinct was back and it was out for blood.
After very heated discussions and complaints I was removed from her care and she was later suspended. I took my daughter in my arms and felt an overwhelming rush of love, she was mine and no one would ever hurt her.
But I remember it all so clearly, the bubbling fear in my stomach that I had made a mistake, I wasn’t cut out for this job. The maternal instinct that finally arrived didn’t make me all knowing in the ways of babies though, I took her home and for the first night she screamed for hours, no amount of feeding or winding or cuddles could calm her, it was only after an hour I realized I hadn’t checked her nappy. Thank you sleep deprivation!
She went on like this for six months, she had horrific colic, for six hours every evening I paced the floor with her in my arms. I wasn’t coping but I would never admit it. I did what we all do, when asked how we are we say fine with a cheery smile and hope the makeup hides the bags under our eyes.
Because motherhood is a competitive world! We compare APGAR scores like school exams, first words, first teeth, first steps, first solids, how much food they take, how long they sleep. It’s exhausting! Other mums arrive at toddler group looking groomed and fresh and without a dried smear of vomit down their backs and I marveled at how they managed it, I had on the only item of clothing that didn’t smell like old cheese and was wearing yesterday’s underwear. I decided to stop going until I had managed to get myself into a more productive routine. So the new impossible routine began, no more sleeping when baby sleeps, that’s laundry time! I invested in a baby carrier so I could work while my daughter screamed strapped to my chest, the six-hour pacing turned into six-hour cleaning and by the end of two weeks I had a spotless home, clean clothes, and I was miserable utterly, utterly miserable, I was on Prozac three days later.
I returned to the baby group and when they asked me why I hadn’t been for so long I told them the truth, the whole unsavory truth. The reactions where surprising, a couple of the mums looked at me like I was quite mad or just extremely lazy, but the majority breathed a sigh of relief and told their stories too, five of us had Post Natal Depression, one mum was sobbing as she told us how she was setting her alarm for 5 a.m. every day just so she could clean the house so her friends and family would think she was coping and it was lovely! We ate biscuits and drank tea and had a bloody good moan.
I walked away feeling elated, I wasn’t a failure, I wasn’t a bad mum—I was normal! It seems strange now to think I was wasting precious time with my child in order to present a perfect face to a world that doesn’t actually care if I haven’t washed the dishes for two days, to be seen as a winner in a competition that doesn’t or at least shouldn’t exist. I didn’t have a textbook birth and I certainly didn’t have a textbook baby, these things don’t exist. So why then do we aspire for this fictional fairytale vision of domestic harmony with quietly sleeping babies and homemade cakes and picket fences? Babies are hard work, a full time job in their own right. Snow White had helpful woodland creatures and seven live in sitters, Sleeping Beauty actually got to sleep for more than an hour a night and its no wonder Hansel and Gretel got abandoned in a forest because without intervention id have seriously considered it myself!
Almost everyone struggles at first, some for longer than others; some find the magic routine in a matter of days while some, like me never find it! Don’t suffer in silence, admit that you’re not superwoman and you’ll be surprised how many people are in the same boat as you, so what if you don’t fit the fairytale? Sometimes the best stories are the ones you write yourself.