After a bumpy start, Ally and I have managed to look after our li’l bean- or Lucas James, officially- for a whole month. It’s not been easy but he’s on the right track. He’s putting on weight and growing into his newborn clothes (after spending the first couple of weeks in tiny baby size). He’s feeding, he responds well to lights and sounds, he sleeps in a little cot next to me snuggled in a blanket and cries on cue for feeds and changes. To all intents and purposes, he’s happy and developing. Getting to this point though, has not been so straightforward.
After a fairly straightforward labour our three days in hospital felt like a blur. On our second day we were told that we were getting kept in another night, and I was actually relieved. At 6lb 5oz and ten days early, he was a little on the scrappy side. I didn’t feel ready for us to be out on our own yet and wanted to know we were doing OK. Most new mums- from what I’d read, anyway- talked about how they couldn’t wait to get their babies home. Right from the off, I felt weird because I didn’t want to. Well, I didn’t want to take him back to our flat. A draughty, cold, one bedroom, rented tenement which hadn’t had a proper clean in time for his arrival? Not exactly a dream family home. The hospital was safe and clean. We had advice on demand. Still, it all had to come to an end. Ally couldn’t stay overnight in hospital with us which he hated. It wasn’t fair, and I knew we had to go our own way eventually. We were discharged on the Sunday afternoon, although we had a couple of hours to get ready. I looked out of the window, watching the endless stream of buses and cars. Their lives were going on as normal and they had no idea how ours had changed. It was grey, cold, dirty with rain and traffic. I didn’t want to take my baby out in that, but we had to start our new family life.
Thankfully my mum, a former mental health nurse, had warned me about the baby blues. Knowing they were on their way didn’t help when they actually kicked in, though. Childbirth is a raging hormone-fest and obviously this has a direct effect on your mood and emotions. Around two to four days after giving birth the baby blues kick in. It’s a combination of exhaustion, low mood and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Some mums also find childbirth to be an anti-climax after pregnancy and labour. This is ALL normal and DOES NOT mean you don’t love your baby. I staved off the blues in hospital floating along in a new baby bubble, and just got through the getting home part. We stopped off to pick up Lucas’s pram en route and it really upset me that people weren’t stopping to coo over him. The fact that I barely glanced twice at a baby before pregnancy didn’t occur to me. That first night saw a whirlwind of family visits. We ordered Chinese, drank tea, played records and opened presents. We were listening to Rumours when Songbird came on. Ally was seeing family out and it was just me, my baby and Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard the song countless times but this time, it just hit me. Out of nowhere, the blues had crept up on me and the tears came on heavy.
No one really tells you how it really feels to be released into the wild with a baby. I mean, I knew having a baby was hard but I didn’t really know. I knew it was hard in the same way that I know that being a doctor or riding a horse is hard. I was fully unprepared for the exhaustion, the frustration, the general feeling of being so utterly overwhelmed. On our first full day home we decided to take Lucas a short walk in the pram. As well as giving birth, there had been a few other stressful things to deal with so I thought the fresh air would do us good. We accidentally ended up out for two hours, which was further than I’d been in months. We got to a post office after trekking forever and I was getting sore. When we got there, it was bright, noisy, the queue was huge and there were annoying kids diving about everywhere. I walked straight back out and burst into tears. I just about made it home before almost fainting coming out of the shower and having to phone the triage nurse. My skin was cracked and dry, I hadn’t slept in four nights, my milk had come in but my baby wasn’t feeding. He was so small, his little ribs poked out and he spent the whole night screaming. I can’t even remember what I thought or felt because I was thinking and feeling so much. Barely three days in and I already felt like we were falling behind.
It was the second morning after discharge that I took this picture. I’d tried to take a picture of the two of us at home and that was the result. I knew I was tired, hadn’t been eating properly, hadn’t been drinking enough water, was getting stressed. I hadn’t realised how much it showed in my face. It’s probably the worst picture that’s ever been taken of me. There’s no filter, no editing. It pretty much summed up how lost I was feeling. I was supposed to be responsible for feeding my baby and he all he did was scream because I couldn’t. After two days at home, the midwife recommended that Lucas go back in to the special care baby unit due to his weight loss. Most newborns lose around 5-10% of their body weight after birth, but he had dropped 13%. I almost felt relieved. Maybe it’s something to do with him, I thought. Maybe I’m not a bad mum after all. At the very least, they could tell us what to do. Immediately I felt a little confidence returning- if we were staying in they could keep an eye on him, help us, make sure we knew what we were doing. After six hours they told us he was a little jaundiced and was losing weight because he didn’t have the energy to feed- but couldn’t feed to get energy. I was over the moon that there was nothing seriously wrong with him, but felt like the cause was my fault. Once again I was sent home, although the loan of a breast pump meant I could at least monitor his feeds. Our midwife also visited every day for the first week, which was a huge help. She made sure he was seen to as soon as she thought there was an issue. I’ve seen some mums have a hard time with their midwife- if so, you have every right to ask for a change. It’s a huge life event and you need all the support you can get. A stranger coming into your home shouldn’t add to the stress!
Lucas was born two weeks before Christmas. Usually a newborn baby means an influx of visitors and over the festive period, this was even more intense than it would’ve been. It’s a good complaint, I suppose. It would’ve sucked even worse if no one had bothered with him. However, I did find it hard to keep up and often found myself wishing we could have more than a couple of hours or so with our wee bundle. I didn’t want to pass him around and have everyone hovering and fussing. I found it hard to let go. People laughed when I begrudgingly handed him over, knowing full well it was new mum overprotection. I knew I was being oversensitive but it made me uncomfortable. In hindsight, I wish I’d had the confidence to say that I wanted some time to myself. I spent a lot of our alone time crying because everything felt so daunting. It felt like a chore that I was struggling to keep up with but felt awful because people were only trying to be nice. I cried with guilt because I didn’t have time to reply to all the messages and comments on social media. All I could think was how ungrateful I felt for not sending messages or wanting other people to see him.
Five weeks on and I still don’t feel like I have it together. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to us. I know I shouldn’t care as long as he’s being fed, but keeping going feels important to me. On the advice of my midwife we went to a breastfeeding workshop at Merry Go Round, where the consultant detected a tongue tie. It meant he had trouble fully opening his mouth and therefore couldn’t latch on. It’s actually really common and is easy to correct. My health visitor referred him to the Royal Children’s Hospital to get it treated (basically, snipped), so I’m hoping this will be what we need to get ahead. At times I feel like I’m being selfish ploughing on with breastfeeding. He clearly finds it stressful and when he can’t latch on starts screaming. In saying that, the expressed milk is better for him so… we’ll see how we get on, I guess. If you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding habits- or lack thereof- tell someone. You’re not a bad mum if you struggle, although it’s easy to feel down if you can’t. The help is there for you. It’s hard to admit- I’m terrible at asking for help- but there’s no such thing as a stupid question when your baby’s health is concerned. After all, it’s better to ask and have nothing be wrong than say nothing and worry.
It’s hard, but if this last month has taught me anything it’s to treasure the smallest moments. I know in the first month or so, everything feels like a battle. All the plans I made for being a mum went out the window. I thought I’d have time to clean out my flat and make a little space for my baby. I thought, after the first feed, that breastfeeding would be easy and we could get out and about knowing he was getting everything he needed, whenever he needed. I pictured myself reading to him, playing music, using naptime to keep up with housework. It’s not that easy- but we’ll get there. I had no idea how to read a baby’s cues. Sometimes you get frustrated when they won’t stop crying. It’s also normal if your partner doesn’t feel the same way as you. Ally seemed to take to parenting a lot more naturally than I did, and it wasn’t fair. I was the one who’d carried him and it took a while to realise that he wasn’t doing it to spite me. I still had to find my own knack, and we’re still figuring out a routine. Lucas is only five weeks old. I’m always going to worry about money (or lack thereof, urgh), or his health, or like I’m not doing something right. At the same time he’s already changed so month in a few short weeks. Learning to cut us both a break is important for us. After all, he’s not going to be a newborn very long. Rather than worry about doing things wrong, it’s time to remember that we’re doing the best we can. We’re all new at this. And I think we might be getting on OK, for now.
Thank you to all the staff at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital and Special Care Baby Unit in Glasgow, as well as the community midwives who looked after us at home. We would’ve been lost without you.
Bounty have articles and advice for every stage of pregnancy and beyond, including the baby blues.
National Breastfeeding Helpline are open every day of the year on 0300 100 0212 (09:30-21:30) as well as online.
NCT run loads of free classes and support groups for expectant and new parents, including help with feeding. Lucas and I like our local baby café!
NHS Choices, ‘Postnatal Depression’
Mind, the mental health charity, have plenty of information on postnatal depression.