When my daughter was born on 18th August 2010, I was relieved. God that’s an understatement. It was a natural birth and despite her getting stuck and me having to be whisked from a birthing pool to a delivery suite, I still sent her out with no pain relief, no forceps, nada. It was hardcore. I went somewhere else. You have to. And I was, yes, relieved and strangely elated when it was all over. It was a monumental achievement. Epic. I didn’t look particularly like I had run a marathon either. According to Ozzie, I glowed and radiated peace and calm. Something to do with hypnobirthing, or just hormones.
But not for long. I need not mention that I could barely walk after breathing my 3.29kg daughter down into life. A car crash had taken place in my nether regions and I wondered if anything would be the same down there again. I had a second-degree tear and an arse full of peach-size piles. It was not pretty. I did not feel good. But I was somehow numb and didn’t particularly care during those first 24 hours. I stayed in hospital for one night because Maple pooed just prior to her escape from the birth canal so the risk of infection was there, but she was fine. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t get Mae to latch on by myself so I spent the entire night with my finger hovering over the buzzer, concerned about pissing off one of the night midwives who seemed to sigh heavily each time I requested their assistance. They just grabbed my boob and shoved it into Maple’s mouth until she managed to cling to it, and then left. When she fell off, I was right back at the beginning.
I left hospital not having a clue how to breastfeed on my own, and was made to feel like I was imposing each time I asked for further instruction. Nobody checked to see if she had tongue-tie (she did) and nobody seemed much to care. Anyhoo, the next day we went home. Ozzie and I walked into our little apartment overlooking the Lea River in London with Maple asleep in her car seat, and just looked at one another. “Shit!” With some kicking and screaming she latched on for a feed and then passed out for the entire night. I didn’t dare wake her. First thing in the morning, again with some protracted screaming, we got her to latch on and she fed a bit. Then the milk came in. Not just drop by drop, but an ocean of the stuff. I have not been afflicted with an undersupply of milk with either children. Rather, I have too much which can have its own issues. My boobs went from huge to ludicrous; rock hard, almost pulsating with milk and too hot to handle. These were beyond porn. There was no way in hell this tiny bub could get her mouth around any of it. I was in tears. Maple was in tears. Ozzie was holding the fort. We had no family to call on. So I called my darling friend, Sian Lattimer. She had dealt with six months of excrutiating breastfeeding with her darling Ida and had come out the other side a dedicated breastfeeder and committed to the cause. I phoned her and explained my predicament. She happened to be in a breastfeeding cafe with a La Leche League breastfeeding consultant, Petra. They came straight over. Petra was an angel. She had no joy getting Maple on the boob but she provided us with a lifeline. She sat me down instantly with my breastpump and taught me how to use it. I pumped 120mls in under five minutes! She attached a wee surgical tube to Ozzie’s little finger and dipped the other end in a bottle of my milk. Oz popped his finger up against the roof of Maple’s mouth and she began to suck and we were off. She drank and she drank. In the meantime I had to work to reduce my engorgement. At every feed, I would offer Maple my boob, she would scream the house down and we would resort to finger-feeding. It felt like this went on for weeks, but actually it was probably more like five or six days. It was hugely stressful. I cried a lot. I trawled the internet, researching ways to reduce the swelling around my nipples so that after expressing, Maple could latch on more easily; finger compression and flannels and the works. Petra suggested that Maple had tongue-tie which would be improved by a snip…and on and on this went.
Look why have I gone into this huge amount of detail about the breastfeeding difficulties we encountered? This is actually not supposed to be about breastfeeding. I was just trying to make a point that our first week with a newborn was just so full on, so fraught. I’m a control freak and I was so far out of my comfort zone that I wasn’t coping at all. Maple, at least, was and still is, a superb sleeper, so we weren’t up all hours. But I just hadn’t anticipated any of it being so hard, so trying, and so desperately tedious. I wasn’t even sure how I felt about this baby. She was nameless and couldn’t talk and was a huge responsibility. I found myself crying a lot of the time. Not just crying, but bawling, like a child. Inconsolable tears. Admittedly, I am a hugely emotional gal. I cry at adverts on TV and at the news and when someone tells me a slightly moving story. So perhaps I had a weakness and was vulnerable to the mama blues; a propensity to allow myself to feel and fall. But I couldn’t elucidate what prompted them. Oz had to return to work and I was bereft. The idea of staying at home with this baby on my own filled me with dread. She was far more beautiful than I had thought possible, granted. I adored her, no doubt. But she slept the entire time and trying to wake her for feeds, working towards establishing a routine and to set her body clock was tedious beyond words. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk, couldn’t interact and I was not a baby person. I am not a clucky type. I could and to a certain extent, still can, take or leave other people’s babies. Friends here in Melbourne were suggesting that I start up a baby/toddler singing/music class here. But I’m not sure I like kids enough! And there I was at home with this floppy baby sleeping incessantly on her playmat, barely opening her eyes to feed, and the feeding was admittedly getting easier, but until her tongue tie was snipped at 19 days, it was pure hell.
I had an incredible bunch of mum friends whom I had met during pregnancy yoga. I wish I still lived near them. Since relocating to Melbourne I feel the loss of those extraordinary women and their bubs more than words can say. Heading out to meet them for lunches and park walks back then was my lifeline. (At least now I have family about (my amazing mum, hats off to you) and old friends with kids, so there is fair compensation.) But I still found myself dissolving into inexplicable tears, which rendered me useless for entire days. I could feel the baby blues approaching. It was a tangible hormonal shift. Nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t postnatal depression. I was still functioning. I was still getting out there. I wasn’t a danger to my baby. I was capable of rational thought. But sometimes I fell to pieces.
I remember one day Oz was about to leave for work and I just collapsed on the sofa sobbing. Poor guy. He sat down with me and said “Babe, can you put into words how you’re feeling?” Through my sobs, all I could muster was: “I..I…I…just can’t see any future…” And that’s how it felt. It’s actually really quite bizarre writing about it when you’re not directly in it. But that’s what the feeling was like for me. “I did not sign up for this (except I did!). When will I ever be someone other than this puddle on my living room floor again? I want to fast forward and have a child who can talk and interact.” I wasn’t in a place of rejecting my baby. I was just disappointed in what she had to offer! Poor Mae! And my poor mum in Australia dealing with those phone calls when I was so far away must have felt utterly helpless to assist. I needed my mum. I remember her saying “darling, this is hormonal. It will pass.” And she was right, as she so often is. But the blues didn’t just go away. I experienced resurgences of the mama blues up until Maple was about seven months old. They never last long; a couple of days at a time generally. But their arrival was like a tidal wave of overwhelming proportions and just wiped me out.
Fast forward to Zephyr. Born 19th November 2012. Acid reflux. Add in some serious sleep deprivation. Mama sings the blues again. It comes and then it goes just as quickly. And then the distance between one episode and another grows until you wake up one day and they’re over. I recently burst into tears with the maternal health nurse at Zeph’s four month check up. The night before I had left him to cry for a while because he had been self-settling quite nicely. But the sound of his cry became alarming and when I went in to his room he had rolled over onto his front fully swaddled, and was face down on the mattress, inhaling the sheet when he hollered. He was panicking and couldn’t roll himself back over and was fighting to breathe. It was a huge shock and a ghastly sight. I recounted this through my tears to the health nurse, and rather than have a go at me for any oversights on my part, she became tearful too. Bless her. What a woman. She said that moments like these truly serve to show us how deeply we are in love with our children. She’s right.
I’m still in the world of mama blues; not for a while now but I know they’re still circling like gluttinous vultures and waiting for a moment to knock me for a six. But I understand them and I understand they pass. I am more overwhelmed with love for my little boy and my beautiful daughter than I ever thought possible. And I’ve done this baby thing before, so some things are just so much easier…breastfeeding for one. The acid reflux is horrendous but we’re now managing it and Zeph’s default setting is super happy and smiley, so for the most part, he is utterly joyous. And no amount of hormonal imbalance can overshadow this delicious fact. Sleep deprivation does not help the mama blues. Hell no. And being so far away from our support network and incredible friends in London is another kick in the guts at these moments of intense nose diving. But then I lie on the floor with Zeph, ever smiling, and ever giggling and snuggle with Maple as she talks and talks and sings and sings, and suddenly panic at the thought of losing these precious moments and instead melt in to them. I am, afterall, super lucky to have my magical family. This mama sings the blues…from time to time. But tomorrow will be a different tune.