‘It was not supposed to be like this’, I thought crying, yet again, while I was trying to feed my screaming child. He refused to eat and although he would root for food, once placed into his feeding position, he would scream. He did not have a wind and his diaper had just been changed. He was hungry. Yet, whether I gave him a bottle or my breast, he simply would not latch. Panic, confusion, fear, anger and that ever-present guilt, washed over me. ‘Why did nobody warn me that it would be this hard’ was all my panicked, severely sleep deprived, brain was capable of thinking.
Truth be told, people did warn me. Sort of. In a nice and funny way – ‘sleep while you can’ they would say, laughing. Well, if they are laughing about it, it cannot be that bad – this was my logical conclusion anyway. But it was that bad, or should I rather say, just really, really hard. So, dear reader, here is the truth, my truth, about what life with a newborn as a first time parent is like:
It is exhausting. It’s a sort of tired feeling you have never felt before. A severely sleep deprived, emotionally drained and anxious sort of exhausted. Because although you have read all the books and you have listened to everyone’s advice, you have no idea what you are doing 90% of the time.
If you did not know this already, babies go through a lot of growth spurts and many wonder weeks within the first couple of months of their lives. This means that they are not only extra niggly during these periods, they literally hang on your boob the whole day. Bean went from drinking every three hours, to every two hours to every hour, to every forty minutes at one stage. This meant that on some days, by 14h00 in the afternoon, I was still in my milk stained pajamas, in my bedroom, my teeth were not brushed – in short, I smelled and looked like I had just crawled out of a cave (which for a person who is obsessed with cleanliness is horrible to say the least). At that point in the afternoon, it felt like the walls were caving in on me. I was filled with despair and loneliness.
It is lonely. And although you are constantly getting phone calls and texts from people wishing you well with your new bundle of joy, you feel that you just cannot tell them how sad you are really feeling at this point. Are you the only one going through this? The only one who cannot seem to get a handle on this motherhood thing?
It is relentless. It does not matter how hard this day is, tomorrow, you have to get up and do it all over again. Actually, tonight, you will have to get up and do it all over again. There is simply no time off, no break – you are this child’s mother and he needs sustenance and love, regardless of how tired you are.
Most babies have an issue – whether it is colic or reflux or the fact that the baby will not sleep, there is usually something. In my case, Bean had reflux. This meant that as he was feeding, or after a feed, the milk would come back up, burning his little throat. In an effort to soothe the throat, he would then want to feed again and so on – to a point where he would then refuse to feed. Bean, in other words, was either crying for food, attached to my boob, or screaming because I was trying to feed him. Either way, there were days where he just cried. He was seemingly inconsolable and I felt like a failure as a mother.
It is hard to maintain a sense of self. You just become so completely and utterly entrenched in caring for this child, that you lose yourself. There is no more you, only mom.
The Guilt. It is as if being a mother automatically makes you feel guilty. Guilty for feeling sad and frustrated sometimes, guilty for not having enough milk, for having too much milk, guilty for wanting to sleep, guilty for feeling guilty. If you let this feeling run rampant, it will consume you.
Relationships suffer. Whether it is because you are both just so tired and overwhelmed or because you are frustrated with yourself, the baby, your milk supply etc, your relationship definitely gets put under strain. Both parents are experiencing so many raw emotions and it is just too easy to let out negative feelings onto your loved one – they promised to stick around until death do you part after all. My husband and I fought almost daily, about silly things, like leaving the milk out of the fridge, and also about the bigger things, like breastfeeding. We in fact still fight, but I have learned (rather, I am still trying to learn)not to take things too personally. We are both parents for the first time, we are both tired and we are both trying to navigate our way through these emotions
Through it all, these little babies bring with them such an intense feeling of love. It consumes you and every fiber of your being wants to keep them safe. To ensure that they feel loved, that they are happy, that with your guidance, they become well rounded, strong, lively, compassionate and successful children and later adults. It is this love, which makes you stare at their peaceful little faces for hours on end, while you could be catching up on some sleep, wondering what life has in store for them, dreaming about their future, envisaging them running through a field of flowers, flying a kite, laughing.
One morning, I woke up and the fog through which I had been trying to navigate myself for the last couple of weeks had lifted. Everything just seemed a lot clearer, easier. I got used to the lack of sleep and I learned to read and understand by child. I was managing!
My baby now smiles at me as I walk into the room in the mornings – a smile so wide that his eyes close. I realise that this special time with my baby has not been about hardship after all but rather the precious seconds, minutes and hours of a new life developing and growing.
So, to all the new mommies out there:
As hard as this time can be sometimes, try and soak in every moment with your precious little bundle of life, hope and dreams. Although it seems like forever while you are in the midst of it, it does pass, faster than you realise. It does get better. In fact, it becomes wonderful.
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