So new we’re still in our 48 hour stay in the birth centre.
One of the things I heard a lot about babies is that the first six weeks are the hardest, that after six weeks things will start to get easier. I clung on for dear life in those first six weeks waiting for the magical milestone when everything would get easier. I fantasized about the wonderful sleep she would be having at six weeks, the six quick breastfeeds a day she would be nourished by, the disappearance of the scary colic cry, the ability I would find to leave her with someone else and go on about my day. (Really, I was a little insane with desperation) When we got there I realised that the milestone is not so much hers as mine. The reason people say it gets easier after six weeks is not because the baby gets easier, its because you have been somewhat broken in by parenthood. You have begun to shed your old skin, your pre-parenthood self. Six weeks, twenty-four hours a day immersion therapy, and the first stage of reprogramming is complete.
Descend with me.. here are snippets from my diary in those first six weeks:
- If you’re feeling really anxious, run-down, miserable, and exhausted then you need to eat something healthy and get some sleep. This is how I feel when I am really anxious, run-down, miserable and exhausted: totally unable to eat and completely unable to sleep.
- Trying to quickly fall asleep between feeds is like trying to fall asleep with someone standing over you with a stop watch and a really loud alarm clock that you just know is about to go off.
- Vegetable juice, Camembert, and chocolates are appearing in the house. He’s brought home all my favourite foods to try and entice me to eat.
- Worrying about Lauca at night breaks me into a sweat. Breaking into a sweat makes me worry that I have cancer. So this is what it is to fear death.
- Scared witless of when his two weeks paternity leave will finish and he will return to work. I can’t be alone.
- Because I am crying all the time I am frightened of post-natal depression. Hating the mornings most of all – a whole day alone confronting me.
- I can’t believe how perfect her little body is. How can you fall in love and fall down a deep emotional hole at the same time?
- I told my mother how depressing my mornings are and to cheer me up she bought me pretty nighties and fancy shower gels that she can’t afford before she left on her flight home. I haven’t worn nighties since I was about 17, but now I may need to greet people at lunch time in the same state I got out of bed.
- Some days my twice daily shower is my only relaxing 10 minutes of the day. I love that shower, it means I’ve had at least one moment each day just for me.
- I am too scared to take Lauca anywhere.
- Days go at a different pace now, when she is awake I can only do one thing an hour, aside from tending to her - make a phone call, put a wash on, get dressed – these things are done excruciatingly slowly. Choose one an hour! Toilet breaks are snatched, food is something you can prepare and eat with one hand (which is why junk food is such a dangerous lure).
- I am unable to do the simplest things. Its a combination of being caught in the thick oozy tar of the tasks of tending to an infant and my own debilitating exhaustion and anxiety making progress slow.
- I am enthralled with my baby. Can you be fascinated to death?
- I don’t recognise myself. I know I have to reach out but I don’t want to talk to friends, I don’t want to have to lie about how much I love this.
- In the first two weeks I felt like I was in a bubble.. I can see everyone on the outside but I can’t reach anyone, not even myself. I feel like I am screaming in silence. I feel exhausted with anxiety. I feel like I don’t have any thoughts of my own left, nothing recognisably me. And the things that unwind me, that anchor me, and make me who I am, they’re all gone. I can’t turn the anxiety off but my stomach is literally aching with the tension.
- Overwhelmed by the responsibility of motherhood – the never-endingness of it.
- More anxiety. Breastfeeding anxiety. Is she getting enough milk? Is she putting on enough weight? Can she tell I don’t like breastfeeding, that its incredibly painful for me, that I am fighting this awesome responsibility, that I am plotting a way out? That I feel guilty about all this? That I am frightened of her incredible vulnerability? And then perversely, once I steal myself for the pain feeling so close to her every-time I breastfeed.
- Too many visitors, totally run down. Failed the first rule of new motherhood: don’t have too many visitors.
- At my first check up we asked the doctor for something for my anxiety and she prescribed me vitamin B. A vitamin? Is she Tom Cruise? I was thinking something with a little more medicinal sophistication, even a good placebo. (Fortunately for me it turns out a little time is all I need.)
- Lauca is such a slow feeder – 40 minutes is not unusual. The night feeds are so lonely, I may be the only person left on the planet. I often see my nights sucked away by morning light. My inexperience had her attached for 2 hour feeds. By dawn I was very tired and very lonely. I can’t yet feed her while lying down. One time I sobbed extra loudly to wake him so he would sit up with me while Lauca finished the feed. After that he promises to sit up with me for all the night feeds but I couldn’t bring myself to wake him, he looked so peaceful asleep.
- Everyone has started to adjust: our cat used to bite us whenever the baby cried now she just looks worried and leaves the room.
- Lauca’s smiles appear without warning - amazing and fleeting, like shooting stars.
- The lactation consultant fixed up our nipple attachment problem and my nipples are slowly healing – the bleeding stops, the skin re-grafts, the raw agony abates. Breastfeeding becomes comfortable.. even enjoyable.
- I tried letting her cry by herself for two minutes in case she just stops like people tell me she will. She didn’t and I found myself tied in knots watching the second hand on the watch. When I picked her up she was so relieved to be cuddled that I could never try it again.
- I have changed the way I relate to my breasts. Almost twenty years of sexual objectification, its hard to experience them as working breasts, public breasts; breasts exposed in front of in-laws and shopping centres and other people’s partners.
- I have become aware of an intensity in my love for my baby. It is truly beyond words.
- Sometimes I can only relate to her as an animal, as I would to a small pet - lovingly, but our communication is so limited. Her thoughts are decipherable but not verifiable.
- I found a word for our parenting style – attachment parenting. Instantly I have more authority. To be able to say that our parenting style is recognised by someone who wrote a book gives us legitimacy. I have noticed a change in even the most judgemental people we know. The ‘scheduler mother’ has begun to talk more freely with me about the times she has taken her baby to bed with her.
- Very happy, she had a 5 hour sleep last night.
One day when I was looking back through some photos of me taken in the first two weeks of motherhood I noticed something. I had asked my mother to take photographs of Lauca on my lap but not to include me in them because I looked a wreck. In most of the photos she obliged but in one of them she went ahead and photographed me also (I don’t have an electronic copy so its not posted here). I saw something about myself in that unguarded moment; a special look I hadn’t seen before that I now recognise in all new mothers. There is something about the vulnerability of new mothers, they look so young. For a few days or weeks they look startled and overwhelmed and terrified and proud and brave, all at once, and I just want to hug them tight and tell them that it will all turn out OK…. because it did.