I am a firm believer in any birth having the ability to be empowering. Natural vaginal birth, medicated vaginal birth, elective caesarean, emergency caesarean, caesarean under general anaesthetic - and everything else in between.
But I didn't always feel this way. I did a Hypnobirthing course and thought that made me some sort of birth goddess with no limits. And it did in a way.
I didn't write a caesarean birth plan. I didn't know what happened during this procedure nor what my options were during it. I didn't pack any high waisted underwear or any appropriate clothing.
I thought birth just happened. I thought that everything always went smoothly if you could just get through the pain. I thought the rate of caesareans was low. I thought all medical professionals believed in a woman's body and ability to birth. I'm no longer so naive.
I'm no longer so naive.
Actually, I'm now extremely educated. And that's exactly how I got my VBAC.
Without rambling too much - I will say that I got my VBAC by owning it. I made it very clear what I wanted and what I didn't want during my labour and birth. I was my own advocate - because no one else was going to do that for me. It's your body - your baby - your birth.
My two births were two totally different experiences.
If you've followed the blog for a while, you may have read my first birth story before - so I apologise for repeating myself.
With my first, I had a stretch and sweep, had a massive bleed and had to go to hospital. I went into labour 2 days later at 10pm 26/6/15. We lived out of town at the time and Telstra was down that night. It was the middle of the night and we drove about 10km to get phone signal. We phoned maternity and they advised us to come in. We arrived at hospital and despite not wanting too many vaginal examinations (see, I thought I was so educated), I agreed to one (the first of many) and was 4cm. I stayed in hospital and laboured on all night. I was having hourly vaginal examinations by the end and my body wasn't agreeing to being on my back. I was very vocal and wanted to be on the fitball. I remember a cycle of waiting in agony on my back for the doctor to arrive to check me again. It's hazy but it was awful. Eventually, the doctor broke my waters - and the waters were not a nice colour. No one was worried as baby's heart rate was fine. By this point, after only 10 hours of labour, I was 8cm. After another hour, I was still 8cm. So, a failure to progress emergency caesarean was deemed necessary and off I went (although I waited a few hours before I was prepped for surgery). I had only had gas for pain relief and no other interventions. At the time, I was made to feel like the meconium in the waters was the issue - but my notes say "maternal exhaustion" which disappoints me to no end. During my caesarean, I didn't feel like I was birthing my baby. I felt scared - I'd never had surgery before let alone major surgery. They announced the gender and I was just frozen. I swore I could feel them cutting me - it hurt so I was given more pain relief once baby was out. They took her aside and Brad cut a piece of the cord off. He then held her because I was shaking. I couldn't find a smile within myself and I still feel such guilt about that. I was just focused on finishing the task at hand and couldn't concentrate on anything else until I knew I was stitched back up and the sensations I was experiencing had stopped. I'm so grateful that Brad was so present with our daughter. I breastfed in recovery and struggled immensely. I struggled with just about everything for weeks, months and even years. Recovering from surgery, breastfeeding, postnatal depression... Things were so bad that Brad and I decided against more children. This was a heartbreaking decision but we felt it was the right one for our family. Brad even had a referral for a vasectomy!
As time went on, I took ownership of my recovery from postnatal depression. I felt like I was in a good place. I actually felt like I had a new level of self awareness - one I'd never had before. I needed to experience such a low point in my life to be able to feel such a high.
We started toying with the idea of another child. At first, it felt like a dream. Even deciding to try was a very momentous decision. We figured it would take many months but I tested positive first time and it suddenly felt very real. This baby was destined to be in our lives.
This baby was destined to be in our lives.
Again, I was very, very ill during the pregnancy. But my self talk and thoughts throughout this was very positive in comparison with my first pregnancy. I think having a toddler helps! You literally do not have time to feel self pity.
I was determined to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) and booked in with a doctor who I had heard was supportive of this. I had everyone around me asking when my caesarean date was. "Don't you know you can't have a natural birth after a caesarean?" I had family think I was lying about having a date booked.
I started to feel kicks down low and self diagnosed a breech positioned baby at 30 weeks. I shook it off but my doctor unfortunately confirmed this at 32 weeks. Breech birth is obviously possible. However not in Port Lincoln, and when wanting a VBAC, your options are extremely limited even in the city.
I felt like I'd failed my baby already. I felt like I'd failed everyone around me because I'd been so vocal about having a natural birth. I didn't tell anyone what I was going through. 1. Because I didn't know what the outcome would be. I wanted to wait until I knew what I was facing until I was open. 2. I was struggling emotionally and couldn't bear the thought of people constantly asking me: "has baby turned yet?"
I knew that babies could turn on their own but I did some research and travelled to Adelaide when I was 36 weeks to see a very experienced and pro-VBAC obstetrician in Adelaide. Normally, obstetricians prefer not to attempt an ECV (external cephalic version or manual turning of the baby) if you've had a previous caesarean - but the obstetrician examined me and showed me some positive research supporting it. We booked in an ECV for the following week. I had been warned that it may not be successful and had read (too much) on the internet that it can be very painful and traumatic.
The ECV was an amazing experience. I had a muscle relaxant and although it was quite painful, it only took one attempt and baby was head down! Brad and I were in absolute awe of my body and of the process. For the next week, I worried about the position of movements and that the baby had turned again. But baby stayed head down until birth - just amazing. I felt like I was back on my way to my VBAC and it's as if the past 10 weeks of agonising over baby's position and what that meant for my birth had never happened.
I knew I wasn't going into labour before 40 weeks. I just knew it. And I wasn't one bit worried armed with the knowledge that a normal pregnancy is between 37 and 42 weeks. My doctor was very aware of my position on induction and with my options being limited due to the previous caesarean anyway, we cruised on.
I had a bit of a "show" and started getting irregular tightenings on the Tuesday night (40+5). I couldn't sleep through them and position changes didn't help so I knew they were real. However, I woke up the next morning and not much was happening. I messaged my midwife friend who suggested I rest. I did the opposite and took Cadence on the walking group run by the local children's centre! Pushing a pram up the hill in the heat definitely helped because I was having tightenings every 10 minutes and my waters were leaking the whole time. Thankfully, nobody cottoned on (and it's become a bit of a joke at the centre now). We went about our day as normal. I took Cadence to the afternoon playgroup and to Target to look at toys. By 4pm, I decided to go home as I could no longer talk through the tightenings and you can imagine what that's like with a toddler in a department store. Things seemed to be happening quite consistently and I messaged Brad to come home from work a bit early (4:30pm). I settled Cadence for bed through tightenings after dinner then tried to get some rest.
Cadence woke and was really unsettled from about 9pm. This was really tricky as I having regular tightenings still and needed to rest. It's almost as if she knew. I put on a brave face and we both gave her our full attention. She eventually drifted off to sleep.
It occurred to me then that I was going to have a baby tonight or the next day because things were intense. I got out of bed at about 11pm after no sleep and set up a little sanctuary in the lounge room - with the fitball, Netflix, a blanket fort and cushions. I didn't tell Brad how full on things were and left Brad to sleep so that he could be useful when I called upon him. I really, really wanted to watch Mean Girls. I have no idea why. But Netflix, the buggers, didn't have it. So I watched Juno instead - and didn't even realise how ironic that was until just now as I write this. At about 1:30am, I rang Brad because I physically couldn't get up and walk to our bedroom from my blanket fort in the lounge. He didn't answer and I pictured myself crawling to him in slo-mo but he came into the lounge and seemed very confused. Obviously, had no idea I'd be labouring away for nearly 5 hours and nearly didn't believe me because I was so calm and hadn't asked for help. He helped me with the TENS machine (which really took the edge off) until I felt the need to hop in the shower. I loved the warm water on my back and our shower is quite large so I could pace in there too. Brad was wonderful and lit a candle gifted to me at my blessingway and read birth affirmations to me and had me repeat them back to him. He could be a doula if he wanted! He believed in my body but knew my mind was strong and needed support to stay on track as I started to say: I can't do this.
He believed in my body but knew my mind was strong and needed support to stay on track as I started to say: I can't do this.
Tightenings had now been a couple of minutes apart for hours and were starting to change slightly. I felt a sharper pain in my coccyx area. I started to think about going to hospital and decided that we'd call my mum about 5:30 to come at 6am. It was now 3am. I wanted to be available to Cadence if she woke. But at 4am, my waters broke in the shower and things got even more intense. I decided I actually wanted gas (no idea why - just felt really strongly about that!) We called maternity and let them know what was happening and they said they were ready for us. We then called my mum who by some miracle answered - because her phone is always on silent at night time. She and her partner arrived with their double swag and settled in. Apparently, Cadence woke just after we left but was absolutely fine with the disruption and eventually went back to sleep. We were at the hospital around 4:30am.
We had a lovely midwife who was more than happy to follow my birth plan (no vaginal examinations or interventions) however recommended continuous monitoring. I said that if she got me some gas first and the monitor could be used in the shower, I didn't particularly care. I used the toilet and the midwife asked whether I did in fact want an examination because she felt that I was further along than she thought. Although, I knew I was probably quite far along - due to the feelings of pressure I was having in the shower at home. She checked me and I was indeed 10cm. The doctor was called and whilst I was in the shower, my doctor and midwife were both absolutely wonderful in supporting me through tightenings and position changes. I declined a routine cannula as per my birth plan. I couldn't believe the difference in my two births. With my first, I was saying I couldn't do it - and was then whisked away for a caesarean. This time, I was being encouraged and told I could do it and WAS doing it. Gas was doing nothing by this point and I spat it out on the floor. I alternated between squatting on the floor in the shower and standing and swaying with Brad. It was our birth dance. I was telling him that I loved him and apologising for getting his clothes wet (the things you think of when you're in labour). It was really beautiful.
The rest is so hard to describe. It was the most challenging yet most magical hour or so of my life. I always thought I'd breathe the baby down using the contractions. But baby wasn't moving and the coached pushing really helped. Once the baby's head had emerged, the pain just went away. I didn't feel the "ring of fire" that is feared so much. I wasn't scared of tearing. I felt this primal instinct and acted on it and felt so supported by every single person in the room. I felt like I had a cheer squad. My beautiful baby daughter, Asher Lane, was born at 6:26am Thursday the 8th of February - 8 pound 8 and 52cm long. She was passed to me through my legs as I was squatting down in the shower.
I'd done it. I'd beaten so many odds with my breech, VBAC baby. I have never been so proud of myself - after how hard I worked in my pregnancy and my labour - and would go as far as to say that giving birth on that shower floor was my greatest achievement and probably always will be. The entire experience helped me to forgive my previous doctor, let go of the hurt, move beyond the trauma and feel proud of my first birth - because if I hadn't experienced any of that, I would never have felt this intense love for myself and my body in this present moment - and into the future. I looked around and realised that I'd just birthed in the same room that I'd laboured in with my first child. I am so glad for this as it intensified the forgiveness and joy I was experiencing.
I was so glad for this as it intensified the forgiveness and joy I was experiencing.
I had only pushed for 40 minutes and we had about 15 minutes of delayed cord clamping which was great because it didn't feel as though we were being rushed through our initial bonding. The placenta was birthed naturally 20 minutes later.
I had a second degree tear (which I didn't even feel) and lost a lot of blood (1850ml). I had fluids in recovery as well as drugs to stop the bleeding. When on the maternity ward, I had two blood transfusions and was slightly delusional after no sleep, the loss of blood and lots of visitors. I was asked my name and gave my birth name (my father's surname which I haven't had since I was 18) and was asked my birthdate to which I repeated my name again. Everyone was quite worried about me and I felt intensely frustrated because my words were not matching my thoughts. Eventually, after a bit of rest, I came good and left hospital the next day. To be able to walk normally and get into the car on my own was an amazing difference to last time.
A day later, after visitors (not trying to blame them but it does take it out of you!), I went downhill again and went back to hospital. They ordered another blood transfusion and my haemoglobin was back up to 102 after that. I have felt amazing ever since.
After all the doubt and fear that I overcame - to then labour at home using my internal strength and support of my partner and arrive at hospital 10cm dilated, I feel as though I became the birth goddess I always thought I was. I look down at Asher and cannot stop kissing her head. I said for days after the birth: I can't believe you came out of my vagina!
I said for days after the birth: I can't believe you came out of my vagina!
And if I'm going to compare birth experiences, I may as well compare postpartum experiences also. At the time of writing this, just over two weeks postpartum, I feel entirely different to last time. Last time, I already had a referral to a psychologist by this point, multiple professionals were involved, I had a prescription for antidepressants, I was having nightly panic attacks, I had an intense post traumatic stress response upon returning to the hospital for breastfeeding support, I had an infection in my c-section wound from it opening up, I wasn't sleeping, I was hardly eating, I was crying all the time, I had no independence or strength. I felt nothing but love for my daughter, Cadence, but I couldn't figure out how to love myself through the process of becoming a mother. I couldn't stop the feeling of failure or absolute hopelessness.
This time round, I couldn't even imagine feeling any of that. I feel like an entirely different person having the same postpartum experience, however, how I got there, and how I was respected through it, was so different. After reading the brilliant book How To Heal A Bad Birth (which I urge you to read - even as a health professional or someone who has not experienced birth trauma first hand), I am convinced that what I experienced postnatally was indeed triggered by birth trauma. A trauma that is not often recognised because the rate of caesarean and intervention is so high and the birth culture has shifted. (Not to say that all caesareans are traumatic - as I mentioned in my first paragraph - but birth is very personal and if your birth doesn't end the way you expected or you felt like you weren't heard, it can be traumatic). A trauma that wasn't honoured and a trauma that I wasn't supported through - simply because there just isn't enough awareness or specialised support for women and their families experiencing this. "At least you had a live birth", "healthy baby is all that matters" and "it could have been worse" are all very unhelpful statements.
I hope that by shouting from the rooftops, I can encourage others to pursue a healing journey from birth trauma and advocate for themselves to get the treatment and respect they deserve. I also hope I can raise awareness about birth, normal birth and how magical it can be. Let's shift our perspective of birth from pain, fear, control and move back to the way birth always was - about life, empowerment, souls reuniting.
Let's shift our perspective of birth from pain, fear, control and move back to the way birth always was - about life, empowerment, souls reuniting.
Thanks for reading if you got this far. This was a very personal piece for me to write and I hope it was useful, enjoyable, affirming and everything in between.
I am passionate about breastfeeding and feel strongly that breastmilk matters – no matter how long or how much – it matters and is important for both mother and baby.
I am not an advocate of breast is best – but nor am I an advocate for fed is best (I dislike the term immensely, actually). Informed is best.
Since reaching this point in my journey, I’ve realised that I’ve soldiered through many ailments. And I never decide to give up on living because I have the common cold nor does anyone suggest it – so why should I give up on breastfeeding if I suffer a breastfeeding related complaint? It is my hope that people reading this do not feel sympathy but empathy – and see that strength can be found within. Your breastfeeding goals matter, your journey matters and the support you receive matters.
When I fell pregnant with Cadence, it was my desire to breastfeed until she was two years old as per the World Health Organisation guidelines. I was told by many that this would never occur and nor should I want it to. I didn’t actually know anyone who had breastfed for that length of time – yet I had this primal urge to do so.
I educated myself about latch, milk supply, importance of night feeds, whether my prescription meds were compatible… I felt really in control of my future breastfeeding relationship. I bought a breast pump and was able to express some colostrum - although it hurt like hell but I didn’t think much of that fact.
When Cadence was born, obviously like any form of control in your life when you have a baby, I lost control of my breastfeeding plan.
I was in absolute agony. Every breastfeed was torturous and a combination of falling into the trap of formula top ups, scheduling feeds and shortening feeds due to the pain led to low milk supply.
My nipples were absolutely shredded, my refluxy baby was regurgitating my blood and I felt intense anxiety before and in between breastfeeds (so, all the time with a newborn!) I spoke with many professionals who advised me that it was normal to be in pain but to rethink my plan and set smaller goals. I set the goal of making it to when Cadence was four weeks old. And it was a bloody marathon to get there – but I did.
In between all this, I was also pumping after every breastfeed – even during the night – to increase my milk supply. I remember passing Cadence to Brad and pumping with my eyes closed sitting up against the cold, hard headrest of our bed. I wasn’t sleeping much and when I finally settled for sleep, Cadence was awake again or my thoughts were ruminating.
I was also diagnosed with vasospasm – and having a winter baby made this worse (I don’t notice it so much in the summer). A lactation consultant booked us in to have Cadence’s lip and tongue tie revised. This is something I feel conflicted about as it was so traumatic for all of us.
Finally, after nearly six months, the cracks healed, summer came and the pain eased slightly. I was still not in a good place mentally or emotionally. The pain was definitely contributing. And it was most frustrating at a time where solids are commonly introduced - suddenly, breastfeeding is valued even less and support just isn’t there to continue.
I spent the next year or so fumbling along. Breastfeeding for one whole year was a massive milestone for me. But it also found me at a point where I wasn’t willing to put up with the pain any longer. However, I felt very alone as the support and advice from professionals and people around me was to wean or that the pain was a result of postnatal anxiety. Cadence was and still is very connected with and attached to me and breastfeeding played an important role in this. She was not ready to wean and nor was I willing to force this upon her given the health benefits.
It took lots of Googling, talking, writing, experimenting and poking and prodding (will never do that again!), but I finally found the source of my pain – tiny little lumps on the surface of my areola.
I moved to a different clinic (the third that I’d been to in town) in an attempt to seek answers as I heard from friends that they may have the staff with the expertise to support me. The doctor that I saw ordered an ultrasound which showed the lumps – but nothing diagnosable. I then had a punch biopsy and due to the location of the stitches and the pain, I couldn’t breastfeed from that breast. And I haven’t breastfed from that breast to this day. It feels tight, sore at the incision site and the milk has diminished completely. This was really hard for my daughter and it is my hope that when my second child is born, it will have healed enough for me to feed normally.
I breastfed for two years. The last few days were from one breast and recovering from the biopsy – but I had done it!
The biopsy came back and the results showed that I had a rare condition resulting in small, thankfully benign tumours in my breast which cause extreme pain upon touching, friction or cold. It was so rare, that you cannot even Google it with much success. It was a surreal feeling – to have gone from being dismissed repeatedly to finally having an answer - after two years of seeking medical support to no avail. I felt validated and the depression and anxiety that I experienced suddenly felt very real. But I also felt let down by a system that does not support women in their breastfeeding goals.
I thought I was out of the woods until I noticed pain in my other breast. More of the same tiny lumps. I felt a lot of pressure being pregnant with my second child. I had one breast that seemed useless to me due to the biopsy and another that had severe pain and no hope of removing that pain without introducing a new type of pain. It was horrendous and I fell into a hole of self pity that no one seemed to understand.
I finally requested a referral to the end of the line. Just last week, I visited a breast specialist and surgeon in Adelaide. I had high hopes for the visit. Thankfully, there was definitely no cancer, but the moment I was told there was nothing that could be done for the stabbing pain – I absolutely broke. I still have no idea how I didn’t fall into a puddle of tears on the floor. My strength amazes me as I remained composed and connected to the conversation – nodding politely as if the doctor hadn’t just given me a terrible outcome. An outcome that I hadn’t expected – surely, I could breastfeed at some point in my life without pain? But it just wasn’t to be.
Even as I write this, I feel the same tightness in the back of my throat as I was told nipple shields may be an option (which I tried and it didn’t help with the pain). “When you stop breastfeeding, we can look at having them removed as there is no treatment that is breastfeeding compatible”. I held on tight to my growing, 30 week bump and asked what I should do in the interim. Cope.
Even with the information that my breastfeeding journey will be painful, I still plan to feed my second child until they are two years of age. I feel a calling to do this. I have and I will find a way to dig deeper and embrace my journey as the norm for me. Comparison will no longer be an aspect of my breastfeeding relationship. It is important that I focus solely on what’s happening for myself and my child – not what other women may be doing or experiencing - either with ease or with challenges.
Chronic pain is a complicated thing. I wouldn’t wish my journey upon anyone. I wish it wasn’t happening to me. But I’ve realised just how strong I am. Sharing my story in such detail leaves me open to judgement and potentially even disagreements around feeding choices (which I won’t be entering into) – but I believe that it is important that women’s breastfeeding goals are acknowledged, honoured and supported. A woman can either be broken or built based on the support around her.
If you know a breastfeeding mother, ask her about her goals. And support them. No matter what.
I told myself I wouldn't neglect the blog again - but I most definitely have. And it's mainly because my day at the moment looks a little like this:
- Up at 5am after being up all night
- Daddy takes small child for breakfast and play while I sleep until 7:20am (yes, 7:20am. I have worked out the EXACT time I need to get up)
- Back on duty at 7:30am
- Breakfast while the boobie monster feeds from me. I do my best not to drop cereal and yoghurt on her head but I make no promises
- The day progresses in a normal fashion of snack times, nap times, play times, adventures, babychinos, various mundane chores that keep everyone clothed, fed and organised, sitting down is criminal
- Daddy gets home at 5pm
- Dinner. Or, more-so, cooking dinner that we eat cold and the small child does not eat. We offer various alternatives which usually end up being avocado and raspberries (there could be worse things I suppose)
- Shower with daddy
- Settling for bed with mummy (which involves about 50 thousand breastfeeds, going to the toilet 17 times and a Riff Raff Sleep Toy called Bandit)
- I want to have a cup of tea, I want a snack, I want to read a book - but I'm too damn tired. I scroll Instagram while I brush my teeth and hop into bed ready for round 2 - the hardest round.
So, as I near towards 2 years of sleep deprivation, feeding through the night and settling a wakeful toddler, I've been thinking about my journey with this so far. Part of me thinks I'm an amazing human being who has endured so much and surely there's only one more year or so of this to go. I've done the hardest work and feel at peace. I love that I can meet all of Cadence's needs and that she has never been left to feel insecure - our bond is so strong and our family has my hard work to thank for that. Another (perhaps equal) part of me feels extremely tired and burnt out.
When I speak with other mums, too, the theme is consistent - we definitely thought our little ones would be sleeping through the night by now. But we can't even imagine what that must feel like. This is so normal now that it's almost laughable and inconceivable that we will ever sleep.
I am a firm believer that sleep is a developmental milestone that babies and toddlers will reach when they are ready. I do not want to push Cadence by removing comfort or contact in the night (although we may begin a night weaning journey very soon - stay tuned for that!) But it took me a long time to reach this conclusion. Here's what I thought and felt along the way. You may be able to relate:
6 Weeks In - Quiet Confidence.
You have a newborn. It's all very exciting. You've somewhat recovered from the birth. Getting up in the night feels like an adventure. You and your partner fight over whose turn it is to change her nappy - because she's so damn cute. You check the time, it's 4am and you've had two hours sleep. But it doesn't matter - because this won't last for much longer (haha). All the baby books say babies start to sleep through the night between 8 weeks and six months (haha).
3 Months In - Confidence Wavering.
Okay, so you're getting tired. But again, it's okay because your baby is obviously going to sleep through the night at six months old (haha) so you're half way there.
6 Months In - A Sense of Accomplishment.
Anyyyyyyy night now.
12 Months In - Despair.
This is NOT cool. Babies of a similar age are sleeping through, they are being weaned, their mums are somehow coping back at work while you struggle to get out of your pyjamas by 11am. The night waking has actually INCREASED and everyone keeps doing that thing where they ask whether she's a "good baby" - which, in turn, means "does she sleep all night?" By that definition, she is a very bad baby and that means that you are a very bad mother.
15 Months In - Try All The Things.
You visit a chiropractor, you buy herbal remedies, you slather the small child in magnesium oil, you put lavender in the bath, you research melatonin, you are convinced something is wrong. A sense of disappointment ensues when you see little benefit to the time and money you've invested.
18 Months In - Anger.
By now, you're very tired - and somewhat confused. Being woken to breastfeed every 2-3 hours is getting a bit old. You try to night wean but it feels impossible. You listen to other mums complain that their baby woke once one time last week and they are still recovering from it. You were never normally an angry person, but this particular comment makes the anger and resentment that's been brewing want to spill over. You watch mums skip with their children to the park while you walk slowly with a coffee in hand. You lift your baby into the swing and notice how sore and tired you are. You think that a good nights sleep would fix this. More anger surfaces. Why me? How come I can't be a bundle of energetic joy who skips to the park? You feel overwhelmed and enter into a negative thinking pattern. You wonder whether you are depressed. But you solider on - because that's what mums do.
20 Months In - Relief.
You've found a mum who understands. You suddenly find millions of mums all over the world who haven't suggested that you read Save Our Sleep. You feel a sense of solidarity. You text aforementioned mum at 3am and she responds almost instantly - and tells you you're doing a brilliant job. When you look in the right places, you find resources on safe co-sleeping, the benefits of breastfeeding on demand, affirming research on secure attachments and normal infant sleep. You laugh to yourself about your naivety. You implement strategies to support yourself and your family whilst remaining true to your parenting values.
22 Months In - It's A Rollercoaster.
You have a few nights here and there (definitely just a few!) where your toddler sleeps until 5am - straight. You decide that the worst is over and you're definitely going to sleep all night very soon. But when it doesn't last, and when things start to feel overwhelming and the resentment builds, it's time to take a step back and remember that this will pass. You start to feel negative towards your lifestyle and your current situation. But remembering that the days and nights are long but the years are short, definitely helps to keep a calm perspective and to feel at peace. You also remember that this little being of light chose you to be their mumma - and you wouldn't want it any other way. Loving your child unconditionally, through every sleepless night and misadventure, is what motherhood is all about. It might not be what you signed up for in the beginning, but it's where you are now - and it's time to ride that wave together - as a unit. Seeing your child as someone who is separate to you is the first step to the resentment building again.
2 Years In - Who Knows.
Cadence is nearly 2 years old. Who knows what the future holds. I'm doing my best to release any expectations I have on how she sleeps in the future - which is something that flows. For example, we have a night of 4 hours blocks, and I'm ecstatic, full of hope and energy. And then the following night, we have a night of 45 minutes blocks, and I'm disappointed, drained and want to throw the towel in. And then to complicate things even further, I have a decent sleep and still feel tired and drained and at the end of my fuse. Sometimes I wonder whether sleep is everything.
If you're in the depths of sleep deprivation, please do your best to practice self-care. Please ask for help. This isn't silly or a failure on your part - this is a necessary aspect of motherhood that is almost always overlooked. We are not meant to do this alone. It takes a village. Call that village. Ask them to come and feed your little one breakfast while you catch another 60 minutes of shut eye. Order takeaway. And smile at the beautiful journey you are on - as this is what it is - a journey. It will change and flow with time and sooner rather than later, you'll wonder where the time went and miss those snuggly nights of cuddling and hushing in the dark. Breathe, mumma. You got this.
I remember very vividly the day I denied access to my intuition. The day I told myself that my thoughts and feelings didn't matter - because the words of that midwife or the woman who wrote a book with zero qualifications mattered more.
The day I left my daughter cry.
I was 6 months into parenting and totally consumed by motherhood. My sanity was escaping me and I placed a lot of blame on myself for the way things were going.
When I was pregnant, I had an idea of how I wanted this parenting gig to go. But even then - I was constantly told - by professionals, peers, family, friends and society - that what I wanted wasn't achievable - or even to be desired.
I wanted a natural, hypnobirth. "We'll just see what happens, shall we?"
I wanted to breastfeed for two years. "Why would you want to do that? You'll want your body back straight after the birth... There's no way you'll last two years".
I wanted to parent naturally. I threw out the Sudocream, Panadol and Banana Boat sunscreen.
I was interested in attachment parenting. "Isn't that for hippies?"
Yet when Cadence was born, all of this seemed so far from my reach. I was told in hospital that I needed to log everything. Poos, wees, breastfeeds, sleep. Sometimes, I'd be holding my crying baby with one arm, cannula stretched and stinging, so that I could log the start of the breastfeed on the clipboard. I was already going against my instincts. To put that bloody clipboard down and cuddle my baby. But I felt like everyone else knew better. And when you're in a hospital bed with a gaping wound in your abdomen, it's kind of hard to feel strong and important. You feel weak.
I continued to log when I got home because the midwives were concerned about my milk supply. I was one week postpartum and my baby hadn't gained enough weight. I was told to strictly feed every two hours but not before. My baby screamed. And I watched the clock - only to soothe her instantly with a breastfeed. No one told me about the fourth trimester, cluster feeding and how normal it all was. How frequent feeding would build my supply. How my baby had only been earth-side for one week and didn't know any different to my body warmth and constant closeness. The tongue-tie that went undiagnosed for four months also didn't help.
I started to lose touch with myself completely. My tiny baby would only be soothed with a feed and a cuddle. I couldn't put her down awake and leave the room. But I was "making a rod for my own back", I was "spoiling her", I was doing it all wrong. I remember sitting on a fitball, bouncing my tiny newborn to sleep in the dark - breast in her mouth - and feeling like the only woman in the world to be doing this. I feel so stupid and so defeated. "Why couldn't I just do it right? Why can't I just put her down, walk away and sleep all bloody night like a normal person?"
I succumbed to the promise of rest and an "easy" baby after reading a book that advocated for controlled crying. Although, it insisted that it wasn't really "controlled crying" - these were dirty words - and that it was "timed comforting". I cried on the couch as I listened to her scream. I did 5 minute intervals for 45 minutes (but who is counting?!). She didn't go to sleep. The book said I needed to stay strong and that I couldn't give in. If I did, I'd ruin any progress and she'd never sleep on her own. But it all felt so wrong. I went in, grabbed her and apologised profusely to this little six month old baby. At the time, I felt so guilty. But I also felt so pathetic, weak and like a failure. "Other mums can do this". It was even harder to get her to sleep after that. I felt like our mutual trust was broken slightly - cracked just enough to let the light of uncertainty creep in.
I then felt resentful. Why couldn't my baby just conform to the mould that society wants her to? Why didn't she read all these books in the womb? Why did she need me so much? Everyone was telling me that she should be sleeping through the night by now. And even at 8 months old in a mother and baby unit of all places - I was pushed to sleep train. I even had a referral to sleep school - which I absolutely hated. All the things I wasn't allowed to do - no feeding before solids, no breastfeeding whilst laying down, no picking up, no feeding to sleep - everything so mechanical, shameful and unnatural.
After a bit of soul searching (and Googling - you become an expert as a mother!), I found articles on cluster feeding, full-term breastfeeding, gentle parenting, NORMAL infant sleep, the fourth trimester. Oh my, I was in a heaven of relief from the loneliness, isolation and sense of failure that I felt. I felt like I'd found myself again - and I felt like I'd found home.
Another level of self-doubt appeared though when I was met again with the opinions of others - including health care professionals:
"There's no nutritional benefit to breastfeeding".
"Babies don't need night feeds after 6 weeks of age".
"You need to follow a feed, play, sleep routine - she cannot fall asleep on the breast".
"Crying is good for their character".
"You're stupid if you don't sleep train. And you have brought postnatal depression on yourself". - Yes, they actually said that.
What I actually learnt:
Breastfeeding for two years is the minimum as per the World Health Organisation guidelines.
Crying to sleep doesn't teach babies to be calm - it teaches them that no one is coming.
Cortisol levels often remain the same in an infant who isn't crying but wakes in the night.
Breastfed babies are designed to fall asleep on the breast. And breastfeeding helps sleepy hormones for the mother too.
You can read more here:
[resources I now avoid are usually very mainstream, government funded, potentially sponsored by formula companies (sad, but true in some cases), advocates of sleeping through the night at the expense of the mother/child/breastfeeding relationship and maternal and infant mental health]
I could go on forever about the disappointment, sense of loss and grief that I feel from the early days - where I was so very unsupported and very broken by the condescending conversations about myself as a parent. Do you know what? This causes a lot of disharmony between the mother and her baby. This also causes a distrust in the health system and can result in families feeling very unsupported and alone at a time where they need everything they can get.
I have felt this. I have taken my daughter to the doctor multiple times for various reasons only to be told that breastfeeding was to blame - or that the way I parent is the culprit. I have been to the doctor myself only to be told that the solution to everything was to stop breastfeeding and sleep train.
It is a shame that parents cannot simply be supported in the way they need because they don't fit the mould. It's like: "oh, you have values different to mine. I cannot help you". Why normal infant feeding, sleep and attachment isn't publicised so readily concerns me deeply. We are told from day one that mother's intuition is always right. However, we also live in a society where there isn't room for mother's intuition.
Finding myself again as a mother and a soulful human through gentle parenting has absolutely saved me. I was able to come off anti-depressants, stop therapy and follow my heart. The bond between myself and my daughter is strong. She is a courageous, generous, creative, loving and spirited little being.
She's almost two and we are still feeding - with much difficulty - but because this is important to both of us. She's not ready to wean. I respond to her cries in the night. I aim to remain calm, compassionate and child-focused through every tantrum and challenge. I don't always do it all perfectly - and I definitely don't always feel at peace - but the love we feel for each other is perfect in every way. And I will never look back on this time with a sense of regret for the sleep and body autonomy that I've lost. I will look back and be forever thankful for my internal strength to continue my gentle parenting journey through every bump - and everything I have gained through this experience. I used to think there was nothing worse than being a mum of a tiny human. "It's too hard, I'm not cut out for this". But now, I think it's the best - because I am true to myself and my daughter. I already watch my daughter blossom, feel safe and secure and thrive with our approach. I already know that she needed this from us. I only wish I was educated and this strong from day one.
To my darling daughter - I was, and still am, doing the best I can. It is enough for me and I hope it is enough for you. I love you.
Are there any other links you'd add for other parents who are struggling to parent gently in a society that often doesn't support this? Comment below!
There's always been debate about which is the "harder" (you'll need to read that with big, sarcastic quotation marks to get the full impact) aspect of parenting. That's why I don't say that it's harder to stay home or harder to go to work - I say that it's different. You actually cannot compare the two. There are too many variables. But as I write from my perspective, a stay at home mother, I think it's important to note that it's not all coffee playdates at the park and sitting down to blog when you're at home with a toddler (hence why this website has been neglected for several months).
You are always one step ahead.
When you're at home with a toddler, you don't often have the same luxury as you may do at work. You are constantly timing everything. Going to the playground is a definite must. But you have to time it perfectly. Not too close to nap time or she'll scream the entire way home. Not too far from the shopping trip or the tofu and orange juice will get wrecked in the car (although I'm sensing a constant here - maybe the car is in fact the culprit). If I go to the toilet now while she's playing with those blocks quietly, I may avoid having to clean up tampons from the hallway and the bathroom sink. Maybe she'll be happy enough to come with me to hang some washing on the line. Maybe not. Maybe she'll cry and try to bang her head on the concrete wall if I don't let her drink from the dog's bowl.
It's not the same as sitting at your desk and realising it's lunchtime and going to the tea-room and heat up your leftovers. No. With a toddler, if you realise it's lunchtime and you haven't appropriately prepared at least 3 different meals for them to reject, you'll end up with a hangry toddler (spelling error intended) and that is not something to be messed with. I realise that some days go swimmingly and you skip from task to task, you both laugh constantly and she doesn't throw food on the floor. I realise this. Sometimes, there is balance. Oftentimes, there is not.
There is no break.
Like, literally - none. At work, you are entitled to a lunch break and a few paid breaks here and there. At home with a toddler, your lunch "break" (extremely sarcastic quotations again) is usually spent preparing the other two meals (see above) and trying to figure out whether those tomato crackers have any nutritional benefit whatsoever while you tip a smoothie down the sink and throw perfectly good mac and cheese that's actually made with pumpkin in the bin (still not over that, as you can see). Sure, toddlers sometimes nap. But that time is usually spent cleaning up the mess from the morning's chaos and counting how many hours until daddy gets home from work and what activities could fill in that time.
You don't knock off. Ever.
This is something that I struggle with a little bit at times. My partner finishes work and comes in the door, seemingly refreshed from his day at work - I think because the excitement of seeing his daughter overrides any exhaustion from the day (again, another difference. The worker often misses out on the good bits as much as they miss the challenges). I, however, start going harder. I cook tea and do the dishes in a mad flap while our daughter is bathed and dressed. Sometimes the dog goes for a walk. Sometimes he doesn't. I call it "power hour". Literally because it's an hour of crazy cooking, eating, cleaning and then pretending that it was easy peasy. And then I take darling Cadence into her bedroom and settle her with a breastfeed and a cuddle. I often hear my partner on the computer. I sometimes die a little on the inside from jealousy that he doesn't have hurting, lactating boobs (he would if he could). But sometimes, I hear the toys being packed away and the cat being fed. When she's asleep, I do feel a sense of accomplishment from my day - always so full, sometimes manic, but mostly just busy - doing my bit to raise our daughter in a loving and fun environment. I sit. I do a puzzle and watch some trash TV or Netflix and go to bed. My shift usually starts at about 11. She's up. And then she's up every few hours after that. And the working partner stays in bed because they have to work - which is totally fine. I get it. The one facing the professional world needs to be able to function in a different way. I can wear yoga pants to bed and go to the park in the same attire. I long for a day when bedtime is actually knock off. *Sigh*.
You have more fun.
As much as I've outlined the struggles and challenges that we have together on a daily basis, let's face it, we have way more fun. It's glorious to see her come down the slide with a grin from ear to ear. It's beautiful watching her eat new things and help me with the daily chores. And it's positively amazing to have her fall asleep on my breast, sometimes unlatching to kiss my cheek, before drifting off. It's exhausting being a stay at home mum. Nothing can prepare you. But the truth is that I will look back on these times with such fondness and won't remember the times I cried or grit my teeth doing my best not to yell. And times like this, where I'm super sleep deprived yet still super organised with lunch in the oven and a sleeping baby, I'm able to sit and do something for myself and that is enough to get me through the day.
And finally - you are the boss.
LOL. Just kidding.
Try as you might, having 20 minutes to yourself to listen to a meditation track or practice some breathing exercises can feel near impossible. And even if you're lucky enough to have this golden 20 minutes, if you're anything like me, you can get into a trap of thinking that there are "better, more important things to do" or you sit and engage in mindlessness such as scrolling through social media.
I've outlined some techniques that have helped me in the past. I have found that the more I practice these simple ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation, the easier it is to attend a yoga class or listen to a full meditation because my mindset is already positive about it and I'm already enjoying the practice and reaping the benefits.
1. Mini meditations during feed time
Whether you breast or bottle feed, do your best to use this time as an opportunity to notice the rise and fall of your breath. Notice any sensations in your breasts or body as you feed. Notice how your baby is cradled in your arms. If you're breastfeeding, you may like to close your eyes. When I do this, I notice that my milk lets down much quicker. Sometimes, I open my eyes and my babe is fast asleep. I think the calm of my body helps her to drift off.
I have noticed a massive improvement in settling time and my own well-being by opting to do this as opposed to replying to text messages/watching TV or just generally being distracted.
If you're bottle feeding, you might like to notice 3 things you can see, hear and feel as you watch your baby drink. Can you see her little cheeks moving? What can you hear? Is his hair touching your arm? Are her feet resting on your thighs? I find feed time really sacred and a beautiful way to connect with my baby and my body.
The longer I feed (I'm almost at my goal of 2 years!), the more it can sometimes feel like another task to do or a "hold up" (the number of times I've been late because Cadence wants a feed as we are walking out the door is amazing). But returning to the breath and recognising what's happening in my body has really helped ease this negative way of thinking for me.
2. Stay mindful during tasks
Thinking about the washing you're planning to do once the dishes are done is not going to get you any quicker to that laundry - contrary to popular belief. Do your best, without judgement of self, to stay present when completing a task. Use some breathing exercises. You might want to breathe in and upon exhalation, repeat (either out loud or in your head) an affirmation. "I do enough, I have enough, I am enough" is a good one. Thanks Brene Brown!
3. Playtime - the ultimate in mindfulness
When I was initially at home with Cadence, I sometimes found it really difficult to focus my attention 100% on play. Sometimes we can see play as "oh she's happy on her own - excellent" and an opportunity to escape to the kitchen or whip our phone out to check our emails. Play is amazing for building a connection with your child, to release stress and to stay present. You'll notice too that it's much easier to attend to the tasks that you need to if you've already engaged in meaningful play because you can include your child. My toddler is much more willing to hand me pegs while I hang some washing out if we've already spent an hour reading books and building towers. If you can immerse yourself fully in playtime with your child, you will notice a shift in your well-being and child. Playgroups and parks are great for this if you're struggling because you're not surrounded by your household tasks.
4. Log out of social media during the day
This is a hard one. Sometimes, as a stay at home parent in particular, it's too easy to access connection from others via social media without having to leave the house. These connections can indeed be meaningful - but at the same time, you're also potentially being dragged into reading and responding to less meaningful content and this can take up much of your time and energy. Believe me when I tell you that you'll notice a difference if you do this. Social media then becomes a nighttime treat. Having said this, I also recommend ceasing phone use just before bed and leaving your phone on the dresser or out of reach (I'm still learning this one!)
Turning off notifications from apps like Facebook, Instagram and the like can help significantly as you aren't being drawn to open the app every time you're notified. When you join a group or like a page, it can also be useful to check your notification settings in these so you aren't alerted each time a random person posts or responds to something you aren't even following.
If you're a bit addicted like I was and needing some help, there's a great app called QualityTime (I have no affiliation - just a fan) that can help you monitor your phone usage during the day. You could even ask a mum friend to do the same for solidarity - check in with each other at the park or at the end of the day.
I'm so very sorry for neglecting you. You see, there's this thing called Instagram - and it allows me to post snippets of my daily life, quotes, short messages of encouragement and effortlessly stay active in promoting my message.
Sometimes writing for you can be daunting. I worry about word count. I never know what to call you. I wonder if my posts are as funny and thought provoking as some others. I struggle to find time to sit at the computer and most my Instagram posts are written whilst breastfeeding a toddler.
But - my new goal is to write more often. I am looking forward to it.
In the meantime, this is what I've been up to:
"And in case people weren't sure what to prepare for lunch too. I've just roasted these chickpeas in cumin, corriander seeds, olive oil and maple syrup. I plan to serve them with some rice and some fruit for dessert. Yum!"
"Monday feels. It's a public holiday and I still somehow can't keep up!"
"I asked Cadence to pick out some special things to take with us to our playdate. The bag remained in the car."
"There is no shame in having a mental illness. There is no shame in asking for help. And there is certainly no shame in recovering. Although you can feel as though the stigma will swallow you whole at times. And the memories haunt you. But hang in there. You got this."
"Tea parties with my fave babe."
""Yes, my baby is 20 months. No, she doesn't sleep through the night. No, it's not my fault. No, I will not let her cry. Yes, I'm losing my mind. Good day to you, not so kind stranger". I have now come to dread small talk in supermarket lines and doctors appointments.
Currently standing in the kitchen on Instagram using borrowed time. The little munchkin will be awake any moment and I haven't done any of the housework I promised myself I'd do! Lingering by the stove counts as dinner prep, right?!"
"[ Self care. ] As a mum, this can be hard to manage. My self care at the moment is settling an unhappy toddler, coming out and having a chocolate biscuit before brushing my teeth and heading off to bed for the night shift. But it's easy to forget how much you can actually incorporate into your day. I had a week where I stopped wondering what hell would be like because I was in it (and not just because there's 2 days worth of dishes in the background). It's amazing what a difference lighting a candle can do to the vibe. Lighting a candle, diffusing some oils, putting on some music, opening all the windows or putting the kettle on the "keep warm" setting for when you have a spare moment are all achievable things! When we have the "I'm-a-mum-therefore-I-have-no-time" attitude, it can be hard to see past that and we neglect ourselves. So start small this weekend! And you'll be incorporating massages and long walks on the beach before you know it 😉"
"Friday night feels after I reflect on the week that was. Motherhood has thrown me a curve ball (after I'd just juggled the last few thrown at me simultaneously). I have to keep reminding myself how well I'm doing. And the little giggles, kisses and all the fun reminds me every day."
"What's worse than being sick? When your baby is sick. Attached to the boob, cried all day, won't sleep. Send me wellness and sleepy dust!!!"
"Okay people. What the HELL happens at 20 months?! I assume separation anxiety, perhaps 2 year old molars?
I'm weak. My aches are aching. Everything feels impossible. I'd love a pep talk. How do I get through this? I'm so sleep deprived I'm probably microsleeping right now. And I feel really alone. I speak to people and they say: "yes it's hell" but that doesn't even accurately describe it. Or they tell me I need sleep. Yes, I know. But I know I'm definitely not alone. Show of hands - who also got up 4 times last night and co slept on a shitty floor mattress and thinks about how dumb they were assuming their baby would sleep when they turned one?"
"[ BREASTFEEDING AND IRON ] I am by no means an expert on the subject. However, I learnt a few months ago that your recommended iron intake is the same as it was when you were pregnant. I had to really boost mine during pregnancy and avoided an infusion by looking at my diet. Once Cadence was born, I stopped worrying about it. Silly me! Sleep deprivation and borderline anemia AND hashimotos is actually no fun. I can vouch for that. And I've noticed in the past that iron supplements can make Cadence really unsettled. Since I've been supplementing iron, we've had the worst month of sleep. It's like I have a newborn again. Actually, it's much worse. And it's like I have postnatal depression again from the lack of sleep. I'm so foggy. I literally don't know how I'm driving a car. So I'm conducting a little experiment and not supplementing but looking at my diet again. This smoothie has 42% of my daily intake (note: I had more than one glass!) Red kidney beans, chia seeds, cacao, soy milk, dates, a little vanilla and water. Has anyone else experienced a fussy toddler whilst supplementing iron? I keep getting told there's isn't a correlation but my mummas instincts are telling me otherwise (and they've never been wrong)."
"Mums are amazing - whether it be what you're wearing, what you're eating, whether there's enough time all the day to do all of the things! No wonder we are exhausted. Always thinking, always planning, sometimes worrying."
Follow The Postnatal Project (@thepostnatalproject) on Instagram to see more!
But I'll also see you soon, blog.
Zelma B x
Hi Shannon. Nice to meet you. What's your story?
Well... I’m a 31 year old mother of three boys; Hamish - 4, Liam - 2 and Nate - 11 months. I’m also an Early Childhood Teacher and emerging Author. I’m a self-confessed perfectionist and worry wart. I live in Brisbane, Queensland with my husband, Sean. I am currently a stay at home mother. I plan to return to work teaching part-time next year.
What is Mamma Has A Black Dog and how did this come about?
Mamma Has A Black Dog is a young children’s fiction book I wrote to help explain mental health disorders like PND or anxiety - especially if a mother or caregiver is struggling. I was inspired to write it after my own experience with postnatal anxiety which came about after the birth of my third son, Nate, late 2015. Up until that point in my role of mother, I felt like I was doing it well and was managing to keep all my balls up in the air.
When a third child came along, the routines and structure I clung to didn’t work and I was constantly feeling overwhelmed and worrying so much what people were thinking of me as a mother. I got to a point where I needed to go away with my sister for a few days to mentally recharge before I had a breakdown. It was the best thing I ever did. It was then that I decided to write a story relating to mental health.
I wanted to explain to my two older boys, Hamish and Liam, that they hadn't done anything wrong and it was something that I couldn't control either. I remember seeing the concept of the 'Black Dog' used in cartoon format to depict depression in adults and from there I thought it would be a really tangible way to explain the feelings that constantly follow you everywhere you go when you're suffering with a mental illness.
If only we would all just peel back our masks just a tiny bit sometimes...
What is your mission and how do you aim to achieve this?
I hope my book can promote more open discussions about mental health to come about in society. There is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to admitting you have a mental illness to people; people are afraid to show some vulnerability. I would love to promote the idea that it’s actually only the brave who speak up and it’s much more common within society than people think. If only we would all just peel back our masks just a tiny bit sometimes... After discovering my story and my battle, the circles of mothers who I mix with frequently are opening up to me because I have shown a little bit of vulnerability.
You actually take some of the power and fear away from mental illness when you open up about it.
What would be your advice to parents struggling emotionally during the Perinatal period?
You don’t have to suffer in silence. You actually take some of the power and fear away from mental illness when you open up about it.
Don’t forget to look after your own needs. As parents, we are always putting ourselves last in every way for the sake of our kids' happiness but this isn't sustainable - as I have discovered. Trying to maintain a high standard of perfection is just a recipe for disaster.
Where can our lovely Postnatal Project parents find out more?
I have a website and a Facebook page.
Soft cover & Ebooks are available for purchase off the website. $1 from every copy sold will be donated to Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness. This organisation provides peer led support groups for mothers suffering from postnatal depression and anxiety.
Big thanks to Shannon of www.mammahasablackdog.com for opening up about her personal experience of perinatal mental health.
Originally published November 16 2015 over at Little Tsunami.
Nami, 36, is a mother to Mannus, 5, and Dulcie, 3. She believes the traumatic birth of her son played a significant role in triggering her experience of postnatal depression.
The birth of my son was incredibly traumatic. For days I was unable to even think about the birth without crying – I felt like I’d been in a car crash.
In the three days before Mannus arrived my contractions came and went and throughout this time I barely slept. I was behind the eight ball before the game began. My son had wedged himself on an unusual angle which prolonged active labour and I pushed for almost two hours. Midwives announced that I was minutes away from a Caesarian-section but we’d give it “one last go”. Suddenly I had a team of people around me and my legs were being stretched up above my head (I’ve since learnt this is called the “McRoberts Manouver”) and moments later a baby boy was being passed across the room. I held him for a few minutes but I think I was in shock. I felt that I’d been man-handled, that my body was not mine and it was necessary to do me whatever it took to get that baby out.
Mannus needed to spend more than 24 hours in NICU and this impacted the chance I had to forge a bond with him sooner. The first morning after the birth I arrived in NICU to find a nurse bottle-feeding him. I’d barely held him myself and there she sat with him tucked in the crook of her arm, explaining that after this feed he’d need to go straight back into his humidicrib to rest. My tears started again. My feedback to the hospital in the ‘extra comments’ section about my birth experience never saw a response.
When I should have been excited at the prospect of going home and starting my journey as a mother, I lay in my hospital bed not wanting to move. My son was brought to my bedside and I turned away, unable to look at him. I just couldn’t fathom how he’d done this to me. I left hospital in a wheelchair – still only able to shuffle for a few metres before needing to prop myself up against a wall. It took weeks to feel like I was starting to physically recover from the birth.
In the months that followed I began to feel increasingly disconnected from my son, my husband, and other people or things in my life. I dreaded going to social outings because I didn’t want to have to answer the question of “Oh, wow, do you just love being a mum?” No one expects a mother not to love motherhood. My husband encouraged me to talk about how I was feeling but it was impossible. I felt nothing, just emptiness.
When my husband started having days off work just to “keep an eye on me” I knew things needed to change, but I didn’t seek professional for postnatal depression until my son was six months old. Ironically, I felt I was struggling enough with a new baby that I couldn’t summon the energy to tackle postnatal depression as well.
Counselling combined with medication proved to be what I needed to stop feeling like life was slipping through my fingers. Gradually life felt brighter, weighted with more meaning and with fewer stresses that before had sent me spiraling into a rage or into a sad, dark & lonely space. I’ve come to understand that motherhood – and my son – is separate from postnatal depression, and the little boy I once turned away from is now undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of joy I could ever imagine.
COPE Facts about birth trauma and its impact on mental health:
For more information about coping when things don’t go to plan, recovering from a traumatic birth and seeking effective treatment for post-birth trauma visit www.cope.org.au
SELF CARE – the things you do to replenish your mental, physical and emotional health or “filling up your cup”.
When I first became a mum, all I could think of was my baby and his wellbeing. I also felt guilty if I was not 100% focussed on him. Ultimately, I forgot to take care of myself. Part of my recovery from postnatal depression was to think of self-care strategies that I could use particularly when my “cup” was starting to empty. Here are a few that I turn to:
People who know me, know that I am not a fan of exercise. However, I do enjoy taking our dog for a walk to the local park. We usually meet other dog walkers there and it makes me happy seeing him play and run around with the other doggies. Another thing I do which I never thought I would enjoy is yoga. I find the breathing exercises and different postures help me to stay focussed and de-clutter my mind. My favourite classes at the moment are power flow and yin.
In the past, I would never leave Leo out of my sight – this meant putting him in a bouncer and bringing him into the bathroom with me while I showered. As I started to recover, I really started to enjoy showering alone. Having that space to myself allows me to switch off. Some nights, I also love to put on a facial mask (nothing too expensive), soak my feet in a small tub of bubbles, and watch an old episode of Friends.
Those who know me, know that I love my RnB – hello Fox FM’s RnB Fridays! I make any excuse to get in the car with Leo and we (mainly me) bop along to the music. I am also a closet Taylor Swift fan and will put her music on when I am doing mundane tasks like folding the washing. In fact, Taylor Swift’s Shake it off was one of the first songs I really enjoyed when I started to feel better!
ASKING FOR HELP
I still find this difficult, but I am definitely so much better at it than I was in the past. I get help with the cooking, whereby, family will cook us lunch or dinner. I get help with babysitting so that I can go to my appointments or go out for dates. I also find calling my family and friends and having a good chat, particularly when I am having a bad day, really helps. I do believe in the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” and I only wish I had asked for help sooner.
SPEAKING TO A PROFESSIONAL
For me, this means once a month or sometimes once a fortnight, I will meet with my psychologist for an hour. Having that hour to talk to my psychologist helps make meaning of all my thoughts and feelings. I am usually reluctant to go prior to the session, but afterwards I am grateful I went.