My pregnancy and my birth did not go exactly how I imagined or planned as a first time mom, blissfully ignorant and unknowing of what bringing a child into the world might be like. In order to be able to explain how and why I have gotten to experience baby blues, I think it is important to provide you with the short version of my delivery story and the third trimester of my pregnancy.
After the never-ending sickness of the first trimester, I believed I was out of the hook with the renewed energy and taste for life during the second trimester. But then, as it goes, as soon as I entered the third trimester, issues started coming one after another, from a water breakage scare at 31 weeks to numerous growth scans and baby measuring under the third percentile. Naturally, as strong as I tried to be, this has taken a toll on me and the desire or rather need to give birth as soon as possible grew inside of me. Therefore, 2 false labours later, when I was told that I will be induced at 37 weeks, my heart was filled with hope as I would have rather given birth and have the baby grow by drinking milk than not getting enough nutrition from the placenta. Long story short, as growth scans have a 20 % margin of error, my baby was born small, but did not need special care or to be put in an incubator.
As expected, at 37 weeks sharp, I was in the hospital with my luggage filled with little bags tagged for every need I might have and ready to give birth by the end of the day.
Little did I know that because of staff shortage and a general lack of midwives within the NHS, I would be induced in the evening and give birth 3 days later. I had a three days labour in an unbearable hot hospital room, hooked to a CTG machine and constant contractions.
On the third morning, at 10 am, I was still only three centimetres dilated and therefore had a visit from the anaesthesiologist discussing a potential c-section. Now, bear in mind that I had planned for a vaginal delivery and was terrified of a c-section and the recovery it involves. It was just an informal chat, followed by a visit from the doctor that told me that I was still only three centimetres dilated and that I had a choice of either going for a c-section now, or waiting another 4 hours and hoping that I will dilate enough for a vaginal birth. Now the chances for that to happen were very slim and my waters have already been broken for 23 hours and as a result, there was already a high risk of infection.
So after a 5 minutes discussion with my husband, we decided that I will go for a c-section as we were concerned about the baby’s wellbeing. Fifteen minutes after we communicated this to the doctors, I was taken into the theatre and after a further 15 minutes, our little miracle came out screaming blue murder. A healthy 5.95 lbs baby, born at exactly 11:48 am on a Wednesday.
Coming back to the main subject of my article, respectively the baby blues that followed, I did not expect in a million years that I will be the person experiencing such emotions nor the person that would run away from their baby when she would hear her crying.
After I gave birth to Ava May, she could not latch due to my inverted nipples and had to be given a feeding tube as her sugar levels have dropped significantly. She then became quite badly jaundiced and had to stay under the lamp for 4 days. This, along with the heat, the unexpected c-section and the long hospital stay, have served as a laying foundation of what was about to follow. As we finally got home, I was so excited and happy to get into a little routine and start using all the things I have carefully bought for my little baby.
I had everything planned and categorised and labelled and was ready to conquer motherhood.
A then, a few days later, it hit me straight in the face like and asteroid with all its might and power.
ANXIETY and FEAR and all the WHAT IFS that you could possibly imagine. What if my baby will get colics and will cry for hours on end without stopping? What is she had reflux? What if she’ll get ill and I won’t know what to do? What if she’ll get bullied at school? What if she’ll marry the wrong person? And so on until my stomach was tied in a huge knot, my appetite was completely gone to the point where I couldn’t eat even a yoghurt a day, and my obsession with pumping became so extreme that I would pump every hour to make sure that she has milk for her next feed.
Now, the trauma of the breastfeeding or lack thereof has played a significant role in this and my fear of not being able to provide my child with what she needs was born as a direct result. On top of that, the realisation that this little human was depending completely on me and that I was her only source of food, with my full, rock-hard breasts and inverted nipples, did not help either.
I started distancing myself from her and every time she would cry, I would leave the room and let my mother-in-law deal with her. I felt hopeless, useless and unqualified to care and nurture my own child. Naturally, this came with a ton of guilt and condemnation and the desire to hide under a rock or even throw myself out of a window. I would cry for hours on end, my version of events being so different from what the reality actually was. Now, my baby was the perfect Newborn. She slept and fed and slept and fed all day. She did not have colics, nor reflux and she was overall very chilled. But in my mind, all the possible atrocities and diseases were already happening, and I could simply not cope with the overwhelming feelings that were eating me up from the inside.
I was a mess. A beautiful, skinny (I lost a ton of weight), exhausted and anxious mess. In my mind, I had made a baby that I am now responsible for for the rest of my life, a baby that I am unable to care for properly and provide her with what she needs. During this time, she begun the growth spurt that occurs between 2 and 3 weeks of life and that sealed it. The anxiety that I won’t have enough milk to feed this starving child that was now cluster feeding (from a bottle now as the nipple shields were giving her too much air and making her gassy) made me call the pregnancy assessment unit in tears and asking if I am allowed to top her breast milk up with formula. Little did I know that the peak of my anxiety was the beginning of my healing.
Let me explain. The trauma of not being able to breastfeed my baby lingered for weeks after her birth and the pressure of being the sole food source for her along with all the other factors mentioned above, has brought me to the lowest point I have ever been in my life. I am not an anxious person, nor the stressy type, but I believe that during the two weeks I have experienced the baby blues, I have reached a new level of anxiety. A level that only someone with the hormones all over the place and with a total of two hours of sleep per night could reach. I have prayed during these two weeks more than I prayed during my entire life. And I am quite a religious person, so that says something.
After we decided to go for mixed feeding and add formula as a top up, I felt that I could breathe again for the first time in two weeks. Now, it was not the kind of breathe again as you resurface from under the water and stay there, it was more like you would resurface from under the water to take a gulp of air and then go back in and continue fighting for your life. I was in a constant fight or flight mode and I had no idea how to get out of it.
One thing I did know was that I needed to ask for help and that I needed to talk to someone. So I did. I spoke to a very dear friend of my family that specialises in child development (something along these lines) and that would know how to help. This was the second step towards my recovery. I then slowly started pumping less and less after speaking with the health visitor (that woman saw me crying more than my husband) and eventually ran out of milk and got her fully on formula. Which, at the time was the best decision. In retrospective, I wish I would have pumped more and continued to give her the ‘liquid gold’ for more than three weeks, but my options were quite limited at that point. Breast milk or my mental health. I obviously felt guilty for depriving her of the benefits of breast milk, but then I had to accept that it was more important for her to have a sane mother that is able to nurture and care for her, than breastmilk. Which was true. The feeling of not being able to connect with her (I did not have one of those instant connections with my child- another reason to feel guilty and unfit) was slowly disappearing and the pressure of being the only carer for her was being replaced by the reality in which my husband and in-laws were all taking care of her and helping me care of this little human. I guess it does take an entire village…
Now, baby blues. What are they and why are we not hearing more about them?
Before I had this dreadful experience, I have never heard of the terms baby blues. When I did, I stupidly thought that they represent the sadness that a mother feels for no longer being pregnant or having the baby bump. I have heard about postnatal depression, but never about baby blues.
Let’s look at the science for a bit. According to scholars, baby blues are not just an old midwife’s tale and are affecting around 80% of the women that have given birth. Baby blues include symptoms such as irritability, unexplained sadness, crying for no apparent reason, experiencing anxiety and being irrational and overwhelmed.
The symptoms occur shortly after giving birth and they last between 7 and 14 days. If they last longer and not addressed, they can lead to postnatal depression and/or psychosis.
Although the exact factor that is causing this is unknown, it is believed that baby blues are a result of the hormonal imbalances that occur in the woman’s body during and after childbirth along with the lack of sleep and the sudden responsibility caused by the arrival of a Newborn.
I cannot explain the feelings that you get, but the closest someone described it was as feeling homesick in your own home. You know that feeling you got as a child when you went for a sleepover all excited and happy just to end up wanting to go home at 2 am? It is like that, but in your own home. So you can imagine how horrible it must be when you no longer feel the safety, warmth and security of your own home. You are lost and drowning in what seems to be only your imagination as it is so opposite from the reality of things.
But there is hope. And there is help.
I believe that the more we talk about it and the more awareness we raise, the more help can be provided to all the mammas in need. Mammas that feel lost and guilty and believe that they are failing motherhood and their children. I certainly felt like that and until I asked for help, I literally wanted to slam my head against every wall in my house. But with the help of loving family and friends and qualified individuals, I managed to get out of it and connect with my child, overcome the guilt and the shame and I am now able to speak about it without it making me less of a good mom. Now I can truly say that I LOVE being a mum and would die for my child without hesitation. However, there are good days and bad days. Easy days and hard ones where you need to put your baby down and take a breather before picking her up and start all over again. As someone very wise once said ‘parenting is only hard for good parents’’, for parents that are trying to raise their children right, nurture and love them with all of their heart and beings. I can now say that I know that when I became a mom, I gave a huge part of myself to this little human being that considers me her entire world. A part that I will never get back, and one that I never want to take back.
Being a mother is the most unselfish thing that you can do and be and us mammas should be proud of ourselves for doing this with love and compassion. Women should be praised and buildings should be named after mothers as there isn’t one human being on this planet that was not birthed by a mother.
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