Sunflower was 16 hours old when a midwife asked me (told me) to go to the common room at the other end of the ward because my baby’s constant crying was disturbing the other ladies on the ward. Apparently "they had all given birth that day and were tired, they needed their rest."
Like hadn't? and I didn’t?
It was the loneliest night of my life.
It should have been the happiest.
I was alone. I had a private room in the hospital which was a surprise gift from my hubby, done with love so that I may get some rest and not be disturbed by other baby’s on the main ward.
Life had other plans for us.
Sunflower fed all day. And all night. This, apparently was completely normal. It was normal also for my boobs to be shredded and I would get the hang of breastfeeding (eventually)… they said. My gorgeous girl just wanted to be up in my arms all the time. And I mean All. The. Time.
Within 5 minutes of being in anyone else arms she cried, screamed, even when she was asleep. It was as if she could sense that it wasn’t me holding her.
I was totally clueless as to what could have been going on. She had all the routine checks from the hospital staff, was cleared as a perfect baby, except her crying.
I didn’t have much experience of babies until Sunflower was born. My maternal instincts were never very strong. Until this point, babies were nice to hold and then return to their owner. In fact, my dad and I have had this lifelong pride that nobody else’s children ever wanted to spend much time with us. Literally, babies would cry within 2-3 minutes of me holding them. And honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about it. They were not mine - I didn’t need them to like me.
Talk about a change when I became the custodian of one of my own.
Now this baby didn’t want to be anywhere but in my arms.
All evening, even when my hubby was turfed out of the ward, Sunflower would feed, then fall asleep in my arms, and when I would put her down in the cot she would wake within minutes. Screaming, and so I would pick her up and repeat the process.
Multiple midwives on the ward told me this was normal, she was just hungry and to keep feeding her.
Three times they came into our room when Sunflower had fallen asleep in my arms and told me she was not to sleep with me because I might suffocate her. Three times they took her out of my arms and put her in the cot. Three times she woke within minutes, screaming.
In between the midwives visiting our room, I was out in the corridor walking and bouncing and singing and trying to do anything to avoid putting my boobs back in Sunflowers mouth. Each time I resorted to an agonising feed to help her sleep. All before 1am.
At 1am, on another lonely corridor walk, a ‘friendly’ midwife asked me to go to the common room. Her tone was matron-like. There was no negotiation to be had. And she also told me I obviously wasn’t producing enough milk for Sunflower so she was hungry. That I could borrow a bottle of formula from the fridge in the common room to get her to sleep. I must, of course, replace this before I would leave the hospital the next morning.
I felt like a complete failure as a mum, and my baby wasn't even a day old.
I couldn’t do either of the two most basic tasks properly – feed her and help her sleep.
What sort of mum was I going to be? Had I just made the biggest mistake of my life?
Obviously the midwives knew so much more than me about babies, they were the people I had to trust. They were the only people around at 2am. They would not be the first to scold me about how I was “responding to her [Sunflower’s] every whim”.
At 3am I gave up. My body couldn’t stay awake any longer.
I had to defy the "rules" and keep Sunflower in my bed, with me. She was sleeping on my shoulder and there she was going to stay. I instinctively knew that I could grab a few zzz’s and a little nap without suffocating her, without falling into deep sleep.
And so I snook back to my room, and sat up in my bed with my gorgeous little baby for the rest of the night.
This first night was the start of a long downward spiral into postnatal depression for me. And it would take everything I never knew I had to recover.
The extreme sleep deprivation, the constant micro-traumas experienced from everyone who didn't understand or accept what was going on for me, the doctors and health visitors who gaslit my reality explaining that what was going on was in my head, that my baby was perfectly fine when she clearly wasn't, and family members who told me I was spoiling her and allowing myself to be "bullied by a baby"; all of these things created the most incredible feeding ground for my destroying my mental health.
And this was compounded by my own beliefs that mental health issues were not acceptable, like another illness for which it's okay to seek support.
My parenting journey stripped me of everything I thought I was. Two children in I had no clear sense of my own personal identity. And it seemed that even when I was ready to accept help, the NHS were not prepared to provide it, they told me I wasn't "bad enough" to warrant support.
I had no option but to drag myself up and out of the gutter, and I found a whole lot of tools and support waiting for me in other places as soon as I was ready.
Those tools and support strategies are available, and if you feel like getting help, you must ask first, help won't come to you. I urge you, it is easier with help, life is easier with help, and if you have people around you who don't understand you, then find some others to speak with.
Neither you nor your baby should suffer in silence.
And remember, you are never alone. There are thousands of other mums going through similar experiences as yours right now. You are not alone.
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