I saw her. I could see her heart thumping without seeing her heart at all. Living off adrenaline. Survival mode. Her baby, not quite 6 months old, sitting quietly on her lap with oxygen tubes attached to his face.
A hospital sleep specialist walks by to make himself a coffee. Courageously he asks, “how are you, and how is he going?”.
You could pressume that he was assigned to the baby as his specialist by the way the woman responded, you’d be wrong.
“Exhausted. I’m utterly exhausted.”, the mother replied. “This is so tiring.”
The staff members eyes widen as if to suggest he received more than he’d bargain for, and regretted asking anything in the first place. He walks away – politely but awkwardly smiling.
The room is quiet. After reading a brochure, I look up. She sits there jiggling her leg to bounce her baby. Jittering, fidgeting. This mother has not slept properly for some time.
Her inner engine is at full revs trying to get through the day. A symptom of stress all too familiar.
I blurt out, “Is he in here for sleep testing?”. Fully aware it’s likely to be for something else.
“Oh, he’s on a CPAP. We’ve just had an overnight sleep study a week ago. It was the best sleep I’ve had in ages. Because I didn’t have to worry and fuss, I knew someone was going to be there to watch him too. It wouldn’t just be me. ”
The flood gates open.
I can’t help but empathise and ask, has she got any help at home. “No. Not if you count a husband who argues with me in the middle of the night about the baby.”
She was alone. She is alone. And vulnerable. Maybe craving for someone to hear her out. And to validate that her emotions are accepted by someone. Her own opinion is not enough.
I sigh for her and share in her disappointment in the lack of support. Then spend the next 5 minutes listening to her story. The story of her baby having a “floppy airway” otherwise known as laryngomalacia. It creates an obstruction which stops him from breathing. She can’t sleep knowing this. Who could? The respiratory team and ENT battle over how to manage it, constantly.
They decided to perform a bronchoscopy recently to get a visual of it. Her son needed to be resuscitated twice in recovery. Putting on hold any surgical solution for the condition. I am overwhelmed with emotion for her.
She counted, almost 50 times she woke up to adjust his machine the previous night. She said her son had always sounded congested from birth but for some time nobody wanted to listen to her concerns. His condition is serious.
We were interrupted by each of our specialist nurses and doctors and went our separate ways.
If she were ever to read this, I would want her to know that I was privileged to hear her story. A stranger she may be, but a fellow comrade she is.
People often steer away from those who are full to the brim with the challenges in their lives, what if we were all eager to engage with them and connect with them? To hear their story, acknowledge their vulnerability and validate their feelings. How different the world could be.
This mother was at the end of her tether. Maybe she needed just one nice thing to show her that all is not dark and grim. That there is more to this life than scary things out of her control that send you pleading on your knees for mercy. To be heard, to have openness and understanding is worth more than any physical gift you can give someone.
Sending out love to all of you in my tribe who did this very thing for me recently. Your kindness makes the day shine a little brighter.
**Illustration by Jamina Bone of @mommingwithtruth
You read it right. I’m somewhat famous amongst my friends and family. The girl who didn’t realise she was pregnant until she was 20 weeks. I was 25 at the time but I call myself a girl, not a woman, because mentally that is how I felt.
After over 6 months of organising the build on our house, I knew something felt different. I had been unwell and so incredibly nauseated the entire time. Physically I was pushing myself harder than ever before. Moving wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of bricks into skip bins. Landscaping, shoveling, cleaning and pushing my body to breaking point every day. I worked full time and did this after work, on the weekends, then going back home and adjusting to living with my now husband and his brother and brother’s wife. Amongst all of it, the paperwork, oh the paperwork relating to an owner/builder style of building is relentless. Sourcing trades, negotiating prices, losing your shit at the carpenter who is also supposed to be your mentor and assist with organising the build. It was a heck of a ride with many lessons learned but as you can tell, I didn’t have time to scratch my back let alone consider the fact my contraceptive pill had not done it’s job effectively around New Years Eve.
After weeks of bloating, random abdominal cramping, tiredness and epic mood swings, I consider getting it checked. Maybe it’s gas, I thought? Or appendicitis? Off I go to the GP to ensure it’s nothing sinister. After explaining the symptoms he pushes me out the door convincing me it is nothing, even when I mentioned pregnancy. Off I went.
3 months into pregnancy I had a Gyno appointment. Undertaking a common procedure, I mention symptoms to the doctor to get his opinion. Even after being in the vicinity of the baby making station he assures me it is nothing to be concerned about.
After these instances the most peculiar feeling begins. Tiny bubbles feel as if they are floating around and popping in my abdomen. Okay, this definitely is strange and it is at this point I decide to get a pregnancy test, you know, just in case.
The little line appeared and I felt as if I’d been winded by a kick in the guts. I cried. Actually I sobbed. Sitting there in the toilet while my partners family gathered in the kitchen. I didn’t really believe I could possibly have been pregnant until now. I was on a really expensive, new contraceptive pill that is known to stop periods so that warning sign was not relevant to me. After a while I dry my eyes, walk out and grab my partner by the hands and we walk outside. His face when I told him still amazes me. The look of complete shock where it drains the blood from your skin, then suddenly he realised I was in more shock than he. And the most amazing thing happened in the moment that I was on the brink of falling apart. He smiled the most heartfelt smile you could imagine. He hugged me tightly. And told me he was excited. We’d been together since I was 15, and he 16, and I can tell you right now that all of my instincts of him being a good Dad were coming to fruition that day. A good choice was made in staying with that guy. I stand by my decision every day.
The pregnancy feels short. Many moments occur where I fall into such mental despair that I can’t get out of bed. I wanted to be a Mum some day. But in the future after we’d settled into our house and travelled Europe for a while. Abortion never crossed my mind, yet I couldn’t comprehend how I could be strong enough to give birth and support another human being. Never disillusioned about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, I knew it would be a hard slog and I was shit scared of it.
This is when my best friend came to my house, unsure of why I was so completely upset (as I was supposed to be excited), she came to the doctors with me so I could get an understanding of how to book the hospital, what scans did I need, how do I figure this whole thing out? She remained one of my biggest supporters even when my boobs where hanging out and I needed someone to pick up a breast pump for me. The kind of friend who’d happily kill for you . It helped having someone to cry to about feeling alone and out of my depth.
I wanted to make up for all of the terrible things I’d done to my body whilst unknowingly pregnant. The guilt was unbearable and I still don’t think I’ve forgiven myself entirely. I began prenatal yoga and it was the best thing I could have done. My muscles thanked me and my brain did too. The baby didn’t mind it either.
At 36 weeks my mucus plug came out and some pretty intense cramps started. It was my now fiances birthday and we were having a small family barbecue. I stayed quiet about it for a while but then it became too much and we drove to hospital. The cramps had stopped and the baby was fine so back home we went.
At exactly 38 weeks, I awoke to my waters breaking and light cramps. After doing the usual call to the hospital, they assured me as it was my first baby it may take a while to go into full active labour. They recommended I walk around, have a shower then get some rest. I wake up my partner before my shower to let him know it was go time and he begins to pack the car on my request. Not fast enough for my liking as by the time he visits me in the shower I am having intense contractions at 2-3 minutes apart. We quickly get me dressed and into the car. Fiance asks me repeatedly if I am okay, should he park or drop me off at the hospital entrance? A pleading look in his eyes for me to reply and give him confirmation everything was alright. But speak, I could not. By the time we drove out of our street there was zero gap between contractions and by the time we hit the freeway I was desperately trying not to give into the pushing sensation. Adamant that giving birth on a roadside was not on my bucket list.
“Pull up to the door” I manage to say and as we walk down the corridor to the maternity unit. The midwife sees me half keeled over as I walk. My eyes must have darkened as I replied to her question of “Oh sweetheart, what’s the matter?!” by shooting daggers out of them. I’d just been on the phone to her, and obviously as a first timer I must have sounded as if I was exaggerating. They walk me into the birthing suite which has only just been cleaned. Mid September is apparently one of the hospitals busiest time of year. Ushered into the ensuite to give them a wee sample, my waters were still exiting at a rapid rate. I stand up to wash my hands, still hunch-backed like Quasimodo over the basin, and I freeze. The pressure was overwhelming and I needed to push. Right there and right then. I’m still sure I could have delivered in that bathroom standing up. Yet I was shuffled over to lie down and be examined and attached to the heart monitor to check baby, and offered the gas which I happily used as a distraction (it did nothing to relieve pain, only made me feel like I was another person watching over myself in labour). While the baby’s health is of utmost importance, that pushing feeling is one that is so unexplainable and fighting it is like trying to win a losing battle. The midwife does an internal examination as it is so busy no Obstetricians are available. She looks shocked and starts moving fast.
“How many centimetres am I?”. I’d watched that many episodes of One Born Every Minute, I thought I knew all the lingo and I thought I was prepared for what was to come. “You’re fully dilated. Whenever your body tells you it’s ready, you push!”. And that I did. The most ugly faced, gruntiest sounding, Deadpool Maximum Effort like pushing I’d ever done before. It was scary, daunting, yet I knew there was no turning back and I reminded myself that each contraction/push is one less I have to do. The fiance stands next to me, mimicking what the midwife says as he has mentally stalled and is just as shit scared as I am, still.
One extra large push, when you feel like no amount of pushing will get that baby out, and the sharp feeling of tearing jolts me like a lightning bolt. The upside, baby’s head is out and with light pushes to follow he enters the world in a room with utterly surprised people. The labour was 2.5 hours long. I was at the hospital for about 30-40 minutes and my midwives were somewhat unprepared for Zac to arrive so quickly, the heated crib was not even yet heated.
Relieved of intense pain, I sigh and stare at Zac’s screaming, squashed face. I was in awe of course. And struck with guilt immediately that I did not feel overwhelming love and rainbows and unicorns that every mother brags about. It had all gone so fast. 18 weeks of pregnancy (that I’d known of) where we’d moved into our house and become engaged. 2.5 hours of labour. On the inside I was just begging for something to take it’s time. Just allow me to process one portion of this gargantuan, life altering occassion before I fall into a heap. I hold our baby and feed him while the Obstetrician (who finally walks in) delivers my placenta and stitches me up. I hardly notice that pain after the ordeal that had just occurred. My biggest supporter, Shane, cries tears of joy having watched his wonderful little boy enter the world. He remarks constantly at how proud he is of me. I still love him so much more knowing that when I look like a sweaty, frizzy haired witch he still thought I was a rockstar. I felt proud that I’d given life to a wonderful little boy but the whole situation felt alien to me.
What happened next was precisely what I didn’t want to happen. 2 weeks of a crying baby that hardly slept, was not gaining weight and was beggining to look unwell and very jaundiced. Oh and reflux. Actual projectile, vomiting reflux. Add it onto the list of things I felt unqualified to handle.
It felt like an eternity and I felt so incredibly judged by the hospital lactation consultant and maternal health nurses as if I wasn’t trying hard enough to breastfeed. It’s bullshit of course because I was trying with every piece of energy I could muster. I’d feed, top up with expressed milk, pump, clean house, get a wink of sleep if I was lucky and do it all again. Poor Zac was still hungry and after crying most of the days and nights I did not believe I deserved him. He deserved a Mum that could function properly and dote over him. The most ultimate cloud of loneliness I had inflicted on myself. I could have been at an Ed Sheeran concert and still felt alone. Our friends would visit and dote over our boy. I would force a mask of “expected” gloating new mum behaviour onto my actually dishevelled and depressed face. Mastitis crept up and slapped me right in that face and with cracked and bleeding nipples, I hit rock bottom. At this time I threw in the towel. I had admitted defeat. My mother in law gave Zac a bottle of formula while I went to the 24 hour doctors to get antibiotics and, I’m ashamed to say, tablets to stop my milk production. Zac then slept. I got more than 30 minutes of sleep and those little sparks of human were beggining to return.
It was a tough decision and one that impacted me incredibly, but it needed to be done as I’m simply not a very good cow and I had to draw the line when I started thinking horrible thoughts. It was also the best decision I made. After weeks of nothing but confusion and guilt because I did not get that doting and adoring feeling you are told you should get when you have a newborn, I slowly began to look at my boy like he was the most wonderful, magnificent sight I’d ever have the pleasure of staring at. He became so healthy and happy over the next few months.
The transition into motherhood, for me, was like a bumpy old dirt road that the local council couldnt give a rats about. It just gets beaten down with more potholes that really shake up your suspension until one day, they get some machinery onto it and level that shit out. It wasn’t a glorious, starry eyed journey for me. Instead it was filled with self doubt, guilt (see previous post on this), anxiety and I neglected to say until recently, PND. As time went on I gained perspective and understood that it maybe wasn’t my ideal timing for having a child. Maybe I wasn’t really “ready”. But it was something I call the “deep end technique” where you get thrown into the middle of a foreign situation and you learn to swim or sink. I swam. And most of us parents eventually do. This journey taught me more than any class, lecture or seminar I have ever attended. It gave me a chance to turn so many factions of my life around and somewhat rewire my brain. I see how lucky I was to be surrounded by people who wanted to support me. Mum, Mum-in-law, Aunties, Dad’s, mates but most of all my husband who is the epitome of loyalty and steps in to be my backbone when it crumbles.
Zac was my first baby and together we conquered the challenges of newborn/new mum life. I have nothing but gratitude for him and although guilt plays a part in this story, regret does not. Things happened just the way they should have.
Shortly after Zac entered the world
The Motherhood by Jamila Rizvi shares other real and somewhat brutal stories of women’s first weeks into motherhood. It also demonstrates that most first time Mums do feel lonely and would make a practical gift for someone who may be experiencing a tough time with their first baby
“Due in Groups” on Essential Baby can be very helpful for finding friends who are experiencing the same new mum probs at the same time that you are. Join the forum, find your “due in” group relating to your due date month and make some new friends. They’re generally up feeding all hours of the night as you are, and they’ll totally understand your hormonally,sleep deprived induced mental breakdowns.
Mum bloggers/influencers. It seems silly and fan girlish but for me it was all about connecting with like minded people who show you can come out okay on the other side of all of this. I like Olivia White (House of White), @mrsconstancehall, @emilyskyefit, @newmumstheword and @justusjunghens