The first few weeks after Michael’s birth were hard. Very, very hard.
I didn’t experience the glowy highs of new motherhood. The first moment of holding Michael in my arms as he arrived wriggling and large was exhilarating, but only in the way that plunging across a finish line after a marathon is. After the initial hooray, everything started sliding and I spiraled into a general panic about everything and nothing. I was traumatized by the labour and delivery which constantly replayed in my head for the first two days and I could not shut it off. I felt like my baby had torn me apart and I was irreparably damaged. I was resentful that he was so big.
I spent most of my day anxiously counting down the hours to the next feeding session, when he would rouse from his sleep screaming like a broken siren. I would hurriedly go to my nursing chair and he would be brought to me, yelling, squirming, hyperventilating. I would unbutton my shirt and clip on the My Brestfriend nursing pillow which I just couldn’t get to work for me (maybe because he was so heavy that he kept rolling off the edge) and we would fight each other till we were both drenched in sweat, him a raging beast at my breast and me dislodging his desperate mouth from my nipple over and over, because surely the latch was not right. When I’d had enough, I would hand him on to someone else to feed him formula, and then he would go to sleep, and the horrifying wait would begin again. The 3 hour feeding clock was a terrible chain around my neck, and I couldn’t see when it would end. I would never, ever, get my life back. I was doomed to struggle and cry and sweat and sweat and sweat every three hours.
And never sleep again. I didn’t sleep for many days. Not a wink. I would stuff my ears with earplugs and cover my head with pillows and still hear the baby across the hallway, when he wasn’t making a sound. I would be wiped out from the drowsy effects of oxytocin after breastfeeding, and climb into bed hoping that I’d finally fall asleep on the wave of the drug, and 6 hours later be tossing around in bed in desperation. At the very top of every breath I took, a sour pang of anxiety would hit me, pulling me back from sleep with a jolt. I found that if I breathed shallower, I felt a little less anxious. Ralph once came into the room at 5am to find me huddled down on the floor with a blanket puddled around my legs, face pressed against the side of our bed, because somehow this was the only spot in the house that helped me to calm down.
My mommy friends were my lifeline. I was whatsapping SOS messages night and day. I cried every time Shir came to visit, and wondered how in the world she could be a mother and still be alive. Every new challenge seemed insurmountable. I was hardly eating, because it seemed like I never had time, and I worried my wounds would never heal, and I would not be able to produce milk if I wasn’t sleeping and eating.
It didn’t occur to me that insomnia and overwhelming anxiety were part of the postnatal blues package. I thought that was just responsible for the blues, literally, and everything else was just me being a crazy person. So did my husband, and we had a fight over it.
This lasted for about a week or two. It seems incredible now, but there were times where I wondered if I would actually die from it all. Then one night, the cycle of sleeplessness broke. I’d gone down to the pool, wearing two shirts (because it was windy and everything hurt when I was cold, not least my overworked nipples). The sound of water dripping, the wide expanse of space and the harsh breeze somehow soothed my jangling nerves. I’d cheated the anxiety, it couldn’t find me here. I had this place to go to. I could maybe even sleep here. Just knowing this changed everything. I felt hope, and with it, the anxiety backed down. I slept for a grand total of four hours that night. Soon after, my hormones began to swiftly settle and I started to cool down literally and figuratively. I stopped sweating so much. I started to function, and be more present. I was still neurotic no doubt, and I was absolutely and comically not coping at all, but… that was okay. It was nothing like the suffocating anxiety of before. I texted my sister who was flying home in a few days: I guess there will be a party after all. Can you manage the food?
And so, this happened:
I ate. I smiled. I carried Michael. And I caught myself being proud of how big he was.