Pre small human I had not suffered with anxiety. Sure I’d been stressed with exams, work, planning big events, etc but I actually thrived on that to get through the situation and it would always come to an end eventually.
I attended 2 out of 3 of my antenatal classes. Smashed week 1 and considered myself quite adept at breastfeeding a barbie with a knitted boob. Was quite literally put off my tea come week 2 when we were shown videos of childbirth going well. Did I have to give birth on all fours naked, mooing like a cow? That wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Decided that week 3, when it doesn’t go to plan, was a step too far and I’d give that one a miss. If faced with a tricky scenario I’d do whatever the medics told me to.
The splash down (literally, it was in a pool) was quite uneventful and suddenly we were home with our shiney new tiny human within 10 hours. The first 48 hours were amazing but that bubble was promptly burst on the day 3 weigh. “Your baby has lost 11% of his birth weight (he was only 6lb 13oz 10 days late)” “You need to start a cycle of feeding from both sides, then expressing, then topping up with the expressed milk, every 2 hours” “If your baby fails to thrive you’ll both have to be readmitted to hospital” And there quickly started the downward spiral into worry and then extreme anxiety.
I was so anxious about his weight that I kept a diary of all attempts to feed and insisted that my husband, mum, etc also kept a note. I kept this diary for months, long after we moved to bottles at week 4. I found it recently and for days on end I was doing something every hour!
Maybe it was the sleep deprivation that caused the anxiety. Maybe it was the constant worry of keeping the small human alive and my obsession with his feeding. Why the hell was there not some contraption that could tell you just how much milk they were getting out of you? Maybe it was the constant worry that I’d drop him when walking down the stairs or the dogs getting to him if I turned my back for a second (it didn’t help that there had been a lot of media surrounding dog attacks on babies at the time even though our beagles would only lick anyone to death).
I didn’t want to be left on my own with him, I felt lonely, but equally the thought of packing up to go out was overwhelming. Maybe it was my confidence slipping away on a daily basis. People were surely looking at me when we were out and I couldn’t stop him crying. Maybe it was my identity slipping away as I seemed to be in a weird version of groundhog day except instead of repeating the day the process of change, feed, check all ok, sleep (him, not me) was repeated every 3 hours.
I tried to continue to be a perfectionist, wanting to meet people on time. I set unrealistic expectations of myself and would be unduly critical of myself if I didn’t live up to them. I didn’t ask for help and if people did help I would often politely decline, I had this.
I look back at pictures of that time and you’ll see two smiley faces. But the picture on the outside was not a true reflection of the turmoil raging within. I’d never experienced feelings like this before. I was used to stressful situations, tricky clients, problem solving so why was I feeling like this? I was actually really embarrassed that I couldn’t ‘sort myself out’ and thought if I told anyone they would take my shiney human away from me. I lost a lot of time in those first 12 months worrying about anything and everything.
I really wish there had been a leaflet in my bounty pack that said something along the lines of “You might feel completely normal/full of love after your tiny human arrives. Good stuff, that’s normal. But you might feel a bit crap (perhaps something a bit more eloquent), confused about your feelings, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, wobbly. That’s also normal but make sure you talk to your HV, midwife about it as with some help we can nip that in the bud.”
I’d heard of PND but deciding I wasn’t depressed I just assumed it was the ‘baby blues’, this was something everybody got, and this was something everybody just got on with. I declared that there would be no siblings for Toby, there was absolutely no way I could go through these feelings again, feelings that lasted for months, feelings that were exhausting. How did people go on to have more than one small human, how on earth did the Radfords manage with 18 kids?!
But with time, counselling, a complete change in how I functioned (no longing striving for perfection, no longer setting unrealistic expectations, accepting and actively seeking help when needed, not over committing, living each day at a time and not worrying about the days stretching out ahead) I came round to the idea that not only could I do this again but should I start to feel wobbly I was now furnished with all the knowledge I needed to get back on track or knew where to look for help. I also knew it was important to just talk. Talk to anybody, my mum, my husband, my family, my friends. If only I had spoken up first time round that overwhelming period in my life could have been shortened.
I am so fortunate to write this on maternity leave, with my 7 month old sleeping (famous last words!) experiencing what I thought it would be like to be a mum. Don’t get me wrong it’s not all a walk in the park but I’m genuinely enjoying my time with her, enjoying my time watching her relationship with her brother blossom, not wishing my time away just trying to get through the day, and I’m talking more. I made sure I spoke to my midwife and HV about my past experiences. It’s for that reason that I started blogging because I wanted other first time mums to know that if they’re feeling wobbly it’s normal and the best way to get through it is to speak to whoever you feel comfortable talking to but not to struggle on in silence.
If you fancy talking about this topic (or any others) with a fantastic group of mums come join the private FB group Light It Up: Let’s Talk on Wednesdays 8-9pm. You can either search for the group or join it via my FB page @lightboxblogger. I’m also on Insta lightbox_blogger.