When Hormones Take Hold: A New Mother’s Anxiety
It’s 5:30am. My gurgly, cooing ‘alarm’ doesn’t have a snooze button, but I can give it around five minutes before the lovely sounds turn into hasty groans of ‘give me my milk right now!’, in baby language of course. What I’d give for a couple more hours of sleep! But in this short time I’ve grown used to the early mornings and at this stage I’d be happy just to feed Amelie and plonk myself back down into the cosy kingsize. Instead, we (by that I mean me) drag ourselves downstairs to the living room where I swear it’s at least five degrees cooler and 100% less cosy – a real slap in my already moody face. Then she smiles. Her toothless face and squinted eyes secure my attention and melt my heart. I’m hers for the morning and no longer moody. But still seriously bloody tired! We have a little play and then some milk before we settle back into the considerably less spacious sleeping space of the sofa. As I snuggle tight and struggle significantly to become comfortable on the sofa that is probably even too small for one person, I stop to think. What has my life become? I’m now too hot, numb in places from awkward laying and have a baby-toe poking into my belly button – one which seems to find its way in there every ten minutes or so, with the sole purpose of waking me up. So basically I lay there, while she sleeps. I’m bombarded with all kinds of thoughts. ‘This is hard.’ ‘I’m so tired.’ ‘I haven’t slept in weeks.’ The usual.
‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I hate this’
That one stops me in my tracks. I haven’t ever wanted anything more than a baby. How could I feel like I don’t like it? And using such a strong word – the ‘h word’? I’m immediately ashamed and taken over by guilt as I look at my beautiful little angel, who is beyond perfect. I adore her. Now I’m tired and feel awful about my thoughts.
Not long after the baby wakes, I feel myself fill with dread. I’m not quite ready to tackle baby duty all over again, I’ve only had – wait was that already an hour? I had laid there for an hour, crying. I just wasn’t good enough at being a mother and it was too hard for me.
Around three weeks pass, my feelings however, do not. I’m now in a closer relationship with the thermostat than my husband, constantly checking to make sure it’s a baby-appropriate temperature, and can’t actually remember the last time I saw Joe. I mean of course I have seen him, but spending actual time together – no idea of the last time. When he gets home from work, he takes over while I sleep. Then, we swap shifts at around midnight, and cross paths once again around 5 or 6 am when he is up for another duty with the baby, and I sleep. Dinner on several occasions for me, has been a piece of ham, a handful of salad and a bit of bread. So it’s no wonder I’m not really enjoying the new lifestyle I have been ‘blessed’ with. On top of everything else, I’ve been gifted a baby suffering from colic – so it’s uncontrollable crying for me to deal with. As I sat on the sofa one day, and it suddenly dawned on me that I had spent (literally) every day for over 4 weeks rocking the baby and as soon as I stopped (again no exaggeration) she would scream. It wasn’t an escalated grizzle-to-cry-to-scream that my pre baby self had imagined; it was just an almighty ‘don’t you dare stop rocking me, you slave’ kind of scream that was reality. And that’s exactly what I felt like. Enslaved by my barely one month old!
I had read about a surge of hormones during pregnancy, but didn’t anticipate the effect of the fall of hormones post pregnancy. Feeling the effects of this during the first few weeks after labour is termed ‘Baby Blues’ – but to me it felt more like ‘Baby Black and Blues’. I felt emotionally (and to be honest physically) bruised.
But she didn’t care. She just cried for milk, pooped almost every hour and wanted to be held all day every day. (Single mothers I salute you, you’re all hands-down heroes)
I look down at the observant eyes, and smile at her, but she doesn’t respond. I shake the adorable rabbit rattle I so excitedly bought her whilst pregnant, but she doesn’t respond – she doesn’t even look. So, I carry on; ignoring the agonising pain my body is still in after labour, bowing down to every need of the precious one. Babies are rather unresponsive in the first few weeks, and compared with the effort required to put in, mothers get very little back.
The exhaustion is incomparable to anything I’ve ever felt. With a baby there’s just no chance to catch up. Not on sleep, not with friends, not with housework. It feels like a never-ending hangover. Only the bottles I’m clearing are milky ones! I’ve lost track of the number of days my breath still stinks of the night before and before I know it, it’s 5pm by the time I’ve had a chance to attend to my personal needs.
So do I love my baby? Of course. Do I love my situation? No. I mourn my freedom on a near-daily basis, I long for a bath instead of a shower and maybe just one evening eating out would be nice. I’m sure my pre-baby self would’ve assumed there are plenty of people to help, but for one, none of them come equipped with milky-tits that your newborn requires nearly hourly, nor did I anticipate the attachment. I’ve heard that a ‘mother knows best’, but as a mother myself, I now feel it. My incredibly difficult baby is hard work, and makes me feel like crying one hell of a lot of times, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do. It’s my job. It’s not so much that I struggle doing it, but more that I have no option to have a break.
By the end of the third week I had convinced myself that I was not cut out for motherhood and I began doubting myself; and soon after, began believing myself that my baby would become unwell or even die under my care. Hormones, again. I cleaned and sterilised her bottles (exhausted) obsessively. I lost track of how many times I put on or removed a blanket for fear that she would overheat or freeze. I didn’t really leave the house without my husband for fear that I would forget to take something essential and she’d suffer as a result. The anxiety (something I have never felt before) took over my every thought, and I felt trapped in my own head.
Then one day, I began to feel better. It was odd, the anxiety somehow went as rapidly as it appeared. She smiled (at around 5 weeks) and I realised I had a happy baby. She was happy because of me. I’m fairly certain my hormones had a lot to do with it too and that they began settling around week 5 too.
I started to value myself, and tried to see the good that I was doing. I have always loved my child unconditionally, but have not always loved being a mother – the two are different. I love an all-you-can-eat buffet, but wouldn’t like to be at one for my entire life 24/7, so I guess it’s kind of similar. I had to accept that it was ok not to like cleaning vomit, rocking up and down, and wiping butts around the clock. But nobody had spoke of baby blues and the awful (albeit natural) feelings they may evoke. I was surrounded by women who I thought were all perfect parents enjoying every single moment. But I’ve since realised that I certainly wasn’t alone. I just wish I knew then, that it was totally okay, and wholly normal to feel the way I did.
*As with all situations, people may respond differently in specific cases. For me, luckily, my hormones cleared up and I felt better fairly soon. If for some reason feelings similar to this persist, it’s important to seek professional help. Baby Blues are a short term experience. If feelings similar to these continue, it may well be the start of post-partum depression, a condition that is much more serious and needs medical attention. Please don’t suffer alone.