I have a new man in my life. He’s only been around for just under five weeks, but it already feels like he’s been here forever.
On 18 September 2011 at 8.11pm, Finn Wallace Freeborn Inglis was born. I won’t go into the gory details; suffice it to say that with the help of my amazing husband I had the natural birth I’d had my heart set on and delivered a healthy, beautiful baby. George helped to deliver him, and I cried when he was placed on my chest and we looked at each other for the first time.
Having a somewhat shaky confidence and a tendency to the negative, I expected the first few days to be hard. I expected to have difficulties with breastfeeding. I was terrified of postnatal depression, and that I wouldn’t feel any connection with him. But despite the hardcore sleep deprivation and the intensity and confusion of being responsible for a new life, I was on a high for those first few days. Breastfeeding came surprisingly easily. I could hardly believe how completely beautiful my baby was. I stared at him for hours while he slept. Everything was going so well.
After two days, we transferred to the Hilton, a service Ashford Hospital provides that I highly recommend, and while Finn started to become more alert and getting him to sleep was a little more difficult, we were still coping.
Two days later, we were ready to go home. The first day wasn’t so bad. Life ran on a loop of breastfeeding, trying to get him to sleep, being brought food and endless cups of tea by George, and fitting in showers wherever possible before the whole cycle began once again. I was tired, but I was OK.
The next day, it hit. I’d heard about the emotional craziness that happens when your milk comes in, but I was completely unprepared for it. I cried on and off for days on end. Sometimes it was just ‘my baby is beautiful’ tears, but more often it was feelings of drowning, of inadequacy, guilt, an inability to cope. I read in a book that the sound of a baby crying can give the mother heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea – well, I had all three at once. He only had to murmur in his sleep and my chest would clench and I’d feel sick. I completely lost my appetite (which, for those who know me, is extraordinary in itself) and had to force myself to eat.
Over the next few weeks, the crying gradually tapered off, but the feeling that I wasn’t really up for this job didn’t go away. It got worse when George went back to work. Some days, having a shower was simply impossible. Some days, he’d cry for most of the day for no apparent reason. Some days, I was feeding him every two hours because that was the only thing that seemed to work. Some days, I wouldn’t eat lunch until 4pm, and even then I’d choke it down as fast as possible before he woke up again. I couldn’t sleep during the day, so I was living on 4 hours sleep a night. I started to feel like I was losing my grip on myself.
Overall, Finn has been a remarkably easy baby compared with some stories I’ve heard, but that just made me feel even worse that I was so out of my depth. Every time he went to sleep, I would be overwhelmed with relief, that I could pretend for an hour or two that I’d never had a baby, that I could hold onto my old life. I started to resent him for how much he’d changed my world. And then I’d feel guilty for having these feelings. I was so lucky to have him, and yet part of me was wishing him away. What kind of mother was I?
It’s true that there’s nothing that can prepare you for having a baby. You can read all the books in the world, but they mostly gloss over these emotional reactions. People don’t generally talk much about it. I was lucky in that several of our friends have recently had babies and they’ve been very upfront about the turmoil it causes, but even they described the first weeks as a fog or a blur. It doesn’t feel like a fog or a blur when you’re going through it. It feels like a nightmare, and one that’s never going to end.
I started to wonder why I didn’t love him more. Sure, I thought he was the cutest baby that had ever been born, but the majority of the time my focus was on getting him to sleep so I could do things for myself. Wasn’t I supposed to be overwhelmed with love? Wasn’t I supposed to feel like I’d attained my life’s purpose?
I didn’t feel like that – not at first. I’m lucky in that I have a supportive husband who has never judged me for my feelings, and has just accepted my schizo behaviour without question, and I’m lucky to have friends to confirm that my feelings are all normal and not worth getting worked up over.
The last week or so has been much easier. Finn is sleeping better, and we’re starting to get into a pattern of sorts. He’s giving me the first little smiles, and each is worth at least a million dollars. We moved him into his own room and as a result, he’s started sleeping for six hours at night, which means I’m getting a lot more sleep too. I’m only getting up once a night now (fingers crossed this habit continues), and I’m starting to feel human again. I can even glimpse the possibility of getting some of my old life back soon. The plan to write another book in my year off is looking more like reality.
Yesterday, I fell in love with my son. It wasn’t like a bolt of lightning, but more a realisation. He has become my world, and I’m finally starting to see what it really means to have a child. He’s steadily grown on me over the last four and a half weeks, and I’m not worried anymore.
I don’t write this because I want to pour my feelings out to the world, but because I want to record how I felt in those first tumultuous weeks. No doubt in a few months’ time it will all seem like a fog or a blur, but I don’t want to describe it as such to other first time mothers. Not everyone experiences that instant connection with their baby, and no one should have to feel guilty for their reactions to such a life-changing event. All I can say is that there is a wide range of ‘normal’, and that the love will come, even if it’s not straight away.
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