When motherhood isn't love at first sight
Shortly after the birth of Aliana SO many of my friends who already had children would ask or tell me “Being a mom is so much fun hey?”. I just couldn’t relate. I would sheepishly nod my head and agree but on the inside I was dying. Why wasn’t I enjoying this newfound motherhood thing? Why does it feel like my whole life has been turned upside down and will NEVER return to normal again? And why do all the other moms seem to ace this being a mom thing and seem to radiate unicorn dust and sunshine rays everyday? Why doesn’t this seem as hard for all my friends who also recently had a baby? This was not what I signed up for....
I know every woman has her own experience of birth and becoming a mother, so some of you might read this and think “okay Annéke, stop being a drama queen, it is not THAT hard”. But for me it truly was. Let me be real – the new born phase was rough for me, very rough. In fact, the whole first 10-12 weeks to me is honestly still a blur. Postpartum didn’t look at all what I had imagined it to be. I knew it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses, but this? Gosh – nobody ever told me it would be THIS hard. I spent the whole 9 months planning for the birth, preparing Aliana’s room (that she still hasn’t slept in by the way), packing bags, thinking of the options I wanted in my birth plan, heck even thinking of a backup birth plan. What I would wear when we got to go home with our little bundle of cuteness, how we would introduce her to everybody and the list can go on forever. However, did it ever cross my mind to plan for postpartum? Nope. Never did I once think the that the events AFTER Aliana was born might not go according to plan. Sure, I knew I wanted delayed cord clamping and an uninterrupted first hour after the birth with lots of skin to skin and bonding time with her and my husband. I knew I wanted to go home as soon as the midwife would let me, I really didn't want to spend the night in the hospital. But it never crossed my mind that all of these things might not happen. After all, control freak Annéke had everything planned down to the T! What could possibly go wrong?
The reason I insisted on birthing with a midwife and having a water birth was to eliminate the clinical aspect of birth. I am a doula, I have seen my fair share of births in a hospital environment, and even though I did not know 100% what to expect from the midwife route, I knew that I didn’t want THAT. Nurses switching shifts, unfamiliar faces coming and going out of your room, not being able to have a water birth, being on a bed on my back. No. Thank. You! So midwife it was for me. Again, this remains a personal choice, so nothing against women who prefer the hospital environment. Each to their own.
Little did I know I was going to have the birth that I wanted, but not the postpartum journey I had imagined. I developed HELLP syndrome in the last few weeks of my pregnancy that went completely undetected. I didn’t have any symptoms except a debilitating pain below my diaphragm that everyone just assumed was a normal pregnancy discomfort and my blood pressure was up and down, but never alarmingly high. I ended up going into a very quick, intense labour around 23:30 on the 14th April and Aliana was born just 4 hours later (almost at home I might add) and 3 weeks early. As we got to the birth center I was already 10 cm dilated and 20 minutes later I was holding Aliana in my arms. I luckily still had my water birth – thank heavens. But my blood pressure shot up to 190/110 and due to my complications my placenta had to be removed in theater. I was in so much pain after the birth I had to be sedated and that meant I couldn’t bond with Aliana at all. The pain below my diaphragm turned out to be liver problems and not just a normal pregnancy discomfort like everyone thought.
I think I only properly held Aliana around 16:00 that afternoon and got her to start feeding. So much for initial skin to skin. To top it all off, just as I thought we could go home soon, my midwife realised something serious was wrong and requested further testings, I thank her every day for trusting her gut! I ended up having to get 4x blood transfusions seeing as I lost almost 2 liters of blood combined between the birth and the placenta removal in theater. It was only at my 2 week check up with my midwife and at my 6 week check up with my gynea that they told me it is only God’s grace that I made it through and they almost lost me. Furthermore, at 3 weeks postpartum I had to go in for a appendix removal. More surgery meant more medication and more time apart form Aliana. I had to pump and dump for a week because the doctor mistakenly prescribed medication that wasn’t compatible with breastfeeding, and this was where our breastfeeding journey started going downhill.
For the next 6-7 weeks I would see a lactation consultant 3x times. I tried EVERYTHING to keep her feeding directly from me, but every feeding would end up with both of us in tears – because how do I bond with this baby if I can’t breastfeed? This is what I planned, it HAS to work! It took a hectic emotional toll on me. She ended up preferring the bottle more and more and I eventually had to make the decision to exclusively express milk for her and bottle-feed. Every time I poured my milk into a bottle I felt like I was failing her. I envied all these moms that could breastfeed without any struggles. Nobody could have told me at that time that it would be the best thing that could’ve happened to us. Being bottle-fed meant my husband could help with feeds, which in turn meant I got more sleep and that meant I was better rested, more patient and more present during the days. In addition, she was still getting breast milk. That is after all actually the only thing I wanted – a happy, healthy, fed baby!
All of these above mentioned events on top of the overwhelming feeling of having this tiny person depend on me 24/7, my whole life being flipped upside down over night, not being able to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted, anxiety and my hormones being a complete mess led to something a lot more than just your normal “baby blues”. Something I never thought would happen to me. Every morning my husband would leave for work and I would envy him for having his life return to normal. He gets to still go to gym every morning, go to work and have a break from the new born baby haze I was in. The days were long, so very long! I counted down the minutes for him to walk through that door at the end of the day. Then add to that the feeling of extreme guilt for feeling that I wanted a break from her. Hence the reason for not telling anybody that I needed a break, because how would that sound? Gosh, the emotional roller coaster was real!
Anyway, I eventually realised I needed help, got the help I needed and the fog started to lift around 10-12 weeks. Slowly I started seeing the joy in motherhood. I started seeing the intense love and adoration for this little human that everyone always talks about. I started feeling like my old self again. Well, a version of my old self since I firmly believe becoming a parent changes you irrevocably. But, I didn’t cry anymore every.single.day. I actually missed her when we put her down for bed at night (turns out that is actually a thing) and now, 6 months later I can’t seem to spend a minute without her because I am completely smitten and in love with her. I am in love with motherhood and sure, there are still tough days, those don’t go away. I still sometimes feel like I need a bit of a break. After all, I haven’t been alone in 6 months and even the odd time I do get for myself my mind is still with her – it never switches off (helloooo mom brain!).
Being a mom is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. But is it worth it? A hundred times yes!
In hindsight, outside of the new born, postpartum depression haze where I felt nothing was ever going to get better, my journey has been one of strength and perseverance. I came out on the other side, I asked for help. It is OUR journey and despite all the hardships the past year I am still learning every day and I am so proud of myself for still exclusively expressing milk for her (any mom that does this will understand the commitment) even though there was a time where I told myself “just get to 6 months” and now I do not see myself stopping anytime soon. I also have an amazing husband that had to step up the moment she was born seeing as I wasn’t able to care for her for the first few days the way I would’ve wanted to, that has supported me every step of the way through breastfeeding issues, lots and lots of tears, sleepless nights and that nothing is ever too much to ask and till this day still takes the night shift so that I can get better sleep. He has been my rock through it all and I don’t know how I would’ve made it without him!