Adjusting to Life with Baby
Taking a newborn baby home is intense.
They are very small and very loud and they look super-breakable.
Sometimes they sleep, often they don’t, and then there is the question of baths, boobs, bottles and bums. It’s a lot to deal with – especially the first time.
And then once you’ve brought the baby home, you have to work out how you’re going to leave the house again. WITH the baby. Things that seemed so simple now seem very complicated when factoring in the tiny tag-along.
Normal Ups and Downs
I decided that the second day after we got home with my firstborn was the perfect time to go to the local shopping centre for a bite to eat. After the post-birth cocoon of hospital, walking through the automatic doors was an assault on every sense. It was deafeningly loud and teeming with bodies. People! Sounds! Lights! Feeling exposed and vulnerable, I sat at a formica table in the food court and quietly sobbed as the world went on around us. We could not get out of there fast enough and only when we were back safely within the walls of our warm, quiet home could I relax. I was not ready to be ‘in the world’ just yet.
For the first two weeks after my son was born, there was random sobbing until slowly, my hormones rebalanced themselves and I adjusted to navigating real life with a baby in tow.
Perhaps a month down the track, while changing bub’s nappy at around 10:30pm, I had this exchange with my husband:
Husband: Well, I think I’ll to go to bed now.
Me: Oh. Okay. Baby is pretty awake though.
Husband: Yeah, I know….. I’m just thinking about work tomorrow. I don’t want to be tired.
Me: Right. So just leave me to deal with it then. Thanks a lot.
Husband: Well, honey, I have to get up really early…
Me: Fine! So just f*ck off then!
Sleep deprivation will do that to a person…
But apart from occasional moments like this one scattered throughout the first year, I was a very happy woman. Motherhood filled a hole within me, gave me a sense of purpose, made me feel beautiful. In that first year, I was the happiest I have ever been. Ever.
Not Just the Baby Blues
I found the transition into life with two kids much harder. The idea of my husband returning to work the day after we arrived home from hospital panicked me. I was very teary and overwhelmed at the prospect of being alone with a newborn and a toddler. My gorgeous mum immediately put in a work request for Carer’s Leave and spent the week with me, entertaining my toddler, and sitting on the couch with me as I sobbed and breastfed. Slowly, I came out of the post-birth fog.
For many women, this will not be the case. In fact, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with postnatal depression each year.
My history of depression and subsequent treatment for it almost certainly prevented me from developing serious PND after my second baby. My regular medication allowed me to keep head above water during a challenging time. But for those women who have never experienced any kind of depression before, PND must sneak up on them.
And it’s an awful kind of depression because most of us expect the fairytale. We want to believe that we’ll be ‘natural’ mothers and that our babies will be angels. It does not take long for a new parent to discover how huge a lie the baby brand commercials are. The discrepancy between the reality of new parenthood and the sentimental fiction we have been sold is jarring enough. The development of PND during this time and the darker thoughts that can accompany it can turn the dream into a nightmare.
The most crippling part of a depression is the shame that comes with admitting we are suffering. There are still people who believe it relates to a poor attitude, that mums need to “toughen up.” As someone who has suffered, I cannot tell you how insulting that is or how incredibly damaging. Misguided and inaccurate views of depression like those can stop people from asking for help.
New mothers are especially vulnerable because the expectation is that we will all experience the bliss of a “babymoon” – cue slow motion baby hand reaching up to softly touch Mother’s face as Mother gazes back at most cherubic baby in the history of the world – and if we don’t, what does this say about us? What kind of monster can’t bond with her own child? The pressure to be instantly in love with our baby and with our new job as “Mum” can be overwhelming and never more so than if PND is lurking undiagnosed.
Asking for Help
Motherhood will break you down and rebuild you. It is so powerful, it will alter you at a cellular level. You cannot expect to go through this transformation without a few tears. But if those tears do not seem to be drying up, if the magnitude of new parenthood still looms unbearably large after the initial weeks have turned into a month or more, it may be time to see a professional you trust – a GP or even the nurse who does bub’s check-ups.
There is no shame in admitting you are not coping. You are not alone in feeling this way. Every mother feels out of control at some point, but if you are under the cloud of depression, it doesn’t matter how well your baby sleeps or how much fresh air you get – you need support. From one mum to another, please don’t wait too long to get it.