My little girl turned 3 last week and it’s hard to fathom that so much time has passed. It has been a complete blur.
Yes a lot has happened in those three years – we’ve moved house, my husband and I have adjusted to being parents, we’ve changed careers, I competed at another Olympic Games, I have become a certified personal trainer and of course I have had a darling little baby boy and have closed the circle on my little family. (Yes, no more kids!)
To this day, my daughter’s personality reflects my experience of her as a newborn. She was high needs - and hard! I have had conversations with people who have stated that I didn’t have my wits about me when I had Layla and that’s possibly why she was so frazzled. If only those people could read my damning thoughts. Granted those comments came from mothers that had delightful babies who slept through the night at eight weeks old.
Those close to me though all agree, Layla was a terrifying, hungry baby with a strong-willed personality and a fourth level cry to match.
My little boy, Alexander, on the other hand is a dreamy little bubba. I could compare every aspect of their little personalities, but these two children are basically polar opposites. Yes I am more experienced, but he is a calm little boy, who sleeps on command, sleeps in the car and pram, coos and sings when engaging with people, gets up once or twice a night, is happy if his basic demands are met and from the moment I met him it was instant love. I instantly bonded.
It was a different experience with Layla and it still saddens me to think I didn’t enjoy her as much as I could have. When Layla was placed on my chest after an emergency C-section and 10 hours of intense labour, she was screaming.
She did not stop screaming and I had no concept of the trauma to come. From that moment on I cried. A lot.
I had a cloud over my head and I don’t think I truly bonded with my daughter until long after she was born – I nearly felt like she wasn’t mine. I was very maternal and always have been, but there was some kind of disconnect that I could not and still cannot explain.
Motherhood was something I had looked forward to for as long as I could remember. It took us a long time to conceive; yet I had lost all sense of self and was sad. Very sad. I loved my daughter but I did not love motherhood.
She slept in 1½ hour blocks at night and never napped. She fed up to 13 times a day and when not attached to my breast was very unsettled. I am still scarred from those early days. The only time I have cried with my little boy was in hospital when I felt guilty for enjoying him more than I enjoyed Layla as a baby.
Guilt – it’s a mothers curse.
I loved my little baby girl with all my heart. That was never in doubt, but the day-to-day reality was all too much.
I had trouble falling asleep, I had anxiety when I left the house and the simplest of tasks were incredibly overwhelming. Granted, hour blocks of sleep and a loss of appetite are not good for anyone, but for a long time I was convinced she would be an only child. I could not go through that experience again. I had lost myself completely.
My baby blues lasted for a long time. Every time I went to the maternal health nurse, they sat me down to do a questionnaire for Post Natal Depression. The results would come back and they would cock their heads and repeat, “The results are quite high – are you ok?”
I was in complete denial. I went to my doctor convinced I had a thyroid issue – I didn’t. She made sure I went back every week for 8 weeks to make sure I was ok.
Talking helped. My exact words to her were “I’m pretty sure I don’t have post natal depression” to which she replied, “Even if you do, are you really going to let me medicate you?”
She knew me well too well. She also knew I would respond to talking. I had isolated myself, was sleep deprived and lonely.
I also felt I wasn’t grateful enough for this perfect little human being I had in my arms and that was hard to cope with. When I was in a social situation, I was locked up in a room breastfeeding so Layla wouldn’t cry in public, or dodging comments about whether she was a good baby or not.
Social media didn’t help much either. Those photos that everyone puts up to demonstrate their love of motherhood were too much to bear. Everyone looked like they were coping so much better than I was. Or perhaps my expectations were just too high.
I’d not only lost myself and was exhausted but I missed my old life. As long as I could remember I wanted to have babies and the fact that I felt like I was merely surviving, made it even more difficult. I was born to breed, wasn’t I? All I wanted was a family and yes I loved our cuddles and could gaze at my little girl for hours on end, but the constant urge to cry would not go away. I even remember saying how much I missed our dogs. Everything had changed.
My GP educated me on doing something for myself. After 6 months of breastfeeding, she encouraged me to give my lovely baby a bottle every now and then if it improved my state of mind. She told me it was ok to think about my well-being even if every book on attachment parenting concentrated on the child.
Even when the ‘breastfeeding Nazis’ convince you that a bottle of formula is the equivalent of poison, my GP encouraged it, as this was about the mother’s well-being. My well-being.
At the end of the day childbirth is hard. I loved being pregnant the first time. I would have long baths and sing to my little baby girl in utero. The changes to the body and the hormones that continue to reek havoc long after bubs is born, however, did not make post pregnancy an easy time for me.
I’ve also heard a lot of athletes have difficulty adjusting to motherhood. We are so used to taking care of ourselves, and have so much control and routine in our lives, it becomes difficult when a baby does not do what you want it to do. T
his was the main issue for me. Control. I had none – this little girl did whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted and it was my responsibility to go along for the ride.
Would it have been easier if she slept in the car? Yes. Would it have been easier if I didn’t have to move house during the first 8 weeks of her life? Most definitely. If my husband wasn’t studying at the time of her birth, would I have coped better? Probably. If I had my mother and sister living in the same city I might have even enjoyed the initiation into motherhood. I may have even loved breastfeeding if we didn’t have attachment issues that three lactation consultants could not help with. Her scream was so terrifying no one could settle her and my health was not great – this combination was not ideal for a first time mum.
Respite for me came when Layla’s crazy growth spurts ended and we could settle into a routine. I gently sleep trained her with the help of a lovely night nanny and I learnt that the world would not fall apart if I left my daughter with someone else for five minutes whilst I went to have a shower. My daughter responded so well to routine, but I am glad I waited a few months to implement it.
I would not change my daughter for the world. She still refuses to sleep in the car and can have a tantrum to rival someone possessed. She is a feisty, spirited individual that is the boss of everyone at day care, but she has her father’s weird sense of humour and constantly has us in stitches. She’s bright, athletic and funny. Layla simply wants to be independent and grown up. Not really bad traits at all - in fact I am grateful she is all these things, but it makes for challenging parenting!
Anyone who knows me laughs in my face and secretly smirks that it is all pay back for the horror of a child that I was, and still am!
My final road to recovery came when I decided to go back to diving. From my very first session back in the pool it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders and it was my medication. The constant urge to cry ended. My mourning ended. It seemed very selfish at the time and to this day still does, but it needed to be done. I still miss diving and always will, but it helped me redefine who I am.
Exercise, I believe would have had the same affect and I strongly urge all mothers of first time, second time and even third time babies to exercise. It makes you feel alive again. Even 5 minutes in the kitchen after breakfast can make you feel good about yourself. That - and a clean house. (Whoever came up with the idea that cleaning and washing can wait when you have a new baby was loopy – as if!)
I was petrified of what having a second baby could possibly do to my soul. But the universe only gives you what you can handle and my little family is now complete.
Yes, the night feeds are still relentless, but it passes so quickly that I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve learnt that swaddling a baby helps them sleep and that I need to get out of the house occasionally by myself to maintain my sanity. I’ve learnt that baby crying doesn’t necessarily mean they are hungry and that watching a camera monitor doesn’t help baby sleep. I’ve learnt that all babies are different and the mother’s temperament or state of mind is not necessarily reflected in the babies’ personality. I’ve learnt that to have a successful breastfeeding relationship you need to be kind to yourself and fuel your body with calorie dense, nutritious food. I’ve learnt it’s ok to leave a baby whine for a few minutes and best of all, I’ve learnt to relax and enjoy my children because they are only little for a short time.
These days I don’t miss my old life. I feel blessed for the one I have.