First days of motherhood: a diary excerpt

This is a post I wrote a week and a half after giving birth. I didn’t post it then because to me it wasn’t finished yet; but now, two weeks on, my point of view has already changed so much that I’ve decided to post it as it is, because I don’t think I could finish it. It reflects pretty well what new motherhood felt like at first, and sometimes still does, even though now I know much more than I did just two weeks ago (like you don’t feed her 3 times in 90mins, she just needed something to suck on and that’s why she had colick all the time…).

It’s important to note that I’m *not* suffering from post-natal depression, and have not had any attachment issues with my baby.

It’s 5pm on a Wednesday. I slowly open the door to my bedroom and enter, eyeing my sleeping daughter like she’s some kind of time bomb. The floorboards creak under my sock feet, too loud I think, surely she’ll wake up? I needn’t worry, she’s out for the count. For now. I sit down, slide the laptop out from underneath the bed, and turn it on, hoping against hope that we remembered to turn the volume down last night – the Windows jingle chimes softly – we did, the last thing we used it for was to search YouTube for several hours of lullabies – lullaby versions of rock songs, to be precise, because actual lullabies would drive us both mad.

She grunts. My head snaps to the right. She’s just moving in her sleep. It’s ridiculous, or impressive depending on your point of view: only 11 days out of the womb and already I’m having pavlovian reactions to her every noise, every change in her breathing. It’s bad enough when I’m downstairs with the babyphone, but up here with her I feel like I’m on constant alert.

She’s been sleeping for more than two hours now; I know she’ll be hungry soon. Whenever she cries in hunger I feel a mixture of nervousness, dismay and guilt. It wouldn’t be so bad if she just fed for a while, burped, and went back to sleep. Or even if she stayed awake. Occasionally, this does happen – usually during the day. At night, she feeds, falls asleep almost immediately, needs burping (if we don’t burp her she regurgitates, sometimes nearly choking, which terrifies me), then wakes up hungry again, feeds, falls asleep almost immediately, wakes up with wind, grumbles for ten minutes while we pat her bottom or belly, fills her nappy, we change her, and then she’s hungry again.

This cycle can last for hours – for the past four nights, in fact, it has started systematically around 4am and lasted until 6 or 7. I’ve given up on the idea of not letting her sleep in our bed. That lasted about two days, I wasn’t even out of the maternity when I realised that if I wanted to get any sleep at all I’d need to find a safe way for her to sleep with me, so that when she woke up I’d just have to take out a boob and feed her lying down so I could fall asleep while she fed.

And even then, I’ve only been able to do this for the past two days. Before that, feeding her was too painful to sleep through. Until then, I had to breathe through the initial pain like I did with the contractions. You couldn’t talk to me or touch me, either, even when I was using nipple shields. My boyfriend had the good sense to call a midwife in for a home visit on Monday, and she showed me how to get the baby to latch on properly and suck rather than chew.

Being able to feed her painlessly cheered me up for a while before the fatigue and nerves took over once more. I’ve spent a lot of today crying. I feel inadequate. I can’t get anything done on my own, even when she’s sleeping, because that’s when I sleep now, and I’m startled awake every few minutes by her making odd noises. She’s a nervous little thing, prone to nightmares, and hiccups that keep her awake and exhaust her, which is probably why she falls asleep after a minute of feeding and then wakes up hungry ten minutes later after burping.

I’ve been writing this for an hour and a half, and already I’ve had to stop and feed her three times. I don’t know if she’s sleeping properly now, or if she’ll wake up hungry again in five minutes. I daren’t leave for a while because if I start doing something else and she wakes up, by the time I get to her she’ll be so upset that she’ll clamp down when I feed her, making it painful again, and swallowing lots of air in the process.

So, first impressions of motherhood? It’s time-consuming. It’s exhausting. I hated it when people told me we’d be more tired after she was born – and I’ll still hate it if ever I decide to get pregnant again – but they were right. My boyfriend has to take her downstairs in the morning so I can get some sleep between feedings. I don’t know how other mothers manage it – the ones whose partners leave for work during the day, or worse, who have no partner, no help at all. Is my child particularly difficult? I’m given to believe that feeding her shouldn’t take three hours. What am I doing wrong?

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