Ah, goodbye to times past…..

I wrote this some time ago but as I farewell the past year and, with some trepidation, welcome the new, rereading this inspires me to initiate new beginnings. I don’t want to be back here ever again. How quickly our memory works to erase our consciousness of pain, both emotional and physical. I read this and can hardly remember what it felt like to be me at this time……

As I leant closer to his ear, bent at a right angle over his cot, my back aching with frustration, I tried to ‘shush’ as loud and hard as I could. ‘Like water coming out of a faucet’ was my direction but no amount of water sounds seemed to make my little boy sleep. Still he squawked and writhed, stubbornly insistent on staying awake.  I had been here for 45 minutes trying as hard as I could to get my son to sleep. 6 weeks old and resistant as all hell, S was by now chronically overtired. His body screamed weariness. My body screamed anger and fatigue.  Once again the dummy dropped from his mouth which opened in rage and frustration. This was it. I dropped to the floor by his cot and let out a curdling, ongoing howl. I was done. I admitted defeat. I could no longer continue with any of it. I didn’t want to be a mother to my second son. I didn’t want to be a mother to my first. I wanted to end all the sleep-deprived pain that filled me and had filled our home for the last six weeks. I couldn’t stop the sound coming from the pit of my stomach and to make matters worse, my arms joined in, pounding the floor in helpless anger. S continued to scream as I lay prostrate beside him, unable to look at him; unable to touch him. Unable to stop the loping black dog from crushing me.

It was at this point, when I couldn’t get myself up off the floor; when I couldn’t touch my son for fear of crushing him, that I knew something awful was wrong. I’d had hints of it previously. Crying on and off, unnecessary levels of anger and an awareness that I hadn’t bonded with S in the same way I had with my first son, but I’d put all of it down to sleep-deprivation and hormonal change. It was only now when everything was so very, very black that I realised it was something more.  Finally I left S’s room and moved to my own. I lay down on the bed, closed my eyes and slept as my son lay hysterical in his cot.
It was my husband who used the words post natal depression first. He’d used them in the first few weeks after S’s birth as he felt I’d suffered from it after A’s. I was dismissive and spoke again of what it had been like for me after A was born. My body was a mess, not functioning in an awfully humiliating way. No wonder I struggled a little. But what I knew was that I never, ever questioned my feelings for A when he was born. I never wished he’d never arrived  but rather revelled in his beauty contemplative of how astonishing he and our relationship were. I remember breast feeding him at 245am amazed at how much I appreciated this time and how close I felt to him.  While walking wasn’t easy for me, I loved getting out with him in the pram or sling and moving through life as a new mother.

None of these feelings came to me in the weeks after S’s birth. At first I thought it was because I was too busy as a mother to a toddler and newborn while also trying to do some work from home. I’d always assumed that he’d slot into our family and that he’d adjust to our pace and routine. That we’d continue life as we had but simply with an addition. It soon became clear that the entire family’s world now moved around this inert, nonresponsive, nonreactive baby and I think we all struggled a bit.

When A was small, so many people commented to us that he was a dream baby. I’d put him down for a sleep and my mother would say, “Just like that, he goes down? No crying, no protest? That’s amazing!”.  At the time, I didn’t really hear their words. They didn’t see C and I driving round the block for the umpteenth time or see me move him in his pram over the lounge room floor trying to get him to sleep. I figured they saw an image of him that they wanted to see, especially as the perfect grand child.

It was only after S was born that I came to realise that A was more than a dream baby. He was an uber-angel. Extraordinary by any standards. When he slept, he slept for a long time. Occasionally we had to help him get to sleep but this didn’t last long. He rarely cried (many friends and family comment on the fact they’ve still never heard his cry) and had an extremely affable and happy disposition. On top of that, he was gorgeous. He wowed everyone from the moment he was born. The other women in my mother’s group always used to comment on how gorgeous he was. He still has people stop on the street, in the supermarket, in the park to comment on his beauty and smile.

In comparison S always seemed out of sorts. In the first 7 weeks of his life, he cried a lot. If he wasn’t sleeping (and he didn’t do much), he was squawking or crying. It was hard to feel close to him and I couldn’t help but assume that he was just ‘difficult’ rather than thinking deeper about what was making him cry, whether it was pain or discomfort. This meant that I rarely touched him apart from to breast-feed. I soon resented him due to what I believed to be his temprement. C and I would confide to each other that we didn’t feel close to him and that we were waiting to fall in love. It was almost our little joke and I think I felt affirmed that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Sharing these feelings normalised them for me and stopped me from looking harder at them.

It was by week 3 that I knew S was not a sleeper. That he couldn’t get himself to sleep and even when he was asleep, found it difficult to stay that way. Everyone speaks of the 3 week change in babies but I couldn’t remember that with A. It was like I had a baby for the first time. I began at this point to question my skills as a mother and to doubt my decision to have another child. I began to feel like having S had ‘ruined’ everything; had ‘ruined’ the perfect life that C, A and I had shared. I began desperately to wish things could go back to how they were. I began missing A terribly as I spent more and more time trying to get S to sleep. That’s how the crying began. I’d think of the special relationship A and I had always had and how different things now were and I would weep with the knowledge that we could never go back; that the bond we had was gone in that form forever. And of course, with allthese feelings, I began increasingly to resent S.
This magnified the distance between us. I laughed in the beginning about how I felt like I was S’s ‘wet nurse.’ In hindsight, this was a real sign of the post-natal depression. I felt completely detached from him. During my hours trying to get him to sleep I never looked at him as a baby, let alone my baby. I saw a disembodied object in front of me. One whose purpose it was to test me, to make things difficult, to take me away from my beautiful first born, to take away my sleep, to rebel.

I oscillated between feeling like a failed mother and feeling that S was at fault, taking everything that had been easy and beautiful in our lives away. The weeping increased. I remember leaving the house early one morning to walk with S in the sling. I was crying hard. We’d hardly slept at all and the idea of a walk made me feel weak with fatigue. But S wouldn’t sleep and we needed to leave ever-closing walls of the house. I’d spoken briefly to my mother but couldn’t continue. I didn’t know what to say or how to speak the pain I was feeling. I wept the entire walk and for the first time was struck by the fact I couldn’t control my thoughts. Again I put it down to lack of sleep and I think that was definitely the preciptator. But part of me also recognised feelings and thought-patterns I’d had before. That’s when I began to feel scared. I called my doctor hoping that a conversation with her would make things clearer. S was only 5 weeks old when I saw Allison and spoke to her about his sleeplessness and crying. Rationally, anyone would recognise these as normal attributes of a 5 week old baby but I was convinced he was an extremely bad case. That it wasn’t ‘normal’. That I felt so bad emotionally, he had to be so difficult as to cause this. Allison listened to me kindly speak about S’s ‘problems’ and then gently reminded me of babies’ natures at this age and the adjustments they are trying to make after birth. I felt comforted that this was ‘normal’, that it would pass and that while I’d had an easy first born, I was now experiencing what many others had with their children. I left feeling better.

It didn’t last long. In fact, I began to feel scared about my own inability to cope with the situation. If S’s behaviour was ‘normal’, why couldn’t I manage it? What was I doing wrong? As I always do, I turned to numerous books and websites in search of the answers. I had a new theory each day as to why he wasn’t sleeping. It was reflux; it was colic; it was the fact he wasn’t in a ‘routine; he was cold; he was hot; he was hungry; he was overfeeding; he couldn’t settle himself; he was difficult because I’d had a c-section; A made it difficult for him to sleep. I tried so many different things to try and rectify what problem I believed existed at a particular moment. Too early, I tried implementing a routine. For a baby that doesn’t sleep well and has potential health problems, routines at this young age, I believe are impossible. I made myself feel even worse when the routines would work. When he wouldn’t sleep when he was meant to, eat when he was meant to and couldn’t stay awake for ‘play time’ because he was so tired. I became obsessed with times.

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January 2009
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