I wish I could say motherhood has been a breeze and that all my anxieties blew over the second I lay eyes on our baby girl. But any mum or dad will tell you that becoming a parent is a huge shock. From the moment you leave the hospital you are thrown into an unfamiliar world of chaos. No amount of foresight can prepare you for the practical and psychological upheaval when this tiny bundle enters your life, so utterly helpless and reliant on your care and attention for its very survival.
I found breast feeding incredibly difficult as I was always so convinced that I could not supply enough milk. Our baby girl would scream relentlessly, then simply nibble and sleep on my breast. This pattern continued day and night, allowing me little or no time to rest myself. We eventually decided on a programme of feeding whereby she received (on a 3 hourly cycle) a combination of breast, formula milk and then a top-up of expressed breast milk (which I pumped while my husband fed the bottle). It was a challenging and exhausting regime (especially when my husband went back to work), but finally around week 7, our baby returned to her birth weight and at least a suggestion of sanity returned to our household.
I remember at one of the weighing clinics bumping into a lady I had met just twice before during my pregnancy and relaying to her the feeding difficulties that we had finally managed to overcome. In my fragile and emotionally vulnerable state, I was certainly not prepared for her comment which was that our baby was "obviously so much happier now to be on the formula" and that before, I was "just feeding her skimmed milk from my breast." I kept my composure (just!). But upon reaching the privacy of our car, crumpled into inconsolable tears, fired by rage that another woman.....another mother could be so cruelly insensitive, because the truth was, her words confirmed what I already thought of myself - that I was failing at the one thing every mother should be able to do for her own baby. This sense of disappointment in myself never left me and was especially hard as I knew so many mothers who managed to exclusively breast feed so well. But as the months wore on, I began to really love breast feeding our baby girl and although my milk only provided a portion of her daily intake, I was proud of myself to have persevered right the way through her first year.
When she was born, she was so small and delicate and by 3 weeks had gone down to a mere 5lb 9 ounces. In those early weeks I was petrified of accidentally causing her harm, perhaps by pressing my fingers too hard against her neck when pushing her on my breast for the latch, by manipulating her body the wrong way whilst attempting to get her dressed or by jiggling her to sleep too actively so that I may have jostled her head (even though I know I always held her very securely in my arms). I remember being so insanely sleep deprived when I was standing rocking her to sleep that if I dared to imagine dropping her through sheer exhaustion, I then became wracked with anxiety that it actually happened. These nightmarish fantasies reared their ugly head on a regular basis, causing even greater anxiety when I was actually feeling angry or frustrated inside. Even just feeling that negative emotion whilst holding her was enough to make me feel tormented by the idea that I had already caused her harm- albeit inside my head! Luckily the insanity of those early months wore off as I started to get more sleep....or perhaps get used to not getting sleep! I also think it was largely to do with just overcoming the fear of touching her, holding her and consequently allowing myself to slowly fall in love with her.