Just over 3 years ago our daughter Miriam Elizabeth was born into our family. We’d spent 9 months looking forward to the arrival of this little one and yet in a matter of hours she turned my life upside down, and down, and down.
I know what you’re thinking, really? That little tiny baby, but babies are cute and cuddly and oh so squidgy. Well yes, and no. As a wise friend said to me recently, one of the hardest things about having a baby is that everyone expects you to be over the moon, deliriously happy with your new arrival when in reality where you want to be is far far away, over the moon, deliriously in denial that your life has changed forever.
First let me say that I am no expert on depression, I have no direct experience other than one close family member suffering with it for many years. This is just an honest account about the baby blues and my experience of going through it after 2 babies.
It is crazy that you spend months wishing, longing, deliriously excited for the arrival of a baby and then when they finally arrive you have no idea what to do. Many mothers enjoy the newborn stage, loving the middle of the night feeds, feeling very relaxed about sleeping and eating whenever they and baby want…..I however am not one of these women…boy do I wish I was.
My first pregnancy was great, I loved every moment. I was huge, but I exercised lots, worked up to the final few weeks and generally felt fab at watching and feeling my baby grow. At 40 weeks however I developed a cyst which meant a trip to A&E and an emergency operation. Just a few days later Miriam began to arrive, I say began because she took a good 36 hours to finally make it into the world. When the midwife put this fragile, perfect 7.3lb, naked little baby on my chest it was both humbling and truly amazing. She was lovely. I was exhausted but she was gorgeous.
As is the case in the UK, I was sent home after about 30 hours in hospital. Miriam hadn’t really latched on properly and my milk had not yet come through. I was exhausted and she was hungry.
My sister in law had described labour to me as akin to being in a car crash. At the time I laughed it off thinking that won’t be my experience, but she was right. It was a shock to my physical being, my emotions and a real challenge to my spiritual life.
I can’t say when but gradually it dawned on me that this little limpet was demanding everything of me. I began mourning, mourning for the life I had once had. Freedom to go out whenever I wanted to, slow weekend mornings pottering around the house with Roger, evenings out, regular adult conversation about non-baby issues, freedom! Everything I once knew had changed. I didn’t want this new life, I wanted my old life back. I resented this little gift I’d been given. She didn’t feel like a gift she felt like a huge, tiring, demanding burden that I just could not carry. Our wonderful church brought us meals and came to meet our little bundle of joy but joy was the last thing I felt. I wanted to run and hide from everyone and everything. Every day I battled with guilt, pain (physically after the birth and with breast feeding and emotionally), exhaustion and sadness. I literally felt like I was in a pit, stuck with no way out. I cried every day for weeks. I felt trapped. Miriam challenged every inch of my selfishness. It was a real shock to feel so blue, so utterly helpless and fragile. I have always considered myself to be a reasonably strong woman, how could this tiny little thing shake me and my comfortable little world so much?!
With the birth of our son almost 6 weeks ago I thought things would be different. I knew the signs and I was not going to go there again.
Victor’s birth was a thousand times easier than Miriam’s, 30 hours shorter for a start. In France women stay in hospital for up to 5 days after the birth which may seem a lot to most British mums who are ousted after 24hrs but I can honestly say it’s much better this way. The care we both received was fantastic particularly during that dreaded second night when baby is very hungry and you are very empty because your milk hasn’t yet come in.
After 4 nights I asked to leave as I was sick of looking at the same four walls. By this point my milk was coming in and I was rather emotional. However, Victor was feeding and sleeping really well and I was confident we would get through and life would start being a bit more normal. Wrong! In just a week or so I was feeling the same horrendous sinking feeling deep in the pit of my being. Who was this kid? How could I have allowed him to enter my family and ruin it, ruin our normality? Why was he not sleeping when I wanted him to sleep? Hadn’t he read the same book as me? I don’t want him, he’s ruining my life! I cried every day, sometimes twice, sometimes more, often weeping, pleading for help, desperate to love this little blob but feeling so far from loving him which only produced even more guilt and helplessness.
A couple of weeks ago we managed to get to church. As soon as we entered the room I felt so vulnerable and weak the tears fell. There was a new couple there that week from South America who had their two very disabled children with them. During the meeting the pastor called everyone forward to stand and pray together, these two parents rushed forward for prayer for their precious ones. I had just finished feeding Victor and Roger was out with Miriam so I went forward alone. As I approached, the pastor’s wife spotted my tear stained face and came up to me, “tu as les bébé blues?” I nodded. I was then ruined, this amazing faith-filled lady had just that week been diagnosed with breast cancer yet here she was standing with me, hugging me, loving me and praying with and for me. What a humbling morning, I’ll never forget it. I didn’t come away suddenly feeling brighter and like I could take on the world, the tears still flowed for a good few weeks yet I did come away feeling so blessed for me and my baby’s health and that no problem is too big or too small for our gracious God.
It is often hard to pray and have faith and hope when you are feeling low and desperate. However, in this recent season I have found myself desperately praying throughout the day, opening up my Bible in search of hope, crying out to God to pull me through and help me be me again. He has been faithful, it’s been tough, but He’s been good, so very very good.
We decided to get away as a family a week ago, fresh air, fresh perspective, time away from the humdrum normality of life. The first few days were tough, more tears from me. I was sick of it. Tired of Miriam seeing me cry and tired of feeling tired and teary, tired of having no appetite and tired of fighting to love Victor. After one particularly bad night we went to the local pharmacy and asked for something that would help give me at least some energy to get through the days. As well as the vitamin supplements I am now taking and, I truly believe, God pulling me through and answering my prayers, I am now feeling MUCH better. I haven’t cried for almost a week (hoorah!) and I almost feel like myself again.
When you’re in the midst of a tough time the better times seem so far away. If you’re like me, you worry yourself sick that things will never change, you’ll never be able to leave the house without a child in tow ever again, they’ll always scream through the night etc. However, as any mum will tell you, things do get better. You and baby both find a rhythm and then they start smiling and the limpet finally seems to give a little something back. Before you know it they are heading off to school and you’re wondering what to do with your days. However, be real. I am so thankful for some precious friends who have been so supportive over the last few tough weeks. Friends that have let me cry, loved and cared for me, emailed, text and called, given advice and just said ‘you’re doing great’, and most importantly just allowed me to be me and to be real and honest. These dear friends, my wonderful ever giving husband and my faith in a good and present God has all been part of the healing process. So buh bye blues, I can see brighter days ahead.