Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jumping in front of a bus

Incredibly, another week has passed. No wonder everyone tells you to take lots of photographs of your newborn; it is shocking how they grow before your eyes -- not like weeds exactly but more like bamboo! Right now the little bub is sleeping peacefully in his new bouncy/vibrating chair and even though I feel like a bad mother for leaving him in it, he looks far too peaceful to be roused. Yet more days of high highs and low lows in the Green household. The battle against the dark forces of colic rages on, and we are no nearer to a solution. (If anyone has suggestions, by all means...) The only thing worse than the incessant screaming that steals away his breath and the sheer pain that turns his face scarlet is how helpless we feel as parents to alleviate the discomfort. Amazing what the need to fart can do! But as usual on this blog, in my quest to vent and paint an accurate picture of events, I fear I have skimmed the surface of the happy and magical times -- when it is just the two of us in a darkened room in the wee hours and he is wide awake and staring deep into my eyes... Or when I am holding him, stroking his back and nuzzling his cheek and the downy hair on the back of his neck. Words can't describe the intimacy of those stolen, private moments. And you can't seem to do them justice in a few lines on a website. So I'll try no further. But it just seemed right for me to try to redress the balance somewhat after so much negativity in recent posts. If giving birth and the early weeks that follow are infernal, then there is no doubt, to coin a cliche, they are worth every minute.

A friend recently told me the reason babies start smiling at around the 6-week mark is no coincidence but a clever biological trick: they serve to charm their carers into continuing to care for them at a time when patience and accrued sleep are both wearing perilously thin. During the health visitor's last visit she asked whether I had yet experienced the overwhelming sensation most new mothers experience -- i.e. would I jump in front of a bus to save Little Green? At the time I was too ashamed and numb to admit that all I could think about was jumping in front of that bus myself. But now I am beginning to understand the powerful range of emotions that belong to mother(and father)hood. With each new day, there is a new challenge, for sure. Yet there is also a new delight waiting around each and every corner that is enough to compel you to keep on moving forward.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I would nurse but I don't have the equipment

Wow. Have 3 weeks really passed since LGO's birth day? When you have a baby the clocks seem to stop and day and night merge in a senseless blur... In hospital the midwife advised that we new parents ought resist the urge to think of night and day as two distinct lunar phases and to disregard the clock altogether, and now I can see why. To say that the days since his birth have been the hardest of my 30-odd years is no word of a lie. Newborns who have no knowledge of the outside world tend to operate in sleeping/shitting/eating cycles around every 2-3 hours which -- surprise, surprise -- causes the worst kind of sleep deprivation in a parent who (with the exception of teenagers, uni students or rock n' rollers) is accustomed to sleeping in blocks through the night.

After the first week, when I was over and done with grieving about not being able to breastfeed (still a sore point if I'm honest, but at least my nipples, if not my psyche, have healed up), I could see the benefit in the bottle: the misery/loneliness of night feeds can be shared by dad or some unsuspecting friend or family member; sleeping on one's stomach can be resumed after nearly a year of being off limits due to the bump and engorgement; boobs can be enjoyed by husband again even though they have shrunk from Jordan-like proportions; ugly nursing bras can be done away with in favour of old favourites... However, for all its perks, the bottle still holds its fair share of conundrums. Constipation. Like every day with a newborn, we only learned about what was ailing LGO through a process of trial and error. And believe me, there is nothing worse than seeing your little helpless baby wail himself red-faced with his eyes pinched and his gums showing for hours on end, and not having a clue what to do to make it better. Some cooled boiled water before feeds eventually sorted out his little bowels but not before his prolonged screams split mummy and daddy's eardrums and cut our hearts to the core.

And we weren't even alone, like some. We had support from Mr Green's parents and my own flew in from Canada and stayed with us for 2 weeks. With the best possible intentions, having seen how wrecked I was from the breastfeeding/labour and still in need of recovery, they took over most of the feeds and baby care so I could rest. Eventually I managed to catch up with sleep while paradoxically my mental state deteriorated. One night I didn't get up to feed him at all, and I think an afternoon passed without me even holding him in my arms. None of this was intentional or obvious of course. And it only became a problem once I noticed my increasing detachment towards him. The more they did for their grandson, the less competent and confident I felt as a new mother. Catch-22. The perk -- and the trouble -- with bottles is that anyone can feed and look after your baby. As a mom your job is made redundant. You are not special anymore. Your baby doesn't need you per se. Or at least this is how I felt at the time. Pride is a terrible, terrible thing. Even though Little Green was by now thriving and healthy on formula, which should have delighted me after his rough start on the breast, I hit rock bottom during the second week of his life. I sobbed the minute someone looked at me sideways. I sobbed several times a day; the slightest thing would set me off. And I was convinced, though everyone kept telling me how 'normal' I was, that I was going mad. That I couldn't cope. That I'd made a mistake thinking I could be a decent mother, now or ever.

Ironically, once I'd come to the realisation that my parents' involvement had actually helped the baby's development but hindered my own, things got easier. Of course they only wanted to help me and to maximise the time spent getting to know their grandson. Then they left, and I felt like a terrified and abandoned little girl clinging to the hem of my mother's skirt. But being forced to deal with a new baby, you have no choice but to rise above how you feel in order to look after him. Everything else comes a distant second, including brushing your teeth and hair and sometimes even emptying your bladder! In a way, in doing more and taking care of him, even though I am still fumbling to some extent, has given me more confidence. I am not perfect by any stretch but I am trying and concentrating on just getting through every hour of every day with each new trial and tribulation it inevitably brings. I've stopped crying, though I am often frustrated that babies are not straightforward creatures and come with no clear-cut instruction manual that I could digest from cover to cover. In time it will get easier. This is my mantra, and so I share it here for all mums at any stage and for those to follow... It will get easier.