Before having Bailey, I knew nothing about ‘The Baby Blues’. I had heard of them, of course. I’d heard them mentioned in passing every now and then when people spoke about birth and babies and not paid it much mind. Honestly, I though the term ‘Baby Blues’ was a patronisingly ‘cute’ way of describing postpartum depression, which I had definitely read a lot about and which I was very scared about. The idea that you could go through life experiencing very mild or no issues with your mental health and then find yourself suffering extreme depression – or worse, psychosis – overnight was absolutely terrifying to me, and as someone already prone to anxiety and thinking the worst will always happen it led to sleepless nights. But I had gotten to the grand old age of 36 and seen many of my friends and acquaintances have children and never mention their mental state with any seriousness, so assumed it was basically something you either got or didn’t get, much like a cold or a virus.
The whole idea of giving birth was one I’d always struggled with. The very concept of having a real, live baby growing inside me was already too much for my fragile brain to comprehend, so the fact I was going to also have to get it out of me somehow just seemed impossible. It was just so huge and so unfathomable that my due date loomed ahead of me like a huge black cloud on the horizon that I simply couldn’t see past. As a result, I put so much time and energy worrying about pregnancy and birth that I kind of forgot to even consider what came next, and I was woefully under prepared emotionally. I had completely fallen for this romantic notion that while birth would be horrific, they would then hand me my baby and all my troubles would melt away. That we would go home and exist in a baby bubble of bliss for the next few weeks. And that isn’t to say I thought things would be easy – I knew I would be sleep deprived, exhausted and overwhelmed, but I really believed the lie that none of it would matter because of the joy I felt at having my beautiful baby with me. What I actually felt was quite different, because what I didn’t realise is that you cannot place your mental state after giving birth into a camp of either ‘fine’ or ‘depressed’. Instead you spend the next few months lurching from one extreme to the other, sometimes with alarming speed, and for at least 80% of women, feeling extremely heightened emotions is considered entirely ‘normal’ (and I use the word ‘normal’ lightly, because anyone who has given birth will know it completely loses it’s meaning for a while…) I also didn’t realise that most of those aforementioned friends and acquaintances went through this exact same thing, because much like many other of the less pretty parts of parenthood, we simply don’t discuss very much. So I decided this had to be something I wrote openly about, because in all honesty the experience shook me a little, and I hope more than anything that my words may bring some comfort to another new mum who may right now be sat crying in an old milk stained t-shirt, wondering when that joy is going to kick in and whether she’s going quietly insane.
To be fair, my troubles really did melt away when they handed me Bailey. The relief of labour finally being over is both instant and intense, and that delicious rush of oxytocin to the brain puts you on top of the world! I felt like a superhero! Look at what I did?! And look at what I made?! It felt absolutely incredible, so much so that I didn’t even feel a pinch as I got stitched up, because I was so absorbed in staring at my gorgeous little boy. That feeling lasted for quite some time too. Well beyond the hospital. Well beyond the discomfort of trying to sit still on a bumpy car ride home with your nether regions full of stitches, all the while worrying, ‘Are his straps too tight? Is he in the right position? Is he too warm? Is he even breathing??’ It lasted well into that evening as we started to call friends and family, put the word out on social media, decided on his name. It even lasted for the next day or two. It didn’t seem to matter that the house was in total and utter chaos, with no carpets and all our furniture piled up in the kitchen, bathroom or garden. It didn’t matter that the house was full of builders and decorators all desperately trying to get the job finished for us. Flowers, cards and gifts seemed to arrive every morning and my phone pinged constantly with lovely messages and well wishes. I spent two days straight on the sofa in the same pair of pyjamas binge watching TV and drifting in and out of sleep with Bailey at my breast as Dan kept an eye on us. I was most definitely on a high. But the thing they don’t tell you is how short lived that high is, and how fast and intense the crash back down to Earth is!
It had started to creep in on day 2. I’d always known there would be some pain involved in the recovery from birth – we’ve all heard about the horrors that can happen to your lady parts during the process of delivering a baby, amirite?? But that morning I had woken up feeling as though I’d been hit by a bus, and it took me by surprise. I’d only really considered the obvious injuries I may endure, but I quickly realised I’d pretty much strained every muscle I had while delivering Bailey and I ached from head to toe. My arms hurt so much I couldn’t lift anything. My legs hurt so much I couldn’t crouch down to pick anything up. My uterine contractions were sometimes so strong I wondered if there was another baby in there that I somehow didn’t know about! Two days of constant feeding meant my nipples were raw and with my milk just starting to come in my boobs were so swollen and tender just a mere vibration near them hurt. And, you know, stitches… In my hoo-haa… Let’s just say sitting down then getting back up again was a challenge, never mind going to the bathroom…. So I was in a bit of a sorry state. And then there was that whole ‘house in the middle of renovations’ situation. We’d been muddling through ok with just a makeshift changing station on what was to be the home bar, but the next day the fitters were coming to lay new carpets through the whole house, which meant me, Bonnie and Bailey needed to get out of the way and this had really started to play on my mind. We’d agreed Dan would drop us at his parent’s house in the morning, where we would wait for my parents to arrive so we could all get a nice lunch and spend the day together while Dan helped the fitters move furniture. It sounded like a perfectly lovely day and I was excited to see my parents and show Bailey off, but for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on I just didn’t feel great about it and it started to consume my thoughts for the rest of the day. It didn’t help that by now I hadn’t had longer than a couple of hours sleep and that night we had to sleep on the sofa as the painters had just finished all the bedrooms leaving them full of noxious fumes, so by this point I was feeling more than a little fragile.
The (very early) morning of day 3 rolled around and I tried my best to stay positive and think about how lovely it would be for Bailey to meet his grandparents, but as I went to shower and get ready it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I was still bleeding so heavily that I felt anxious about being out and about and possibly getting caught short or leaking. I couldn’t for the life of me work out what to wear – we’d just been hit with a heatwave, but the only bras I felt comfortable in had huge, ugly straps that showed under everything I could wear, which was already limited because I hadn’t really thought about needing to breastfeed when I bought 90% of my clothes, it seemed – and I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing anything other than my maternity jeggings because, to put it bluntly, I felt as though everything might fall out of my nether regions at any moment. So it seemed I was doomed to be uncomfortable in whatever I wore. I was still getting to grips with feeding and felt so nervous about having to potentially do it in front of other people, even if those people were my own family. The final straw came though when I realised I couldn’t dry my hair without assistance because my arms were still too sore. Dan came to see what was taking me so long and could see I looked upset so pulled me in for a hug and that is when the tears came. Once they started I felt as though they might never stop. I couldn’t even really describe to Dan why exactly I was so distraught, but between sobs I tried to explain that I just didn’t want to go. In that moment I just couldn’t bear the thought of being apart from him or not being in my own house. It was a complete disaster of a house at that point, but it was still my house and the only place I felt safe, and suddenly the idea of leaving just felt like too much to bear. Thankfully when the fitters arrived to realise there was a 3 day old baby and a highly hormonal and emotional woman in the house they were incredible and worked everything around us, meaning instead my parents could meet us at the house and once I felt ready we strolled to our local pub which all felt much easier to bear. And just as quickly as they arrived, those mean baby blues disappeared again.
They weren’t gone for long. The blues had a nasty tendency to rear their ugly head at the drop of a hat and normally when I least expected it. The first time I had to try and relieve myself after 4 days of constipation resulted in 45 minutes of hysterics that made Dan worry he’d have to break down the bathroom door. The first time I tried – and failed – to pump milk I felt like the world had ended. Bailey deciding he wanted feeding every time I sat down to eat WITHOUT FAIL felt like a personal attack and regularly resulted in a meltdown (from both of us!) But sometimes there was no trigger. That crazy cocktail of tiredness, constant worry and surging hormones could strike at any time, and often left me spending entire afternoons weeping for no real reason at all. As an anxiety sufferer I knew I would find it all tough, but the sheer weight of responsibility I felt was a real shock. Obviously I understood that a baby can’t look after itself and I was fully prepared to be the one to do it, but I wasn’t prepared for just how helpless, incompetent and completely out of my depth it would make me feel. Every day was most certainly filled with amazing moments, but with them came equally scary or upsetting ones. There was always something new to obsessively Google over, be it a shorter than normal feed, a blotchy rash, a strange new noise or movement he made, and the results almost always just made me feel worse. At times it felt like the happiness I felt – and it was genuine, monumental happiness – was overshadowed by this constant nagging fear: what if something takes him away from me? What if I’m not good enough to do this? It felt like a burden I had to bear alone, because no matter how supportive and hands on Dan was, there were things he simply wasn’t able to do, and that took it’s toll. Every time I watched him finish a meal while mine went cold, every time I watched him finally succumb to sleep after valiantly trying to stay up with me, or get ready to go to work or out with friends I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy. And I’m painfully aware that to a right-thinking person, this all sounds incredibly melodramatic and over the top, maybe even a tiny bit selfish. In truth, it is – and I knew at the time it was crazy and irrational – but there seemed nothing I could do to stop the bubbling resentment or the tell tale lump in my throat. The emotions just kept on rushing in from nowhere like a huge wave, and at times even made me question my grip on reality.
The most lasting, and definitely most alarming, way that the dreaded baby blues manifested themselves for me was as an overwhelming sense of sadness that I was no longer pregnant. I truly loved carrying Bailey and had never really considered the idea of him coming early. I expected to be pregnant for at least another 6 days, possibly even a week or two longer than that, so when I went into labour on the very first day of leave I felt a little shell shocked by the whole thing. I started feeling it straight away. I remember still being in the birthing pool when I reached down and touched my tummy only to feel crushing disappointment that it was no longer firm and round but spongy instead. It felt empty, and that emptiness haunted me for quite some time. Every time I caught sight of my sad, squashy pouch while getting changed. Every time I thought I felt him move then remembered it couldn’t be. Every time I woke with a start in the middle of the night, panicking about where the baby was and whether I’d fallen asleep holding him. It just seemed so much easier to take care of him when he was in there instead of out here in the real world where literally everything seemed like a potential danger. I wanted to put him back inside me where I felt he was safe, where he was just mine and I didn’t have to share him with anyone. I would scroll through my old Instagram bump pics obsessively and couldn’t even look at the pictures Dan took while I was in labour without crying. This intense longing created a strange divide in my mind of life before birth and life after, and even Bailey himself became split. I would look at my beautiful boy and feel so happy and thankful he was here, but at the same time I missed him. I missed him so much that it hurt, and I almost started to think of him as two babies, my Bailey, and the one that used to live in my tummy. Trying to explain what was making me so sad was pretty much impossible, because I knew it didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that my baby was missing. All I could keep saying to Dan was that I felt like I never got to say goodbye, and then I’d cry again because it sounded completely insane. Basically, my heart was mourning a child that my brain was telling me was lying right there beside me, and it was an extremely disturbing experience. I didn’t for one second want to not have Bailey, but I wanted to exist in some sort of glitch in the matrix where I could be pregnant with him yet hold him all at the same time.
Thankfully, while I still am hit with a desire to spend another day with him in my belly every now and then, those feelings faded, but here is the ugly truth. They never go away completely. Medical science tells us those hormones dissipated with time, so I’m sure what I feel these days couldn’t really be described as ‘Baby Blues’ (though having said that, postnatal depression can be triggered at any point in the 12 months following birth, so who knows?) but I remember my Mum telling me having a child is like having a layer of skin removed, and I have to agree. I am a stronger person for becoming a mother, and yet I’m also more fragile somehow. I cry more. I feel things more intensely. Every joyful moment if tinged with sadness because every time a new skill is learned or milestone reached, a part of your life has also gone forever. But of course none of that would stop me from doing it all over again. Our little boy has brought me more happiness than I could ever imagine. So, if you are that Mummy who is wondering when it starts getting easier, who is feeling guilty that you can’t just enjoy it, who just literally cried over spilled milk – I see you. Hang in there, your joy will come. You are not alone. And most importantly, you are NOT going crazy, whatever your hormones are telling you!