Stardropped

Exactly six months ago, I met you for the first time.

The moment you came into the world was strangely calm, and nothing like I expected. The room was fluorescent white and I couldn’t move. I’d planned to have you without interventions and without pain relief – I wanted to feel every second of your arrival, to experience it all with you – but luck and medical judgement had other ideas, and there I was lying half naked on a cold and uncomfortable table with a 5 inch incision just below the softest part of my belly (the part you like to smoosh with your fingers). Daddy was with me, all dressed in blue and looking every bit like one of the doctors but for the fear in his eyes. He was stroking my hair and telling me how proud he was. I didn’t feel proud, I felt scared and tired. I could feel pulling in my tummy and lots of movement, but it didn’t hurt at all. And then we heard you, a little bird-like squawk, and my eyes overflowed.  I held Daddy’s hand super-tight and whispered, “He’s here!” and he kissed me and we held each other as best we could through the plastic tubes and tears.

My first glimpse of you was brief. The midwife let me see you quickly before she took you away to be checked over; you were red and swollen like a ripe strawberry, and you were still squawking, but not loudly. You weren’t as messy as I thought you’d be but you looked cold held out like that. I wanted to scoop you up and keep you safe and warm but I couldn’t. That was hard, not being able to give you the one thing I knew you wanted. Daddy went away with you and I was left alone on my metal framed island under the fluorescent sun, my head filled with doctor-husbands and little strawberries.

Our first cuddle came just a few minutes later (though it felt like hours). The doctors were stitching me back together and you came to me all wrapped up in a towel, your pink face poking out. You lay on my chest and you were completely relaxed, still and quiet, your black marble eyes gazing up at me. You were so calm. We said hello to you and you yawned back at us. The hustle of the operating theatre didn’t bother you, you just looked at me. I don’t remember much from that moment, not even your Daddy really – just your glossy eyes. Oh, and the adorable fold across the top of your nose that made you look like a pug! You had that for weeks!

You were born at 3.39am, so Daddy had to go home once we were settled on to the ward. We spent our first few hours together, you and me, curled up in bed. I didn’t sleep, I just watched you. You were so beautiful it made my heart hurt. Daddy and I exchanged a few texts but I was enjoying having you to myself and I wanted him to get some rest before he came back. I felt like your Mummy down to my soul that morning, and you were my precious baby son, and I knew I was going to love you forever and spend my life showing you how wonderful and rewarding the world can be.

 

And then chaos. And panic. And guilt. And paranoia. And crying. So much crying.

I can’t look at photos of you when you were tiny without feeling tearful and sad and sorry that you had to live for a while without the mama you had on your first morning on this planet, without the mama you deserved. But I have to be glad that she’s here now, and in those early moments, through the pain and confusion, she always loved you; always loved you, more than a hundred forevers, more than life itself. I’m proud of you, my random giggler, my expert pee marksman, my enthusiastic nose chomper, my sweet little bug. Thank you for being so patient with me and for helping me heal. You’ve given me more than you’ll ever know.

I love you, my beautiful boy.

Mummy xxx

 

The Happiness Conundrum

Friday was good. I showered and dressed, I vacuumed the bedroom and the landing, the laundry rumbled away downstairs, Little T was well-rested and content (as content as it’s possible to be while teething!), and I saw my best friend in the afternoon. And with it being Friday, it meant lots of time spent with my lovely husband to look forward to. So if someone had asked me how I was feeling then my answer would have been either, “great” or “amazeballs” depending on who was doing the asking.

Except the fundamental answer to that question is always, “I have post-natal depression,” which tends to be a conversation stopper. It’s not that people don’t care, I suspect it’s that they don’t know how to respond to the stasis of it all.

There’s an unspoken social rule which applies to all mental health conditions, that after an arbitrary amount of time we’re supposed to have sorted out our problems, or at the very least stopped talking about them. I’m not saying that my nearest and dearest think I should be better by now, but it does seem they don’t know how to handle me deviating from the social script when I talk honestly. There’s a certain look I get, even from people who’ve known me for years, that says shiiiiiiiiit whenever I say that yeah, I feel crap, I always feel crap and the constant nature of said crap leads to even more crap and I could really do with a break from the crap, y’know? (N.B. exaggerated for effect – not how I actually talk.) The impression I get is that I’m supposed to operate a one-in-one-out policy on my emotions. If I dare tell someone I’m having a good day, such as Friday, then that’s to the exclusion of any negativity, as though happiness and sadness can’t co-exist.

Well frankly that’s bullshit.

I’m tired. Tired of sanitizing myself and tired of not being able to feel good without committing to never again opening up about my depression. There’s something wrong with this picture, and I want to change it.

To those who know a PND or depression sufferer (or agoraphobia or anxiety or…) try to understand what it means when your loved one is having a good day. It might mean that they didn’t start the day feeling frightened for once, or that they answered the phone for the first time in months. It could be that they had a long bath and feel nicely put back together, or a stranger complimented their shoes. When Little T was very small some of my best days came from just leaving the house and not having a meltdown resulting in Big T leaving work to rescue me.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic or obtuse and I’m certainly not playing down the significance of a good day. I just wish more people recognised that every day is a battle fought and sometimes won, but that life itself is an ongoing war that can feel insurmountable. Those victories are amazing and they make the sweat and tears worth it, but they don’t change the daily reality. Smile with us when our days are bright, but don’t take away our right to cry too. Listen, understand, and most of all don’t demand that we change. Your good intentions can’t change anything, but your acceptance can.

…Still though, Friday was flippin’ awesome. 🙂

 

I Carry My Heart In a Sling

I remember the first week home with my son, looking down at him in my arms and wondering, “who are you?”. I’m sure most new mums do the same thing; imagining a child’s favourite colour, the sound of his laugh, whether he’ll like his toast cut into triangles or soldiers. At the very least it’s a wonderful way to pass those marathon early nursing sessions.

But for me there was no romance behind the question, no hope or aspiration. I asked my newborn baby who he was as though he was an intrusive stranger forcing me to acknowledge him when all I wanted to do was curl up and cry. Post-natal depression did that to me. It put up walls between us. I carried my boy for almost ten months, was closer to him than I’d been to anyone in my life, and almost overnight he became an alien, an alien who made me feel guilty and frightened and wouldn’t let me sleep.

I’ve said before how PND isn’t an absence of love, that it’s more like too much love to bear mixed in a frantic hormone and low self-esteem soup, so it’d be wrong for me to say that I wasn’t bonded to Little T. It’s truer to say that I felt separated from him. We needed to be closer, warmer and calmer together – like we were when I carried him inside me for all that time.

I bought our first sling when I was pregnant, a teal Moby Wrap that Big T tried out on a teddy bear while I giggled and took photos. My reasons for wanting to carry my baby didn’t extend far beyond the practicality of being able to get around more easily; I don’t drive, and our huge pushchair (a full-blown babytank) isn’t very bus friendly. I elected to stay away from the narrow based high street carriers because those I knew who’d used them hadn’t found them comfortable, and so I stumbled upon the term ‘stretchy’ on a babywearing forum and my journey with slings began.

I first used the Moby the day Big T went back to work. I’d spent the morning crying, clock-watching,  and hyperventilating at any sign Little T was hungry or needed a change. It wasn’t as though he was difficult to take care of (he’s never been a big crier), but I was scared of him, and scared of myself. I was scared of everything. A morning of anxiety and fear was already too much. I decided to use the sling in the hope that it would help me reclaim part of my old life, even for half an hour, so I could feel grounded and safe.

He settled to sleep immediately. It was a sloppy wrap job, but the chaos in my head quietened slightly. Little T was safe and snug, and for the first time since his birth I felt in control and capable. I cried then, from the same fear, but also from relief. I felt as though my heart could breathe.

I used the Moby most days from then on, though truthfully I knew it wasn’t the sling for us. I’m prone to overheating, as is Little T, and I found it quite thick and fabric-heavy, and if he was fussing or I was upset it was a hassle to adjust it properly without losing my patience. But that soft and cuddly wrap gave me my first life-saving moments of calm with my boy and opened the door to a crucial part of my healing. (It now lives with The Carrying Works to be hired by mums to try with their squishes – our little Moby is a true enabler!)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I stopped breastfeeding Little T when he was four weeks old, and as luck would have it, my second sling arrived a few days earlier – a Starry Night Raven wrap conversion Connecta, chosen because my pet name for Little T when I was pregnant was Stardrop. I didn’t try it out before buying (despite recommendations that I should) because my post-natal depression made leaving the house difficult at best and impossible at worst. I honestly didn’t know whether a Connecta would be a good fit for me but my experience with the Moby told me that a sling would help no matter what, and at that point I had nothing to lose. The PND was approaching crisis point, with Big T missing work to support me and the separation I felt between me and my son growing by the day.

I carried my baby boy in our new sling everywhere, and my life changed. It was easy to put on and comfortable for us both. It helped him sleep and gave me moments of reflection and release. My confidence tentatively grew. The loss of our breastfeeding relationship hurt less and less as I found that closeness elsewhere. With him curled up contentedly against my chest I felt able as a mother and started to believe I could cope if I went out and faced the world, and so I did, my Stardrop and me, safe in our starry sky.

I soon realised that carrying Little T gave me the closeness I so deeply missed about being pregnant, the seamless sense of togetherness. Even the physicality of a ‘baby bump’ was comforting, and I’d rest my hand gently on his back when I walked, protectively, tenderly, the same way I did on my growing belly. Our sling was a bubble filled with all the softness, gentleness, smells and whispers of a mother’s bond with her child. I never felt confused or worthless with him so close to me, able to feel his every breath, his every movement, and I never felt more like a natural mother than when he’d start to stir and a kiss atop his head and a quiet, “it’s okay sweetheart,” would settle him again. On days when I’d carry Little T a lot, I’d feel invincible. Big T would comment happily on how close we seemed, how connected and in tune with one another we were, and I’d smile at him, all playfulness and openness and sparkle. All me.

Babies want to be held and parents want to hold. My PND tried to coax me further and further away from my child but there was enough fight left in me to ignore it, to do the exact opposite and go back to basics, back to when Little T and I been completely inseparable, completely together. We needed to spend our fourth trimester as much a part of one another as possible, for both our sakes. And we did.

Now I carry my son in woven wraps, in ring slings and of course our legacy Connecta, and usually I do it for convenience. He’s awake more often now and curious about the world so we talk, and we dance, and we squeal at passers by, and it’s a wonderful evolution of our early slinging days. I’m starting to back carry (but not rushing as I’ll miss the kisses!), and yes, there are days when I know he doesn’t want to be carried and he happily plays with toys in his pushchair, grinning up at me occasionally, and that’s okay. Carrying isn’t about keeping children babies forever. For me it’s about responding to a basic human need, for parent and infant, to nurture and to be nurtured. When Little T wants something he makes his own way, confidently and securely, and so just as he sometimes wants to be independent in his pushchair, I’ll always be there with a wrap on hand in case he needs the warmth and familiarity of his mama, and that will be true when he’s walking too, for as long as he wants or needs.

Carrying Little T has been no small part of my recovery from PND. I’m still recovering now, and still learning – still stumbling sometimes too – but there is never a time when wrapping my son in one of our slings and all its memories hasn’t helped lift my mood and bring us back to those early moments of calm, our fourth trimester – my renewed and treasured ‘baby bump’.