As a new mother the first word that springs to mind when I think of myself and my new baby is the word ‘failure’. I know that I am not alone in thinking this and feeling like this and therefore I ask for no pity. No reassurance and no analysis of my mothering techniques.
I’m not sure if it is something that us parents and more specifically mothers are just programmed to feel. A looming sense of doom at all times and constant criticism from within that only prompts us to work harder, parent better and ultimately do all we can to make our child happy.
When my baby was born I was immediately required to wait until they’d sewn me up until I could have him by my side. I wanted everyone to leave that room, stop touching my baby before me and let me sink into the new life that I had just brought into the world. It was a horrible 45 minute wait for the procedure to be done and I was so exhausted. Following a 48 hour labour attempt that ultimately ended in a Caesarean section I was done with it all and just wanted to scuttle off with my baby and hold him close and tell him that I was going to be the best mother to him and that if it were in my power he would never feel sorrow or pain.
Before long they had placed him next to me, I was entirely numb from the waist down and I held him in an awkward embrace as my paralysed body wouldn’t allow me to shift any closer to him. He was wrapped up in a towel making funny snuffling noises and I planted my lips firmly on his forehead so he could feel my touch. They wheeled me out with Matt trotting behind and I came round a corner, at the bottom of a corridor stood my parents. To this day I have no idea what they were doing or going through whilst my son was being extracated from me. They were too far away for me to do anything but smile weakly as their daughter and grandson were wheeled even further into a kind of temporary parking bay for mothers and their newborns.
They skidded round the corner looking like they had both recently wet themselves with excitement. Looks of fear and elation flickering over their faces. I can barely remember what I said but I think it was something along the lines of “it’s a boy, and he’s absolutely fine”. The happiness that we four felt in that moment and few minutes was incredible. Phone calls were made to all the important members of the family and I knew that soon enough people would be getting in their cars and coming to see us. I remember feeling that this was unfair, I understood that new Grandparents and Great Grandparents were desperate to see the baby but I didn’t want anyone taking him from my fumbling arms. I attempted a strange latch onto my breast that he seemed happy with and hoped he had something to draw from it.
And then the time came. I had to hand him over to a midwife, to Matthew and to my parents. I’m not sure I realised how angry this would make me, I was exhausted and happy and I needed them there. But I needed to hold my son. Matt’s Dad and my Nana arrived and cuddles were had all round. I could see my son sucking away on his little fingers, opening his mouth and twisting his head side to side searching for food but I didn’t have the courage to demand he came back to me. It’s hard to recall exactly when or how this happened but suddenly there was a midwife at my bed, telling me that the baby needed more food and was starting to get a little shaky.
That was when my first feeling of absolute failure spread over me. He was born at 3.26pm and no less than three hours later I had already done him wrong. The midwife asked me if I wanted him on donated breast milk or formula, I chose the former. Already, another mother who had her own children she was taking care of was doing a better job than me, my baby was poorly and would require milk from another source. My stupid frozen legs were kicking against their paralysis as I was desperate to get up and take him wherever he needed to go but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even give birth properly and was paying for my inability. I watched as the lovely midwife held him in a strange position, conscious that if she held him like he was hers it might confuse the bonding. She shoved a tiny bottle into his mouth and he began to drink. Soon enough she was happy that he’d eaten and he came back to me. The feeling of holding him properly the second time wasn’t like the first, tears were pouring down my face onto his little funny shaped head and I was apologising profusely. Swearing I’d never fail again.
Parenting certainly is a swift learning curve, and as you go through the weeks and the months and the years, It’s your job to fail, so as you can learn from it. In times where I feel like he’s got all the food and the love and the warmth he needs I know this. However it really doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the midst of what really is only a minor screw up.
Family members went home and Matt and I were left with our funny coloured, oddly shaped bundle. He had these beetle black eyes that would only ever open for a few seconds or minutes at a time and the rest of the time he slept. He had no idea what was happening, who we were, who he was and it was clear that he was full of innocence and vulnerability. Helpless and beautiful I could not have loved him more.
A few hours after he was born I decided I had to get out of the stupid bed I had been prisoner to. I told the midwife I had full sensation in my legs (I didn’t) and dragged myself two foot across the room to a chair. Shortly after I pulled myself into a wheelchair, held my baby in my arms and let them wheel me up to our next location, we would be staying the night. This felt good, I would get to hang out with my boys for a bit until Matthew would have to go home and then me and bubs would chill until the morning when Matt could return. I wish. Not long after we’d settled down in our new ‘home’ and Matt and I had squabbled over how to dress, feed and change him (we had no idea). A midwife came into check on us, again she noticed something I had failed to see! His blood sugar was very low and he was quite unwell. Horrible needles were pressed into his pristine new feet and blood was squeezed out of them as he cried. Too unwell to move properly she told me that our baby needed to go down to a special unit and be seen by a more senior doctor. I was horrified, six hours into his life and I’d already failed him twice. Matt went down with them as I wasn’t fooling anyone this time and would have probably ripped myself open attempting the journey. The senior doctor deemed him well enough to return back upstairs to us and we carried on looking at him for a few hours until the midwife returned again.
Matt had to go home. I cried and found it desperately unfair but at least I could stay with our baby, I had no idea how he would cope going back to an empty house and an empty bed after the ordeal of the past few days. Recently the bugger told me he’d got himself a nice McDonald’s on the way home, played a little Fifa and had a blissful sleep. I wish I had his calm.
I stayed up through the night with our son and watched him as he slept, I was so scared that I would break him that often I would gently press the teat of his bottles against his lips or just pull his head in the general direction of my nipple. This was hard for me as it meant he wasn’t eating enough, he had been born a hungry bubba and was still shaking. After several trips up and down from the specialist area we were still unsure whether he was well or not. A midwife with the stubbornness of a mule and determination of a bull dog had a full blown row with the senior doctors and demanded that the baby be admitted to a High Dependancy Unit. I was on three full days of no sleep and starting to shut down. She insisted that she would take him down and stay with him so I could sleep. I allowed her to take him but refused to close my eyes. A few hours later when the sun started to rise I opened my eyes and looked for my son. He wasn’t there. I had no idea how much time had passed and guessed it hadn’t been too long. A new midwife glided into the ward and I started to panic. I explained the situation to her and she said she’d call down and find out what was happening. The NHS these days is so disgustingly stretched, over worked and understaffed that it soon came to light that in effect they had lost my son. Matt had returned when we had this news and AGAIN I had shut my eyes and failed my baby. Strike three, you’re out.
Hours and hours passed and we were told that he was in the unit but would be coming back up to us very soon. This weird game of poor communication went on for ages. We tried to demand but no no they were sure he’d be back soon, we didn’t need to go down. Finally, I’d had enough. Another shift change had happened (eight hours had passed) and I decided to tackle the new midwife. Luckily she found out a little more and allowed us to go and see him. He was a day old and I’d already spent as much time with him as without. I definitely wasn’t going to be handed a parenting certificate.
I raced down to the unit as fast as my broken body would allow and leaned against the buzzer without relenting until about five minutes passed and someone let us in. We stripped ourselves of any extras and covered our skin in soaps and antibacterial washes. We were pointed towards a room and I stepped in. The ward was filled with incubators, tubes, flashing lights and alarms. The tiniest babies I had ever seen, the sickest babies I had ever seen. Unable to open their eyes, move their bodies I stared around at them all shocked by their see-through skin. But where was mine? At a very decent 8lb 5oz he was double the weight of some of these babies. Matt and I carefully trod through the room looking for him. Behind a pillar was a stand alone cot free of wires and lights and alarms. There he was, sleeping soundly was our little chub. Relief spread over me. A nurse came and asked who we were.
“I’m his mother.” I replied shortly.
“Where have you been?” She said.
“We were told we weren’t allowed to come and see him because he was going to be coming back to us.” I tried to explain.
As deadpan as she could but with eyes full of judgement of me she retorted, “I did wonder, he’s been alone for hours. He’s doing much better though.”
She left and I turned to Matt, he was crying. My face crumbled as I stared at him. Had I allowed this to happen? Had the hospital? Should I have fought against what I had been told, demanded to see my son even though I was under the impression that he was soon to be returned or unable to be seen? I’d put all my faith in a system and in the hands of incredible professionals but it had left our baby parentless for near on ten hours. Failure. Complete and utter failure.
The full story of the days in hospital with our baby will be written later, but for now I’ll continue down my path of ‘failures’. The time came for us to leave the hospital and take our black eyed boy home, I was petrified. I hadn’t passed any tests or analysis that deemed me a fit mother. I’d had three months to prepare and that had only allowed me to think of logistics, emotionally I was incredibly unprepared. As we left the hospital, my legs swollen to a quite frightening size and pain coursing through me a midwife stopped us on the way out. She informed us that babies were now only allowed to travel in car seats for up to 1/2 an hour at a time and if our journey was longer we would have to make a stop. The journey home was realistically around 32 minutes and I feared for his life the whole way. Were we supposed to stop just around the corner, give him a shuffle and then continue home? These kind of insane thoughts really do cross your mind when you’ve just acquired something so precious.
We returned home and everything was fine. Of course it was. The weeks and months afterwards undoubtedly followed with many ‘failings’ on my part, but that day was the worst. I’d often heard about the three day depression that some mothers feel but by god was I unaware of how it would feel. I screamed and cried for most of the day absolutely terrified about what I had done. I was in no position to look after this baby but what could I do? Matt and I argued horrifically and as I was having a rather disabled and wild tantrum in our bedroom my Mother brought us together. This was not her fault, but she hadn’t been aware of or seen me and Matt washing our hands much and was worried that we weren’t being hygenic enough.
“There’s something I need to talk to you two about” she said. Tears were filling her eyes.
Was she unwell? Did she know something about our son that we didn’t? What was happening?
“I’m worried about your hygiene, I’m unsure if you’re aware but it’s incredibly important to wash wash wash and wash your hands again with a new baby. It could be very dangerous if you don’t.” Something along those lines she blurted. Now Matt and I had been taking great care, I’d been dragging myself to and from this dinky little sink in the hospital and had generally been terrified about touching him for fear of infecting him with I don’t know what. But these words. Just a gentle nudge from her from a place of love stabbed me in the heart like no words had before. That was it. I was an awful mother. My mother thought so! Questions flooded through my mind, should she take him? Should I admit defeat now and put him up for adoption? Will social services want to speak to me.
The answer looking back now was a resounding NO. However in that moment it was all I could think of. We hadn’t bought bloody hand sanitiser and my son would probably die because of it.
There are lots of smaller moments and incidents that happen when you’re learning the ropes of parenthood. Times when their head lolls, you fall asleep with them on the sofa, you don’t wake up the second they cry and you occasionally have five seconds where you forget they even exist! For me, the biggest ‘failure’ and challenge that was about to hit me was breastfeeding. The word to this day still gives me the shivers.
Breastfeeding is natural. Breastfeeding is best. Breastfeeding will help you lose weight. Breastfeeding ensures you bond with your baby. Breastfeeding is the best thing ever! For me, it really wasn’t.
A couple of days after he was born my milk flooded in in a matter of minutes. My former size D breasts jumped up to a G and were a strange hectagonal shape (they were engorged). They were blistering hot and my nipples were flat, milk would literally drip from them onto the carpet and they were excruciatingly painful. Needless to say, I couldn’t feed properly. I could get him to latch on and when he did Matt would have to pin me down to a chair as I shrieked, a spiking pain would course from my nipple through my body down to my toes. I would tip back in my chair hot tears falling from my face as I gasped for air desperate to throw my baby from me. Days and nights and nights and days of this continued. I started to cry whenever he woke up and my nipples started to crack and bleed. At one point an actual piece of it ripped off and I was devastated. Thankfully it has now re-grown/healed. We took trips to the midwives and spent hours and money trying to make this thing work. There was no way in hell I was going to be incapable of breastfeeding so something had to happen. We found out the baby and I both had thrush, I had mastitis and yet I persevered. Feeling the social pressure of ‘breast is best’.
My midwife came to see us after 10 days of this ludicrous life and asked me how it was going.
“Yeah it’s absolutely fine!” I lied.
“Isn’t it just the best feeling in the world, don’t you love him so much?” She said.
“I know, it’s the best… indescribable.” I lied again. I looked at my baby (thankfully asleep) and realised no, I didn’t love him. Something had changed. He caused me pain, he caused me tears and he caused me anger and frustration. I knew I wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt him, but love? It had dimmed.
My parents came to visit nearer the two week mark and as my mum was busy making coffee for us my dad looked at me. I burst into tears, I stared at him for a good few seconds and whispered.
“Daddy, help me. I can’t do it. Something is wrong with me.” Everyone had known that I was so set on breastfeeding that they hadn’t openly questioned whether it was the right thing to do. I told him how I was starting to feel towards my baby and he made an executive decision.
He zoomed over to the supermarket and bought some baby formula. I hadn’t been out of the house in two weeks for fear of having to feed in public and strangers seeing me scream and cry. My Dad packed us all up with the formula despite my protests and took us on a walk. My son woke up as we reached a playground and the feeling of dread and nausea spilled over me. My Dad handed me a bottle of formula and I realised what I had to do. What had previously been my biggest failing was soon going to turn full circle into my biggest uprising. I held my son against the May breeze and fed him. He drank and drank and I held him closer, I looked into his eyes but this time without tears blurring my vision, without screaming filling the silence. I was in fact doing the best thing I could have done, I was loving him, he was happy. I was happy. We were okay. What I had thought would be my biggest failing in giving up breastfeeding was actually going to turn into my greatest triumph. I had the freedom to mother, and mother I would!
Since then, many more failures have happened. He’s fallen off the sofa, I’ve clocked his head against a cupboard door, he’s tipped himself out of a chair. I’ve run out of milk and had to dash to the shop with a hungry baby, I’ve smeared food all over his face and forgotten to pack wipes or nappies. But I’m learning that these things happen. You’ll have moments where people seem to criticise you or question your judgment but when you look deep down within yourself you know that 100% of the time you are doing your all for your baby. You would never do what you didn’t think was best and if you have a slight mishap it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad mother. You might be part of the breast feeding gang or the formula gang. The sofa gang or the buggycise gang. You might let them cry or pick them up as soon as they squeak. You might bath them every night or every other. You may sing to them or spare them your out of tune warbling. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are bringing them up exactly how you think is right and doing what works for you and the baby. Take good advice and guidance where needed, ask questions and seek opinion. But never forget that no one knows them like you do and if they want to judge you flip ’em a finger and tell them to jog on.