There’s nothing quite like a bit of infertility or loss to feel entirely incompetent as a human being. After all, reproduction should be pretty simple to master, right? You wee on a stick, say, ‘Here we go again,’ and things go wrong. They might not be realistically within your control—but your body, your failure, eh?
You then have a chance of a golden ticket. You not only become pregnant but you stay pregnant. Now, after all those previous incompetencies, surely this one must fail too? The further along you go, you start to smile a little, but still, at the back of your mind, you are waiting for that failure, the point where it all goes wrong. So panic attacks are regular but, as someone who has had anxiety all of their life, you can mostly deal with it by yourself. You are spotted by the mental health in pregnancy team and given additional support.
Your due date looms and passes. People tease you about how big the baby will be but all you have fixed in your mind is how frightened you are that the baby is going to die either before or during birth. Nobody really takes you seriously and when the midwife says that there is no chance of an elective C-section, you break down with such a certain fear that you will still not get to take a healthy, happy baby home.
Labour then starts a couple of days later. It is terrifying how little control you have over your body. The pain is dreadful but worse is still that fear that there will be no baby to take home. The midwives are straight forward and full of common sense but your sense of inevitable doom does not help you not to hate them. They see the ‘5+1 gravida’ written at the top of your notes and of course, the fact that you are in the delivery suite should mean that the ‘+1’ will go into the live births side. To you, it constantly slides into the other column and leaves the live births side still at a 0.
After almost 34 hours of labour, the baby is born healthy. You instantly hold her skin-to-skin and welcome her to the world. She doesn’t take to your breast as you’d hoped but you cuddle her close and tight, feeling like it’s just you and her in the world. You didn’t read any baby books during pregnancy because you didn’t think there would be a baby. You have no idea that babies should be fed every 2-3 hours when they are newborn, so due to her lack of latch, she slowly becomes more and more dehydrated. Screaming and crying, because you think she is in pain after her Ventouse delivery, but really it’s because she’s hungry. The doctor does a blood test and finds that her bilirubin levels are much higher than they should be. You keep trying with breastfeeding, hand expressing tiny amounts of colostrum, but due to tiredness, she struggles to stay awake and just cries herself to sleep again. A doctor the following morning then tells you off for not feeding your baby and you go in tears to the head midwife to ask for some formula. Another failure.
Once you finally get home after establishing a strict feeding schedule of pumping and formula, you feel ready to start over. Now is the time to enjoy your baby. The first thing everyone asks is, ‘Is she a good baby?’ You think this is a daft question but you have noticed how much she cries. And cries. And cries. Usually straight after a feed. You think it is just a bit of reflux—not much can be done to stop that, so you try to deal with it by yourself. You notice that when your partner comes home, you can only remember the negative, bad things that have happened. You can remember her clawing at your breast in frustration and the fact that she fed from you for four and a half hours using the plastic nipple to latch on. You know you haven’t brushed your teeth in several days, or showered in two. You know the house is dirty, but it was dirty before you had a baby, so why would it change now?
You go to breastfeeding cafés to try to get her to latch. The tongue tie specialist notices she has a tiny tongue tie that could possibly inhibit her chances of being able to latch. She refers you to the NHS team and tells you to go to your GP to get a referral from them to the tongue tie clinic. You think about it. You talk to family. They say it’s up to you, but in your head you wonder why on earth would you put your baby through an elective procedure that may not even help her? Why would you chose to put your baby through pain for something that might not work? You decide against it, but spend the next few months feeling more and more alone, pumping at all hours of the day and night. People might look oddly at breastfeeders, but my goodness do they dish out some dirty looks and comments about bottle-feeding your baby!
You sign up for a multitude of classes, trying to leave the house between pumpings to meet some more people. They’re great but they still make you feel oddly isolated. Like you don’t belong there. You’re an imposter. You’re not meant to be a mother. Then you and your daughter become poorly within a short space of time. You both end up in hospital (your partner too!) and pumping becomes harder, as you’ve noticed even before the medicine starts that your milk supply is not quite as plentiful. Slowly, it fades to pretty much nothing. You feel a failure again. Failing to feed your baby. Once the feeding stops, that’s the end of the pregnancy. The end of your body supporting hers to thrive.
After everyone recovers and your baby is now on formula, you start going out again. Not quite caring as much about the sideways glances at the bottle in your hand, you try speaking to people and ask them out for coffees, which is not so easy when you’re on maternity pay. Then the panic starts to manifest differently. People can’t see you because they’re busy, but to you it’s because they dislike you and think you’re a terrible mother. Especially when your baby falls out of a seated position in class and bumps their head on the floor or you bump their head on the door as you walk in—all those eyes on you and your poor parenting. You then start having weird moments on buses where you envisage worst case scenarios like buses crashing or cars careering into the bus you’re travelling on. How will you save your baby? If you try to throw yourself over the buggy, will you end up suffocating her? Travelling in lifts, you feel a jolt and start to wonder how you would save her if the lift began to plummet. You then wonder if there is any way you can carry her buggy down from the sixth floor to ensure neither of you die in the lift.
Everybody asks if you’re okay. Your answer is a rehearsed, “I’m fine.”
You’re definitely not. Things are not okay. It is normal to worry as a mum, but it is not normal to have such a racing heart that you think you’re going to pass out. You try to tell people but the moment passes. You feel useless and pathetic, and there is an overriding fear that if you tell someone how you’re feeling, they will take your baby away. You know that if it was your friend who was worrying about how they could protect their baby from possible catastrophes or waiting to fail on the next part, you’d tell them to go and get some help. That people won’t judge. That there is a lot of help out there if you’re ready to accept it. The only problem is you are your own worst judge.