In the trenches
This weekend, I visited a dear friend of mine. She is a brand-new mum of the sweetest little one month old. One month she has been coasting along on this life changing journey of motherhood after being thrust into this new world of sleepless nights, analysing baby poo and bleeding nipples. I really shouldn’t say coasting, because if you’ve ever been a brand-new mum, you would know firsthand how fucking far from ‘coasting’ it is. It’s different for everyone, but we all know that if you’re ‘coasting’ then you have some kind of magic we all want a piece of. Stat.
After filling my friend’s fridge with food and nursing her sweet babe for as long as I could before I had to hand her over for a feed, I just sat with my friend. I sat and listened. She looked equal parts exhausted and angelic while feeding her little babe. As she offloaded all that has been her last month, I simply listened. I listened to her recount the horrors of the night time shift, listened to her talk about not knowing what was normal, listened to her seek clarification for when to stress and when to take a breath. I gave advice when I could, shared my experiences when they seemed welcome and offered strategies or ideas to try when she seemed stuck. But, as I sat in awe of her magic, her beauty, I couldn’t help but feel her exhaustion, feel her concern, feel her overwhelm, feel it all right to my core. For, not so long ago, I was her, right there stuck in the trenches. Those, deep, dark, newborn trenches.
It all starts out rosy, all butterflies and rainbows, because newborns have a lot going for them – they’re cute AF, oft long awaited for and well, absolute miracles. Boom! But the advertisement for motherhood, while noting plenty of side effects – lack of sleep, feeding pain, financial burden - does NOT prepare you in the slightest for those first few months - the trenches.
Even with a ‘good’ newborn, you can’t avoid the trenches. You can’t avoid the missed showers, the cold coffees, the midnight wakes and the cluster feeding. You can’t avoid the constant fog of dry shampoo, the inability to get out of the house and the hours upon hours upon hours laying by a cot. You’re thrust into a new life which requires you to be a version of yourself you haven’t read the manual for yet. It’s bloody tough, even for mums of sleeping, content and easily fed unicorn babies.
It’s amazing how a chat with a new mum or the sound of a newborn cry can take you right back into those trenches after years of being out – you can taste the infants friend on your tongue, feel the crippling pain of yet another bout of mastitis, smell the stale milk that had stained all of your shirts. It’s enough to make you wonder how you ever forgot. It’s been 3 years since I was weighed down hard by our sweet little Noah. He was incredibly exhausting, so agonisingly challenging. I walked in a coffee fuelled daze for the first 9 months of his little life, because he simply didn’t sleep. He also did feed well. Nor did he like anyone else holding him. Or anyone being near him. Or talking about him. Or breathing within a square mile of him. He was THAT kid. It was hell.
My stay in the trenches with my little comrade Noah reached almost a full year. Over 300 days of hormone fuelled emotions made worse by torturous sleep deprivation and the lack of answers for months of a baby in pain.
I was permanently dog-tired. Like fall asleep mid-feed then startle awake with fear of smothering my babe kind of tired. The exhaustion was debilitating, to the point of honestly checking myself before getting behind the wheel, before bathing the toddler, before stepping out in traffic.
I was resentful. I resented my husband for not having boobs and because the baby never wanted him. I resented my friends who had babies who slept. I resented my colleagues for being able to go to work and function like an adult.
I always felt consumed by something. Be it the way he only slept in 35-minute stints or the tiny change in the way he latched, getting the routine right to maximise growth or whether to baby led wean. I was consumed with matching what I ate to the way he slept and how the way I burped him may have affected his tummy pain.
I constantly doubted myself. I doubted by own knowledge of my baby. How could I, his mother, not be able to ease his pain or put him to sleep or figure out what he wanted. The things that worked for my first baby, the things that worked for him yesterday, the things that worked 10 minutes ago weren’t working. I doubted my parenting, my sanity, my judgement. Never in my life have I ever felt so incapable, underprepared, out of my depth.
I often felt fleeting moments of anxiety and Google absolutely was not my friend. The hours of crying, the screeches of pain, the bloody stools and the complete powerlessness to be able to settle him had me thinking the worst things in the world. I was anxious that he was sick, that the doctors didn’t check him properly, that something wasn’t right.
Those trenches were dark. At times I honestly wondered how we would ever get out. But it came, as my mum would always say ‘this too shall pass’. And it did pass, but not without its agony. In that time, I had support by the bucket load – a very hands on, empathetic husband, a family who would come and stay to take night shifts, friends dropping off food and supplies and an online community of mothers sharing all of their magic tips and tricks. Along with that, I sought professional advice from my GP, a paediatrician, a chiropractor, an osteopath, a naturopath, a breast-feeding specialist and community nurse. But, regardless of the village, the nights were still terrifyingly long, the monotony of the days enough to make me want to gouge my eyes out and the relentless attempts still failing week after week.
It was brutal. As you can tell, I haven’t sugar coated it. It was a blessing that I didn’t get PND. Noah was finally diagnosed with cow’s milk protein allergy at 9 months old. It was a very welcome diagnosis and after a diet change for both of us, some strategies to help his pain and some natural remedies for undoing the horror that was his little life so far, we found some respite. But, diagnosis aside, this is not out of the ordinary, my experience is not rare. So many mothers (and fathers) have been buried in the newborn trenches without even a glimmer of a flashlight. It’s hard core and I know that feeling all too well.
So, as I sat with my dear friend, while I adored my newborn cuddles, I was more there for her. I wanted her to know that she is not alone, and her emotions are valid and worthy of being heard. I made sure she knew that there will be a light – it may be down the track, but whatever is consuming her now, will pass, if only to make way for a new worry. I reminded her that she has got this, even in the darkest moments, she has got this.
If you are out of the trenches, well done on surviving mumma, you are a miracle walking.
If you are still deep in them, just do whatever you need to get through the day and seek help if you are not coping or simply need some respite – never be too proud, your baby needs you well and sane.
If you are about to become a brand new mum, congratulations sweet one, you’re in for the most incredible yet challenging ride of your life – rally your troops.
Go gently, mummas.