Why didn’t anyone tell me?

I have this friend who I love dearly – she really is one of my best friends.

There is about a 7 year age difference between us – she is younger than me.  We get on like a house on fire, and she makes me laugh so much that it makes my soul smile.  She is one of the most beautiful and vibrant people I know.

She got married about four years ago and had a baby recently.

I recall chatting to her when she was pregnant.  There were several moments where I really wanted to “bring her down” and discuss the “someone should tell you the reality of pregnancy, birth and the thereafter…” but I felt she was so happy and optimistic, and maybe it would be different for her …. maybe. 

I decided to leave it, and only tell her something if she asked specifically.

She knew I chatted on forums and she knew I wrote a blog because I found all things motherhood a challenge. For me it was lonely and I did not really have someone who was telling me the “real stuff” or again maybe I was not listening.

At the time my biggest lament was “why did no one tell me that it was going to be like this….”

But that being said,  I was not going to be a downer on someone else’s rather happy parade. 

If they are all excited and optimistic about it, and prefer not to hear, then I am quite happy to smile pleasantly and let them remain happy.

She kept saying “I know it will be hard but thousands of women do it and I will be fine…”

And though I really felt I wanted to put my hand up and go “I really need to tell you what you are letting yourself in for ..” I resisted and instead opted  to take the high road and say little or nothing. 

<I really had to chew the inside of my cheek, as saying nothing is not part of my natural makeup.>

Fekn hell.

She had a natural birth that included screaming, tearing, baby getting stuck at the shoulder, baby being suctioned, OBGYN screaming (screaming) I NEED HELP HERE, OGBYN doing purl-plain-purl-plain to put her back together again, and and and …. (listen, I think she is a super hero for making it through, really, I might have stood up and said “Okay that is about as far as I am going here – someone give me gas or general anasthetic, and someone get this frikkn baby out …. because I am done!!”)

When I visited her later on “birth day” she had that far-away look like when someone sees something horrific.  It was as if she had survived something huge, but had seen the dark side and was now had a haunted look about her.

But we laughed and I patted her hand, and listened to her talk about her going home and how that was going to be …and I patted her hand a bit more, because she did not appear to be worried.

Again I felt an overriding urge to go “er…….” but I didn’t.  She seemed happy, she seemed confident, and that was enough to keep me quiet, and for hells sake she had just been through Hades.

She got home and unfortunately that is really where the fun started.

Baby is struggling to latch, she is stressed and upset and clearly not sleeping, and is making nearly daily trips to the clinic – I really really feel sorry for her.  When I speak to her I can feel her pain, and I want to cry with her.

Why can I feel her pain?  Because I was there.

And so were most (if not all) first time mothers. 

We have lived that hell of arriving home with your new born.   You are about 5km from that Linus blanket that is the nurses red button, and suddenly that sleepy little fresh smelling baby is screaming and you do not have a clue how to cope.  You are hormonally overloaded, your body is exhausted and nothing is working like it says it will in the books.

Nothing.

She is trying to breastfeed and its fkn difficult and it is not working.  But she has all this pressure that she must and she is weeping and wondering if it makes her a bad mother if she does not breastfeed!

Oh my heavens, my heart bleeds for her. I wish I could tell her that it will be better tomorrow, but we all know that first 6 – 8 weeks is like a slow ride to Danté’s hell without coins to pay the ferryman to get out of it.

And then she says: “Why did no one tell me that it was going to be like this…?” with a sort of hysterical note in her voice.

I love this girl – I really do!!

The short answer is, no one tells you because no one listens.

Everyone thinks that they are going to have this miracle pregnancy and this “soft light and roses” birth, followed by  the new little family skipping off into the sunset.  It is all going to be heaven and soft milky baby burps from here on in.

As sorry as I do feel for her – and I do – part of me smiles – not because I am a mean person – and quite possibly because I am – but because sh&t we all go through this, and I remember it, not fondly, I just remember it.

<but I do hope for her that this 6 weeks passes quickly, she regains her sanity and that this is a small bump on her road with her new baby …. I really do>

Gawd help you if you try to tell a pregnant first time mom about the “big bad world” because she will raise her perfectly plucked eyebrow and place her left hand – so you can see the glint of her wedding ring –  gently onto her perfect bump, and tell you in no uncertain terms that you are sorely mistaken, she has this under control.

And that is why when I see a really happy pregnant first time mom, I smile, take a really large sip of my Chenin Blanc, lean over and go: “So how’s it all going?” with a slightly evil glint in my eye.

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Throwing the baby out with the bath water …

I did this post back in June for http://www.moomie.co.za and I must confess to feeling quite proud of this piece.  I like the ones that are real and honest, and this was one of those.

I totally forgot about the post, and then this morning Nayeela asked me for a copy, so thanks Nayeela for reminding me about this post.  I hope those who have read it on moomie will forgive me and not mind re-reading it.

I’ve often wondered why we do not tell new moms about the hell that follows once they arrive home with their new baby.

There seems to be this unwritten law that we should not scare them too much.  Or possibly it is that they will not believe it until it starts to happen to them.  Of late I have started to believe the latter.

The hell I am referring to is the emotional trauma and the screaming that you and your partner/husband/supplier of sperm/supporter of pregnancy/nearest and dearest will go through around week six to eight of your new baby being home.

It might start on day one, it might not start for several weeks, but it will start (insert Dr Evil’s laugh here).

Pregnancy is much like your honeymoon. The two of you are aglow with the wonders of what your loins have done. You have affirmed your lineage will continue. Your partner is elated that his sperm has proved to be virile, you are a bask in the glow of pregnancy.

You feel that you have single-handedly saved the entire human race.  Here in your uterus sits the off-spring that could find a cure of cancer or at the very least a system for not losing the remote control on the couch.

Ah it is glorious heady stuff.  You are invincible, you are pregnant.

Your energies are focused on the birth of the baby.  Where partner will stand, who will hold the camera, whether you will ask for some homeopathic meds or sell you soul for one prick of the anesthetist’s epidural needle.   From about month five every waking (and sleeping moment) is  consumed with all this planning.

You have various scenarios in your mind, but the one that stands out for you, is that picture of you, the picture of the perfect you.  You, still wearing mascara, and a touch of lip-gloss, cuddling your bundle, while your partner stares at you longing as if you are the original mother mary.

Intoxicating  days these.

You survive child-birth.  You survive the medical staff and you make it home.  You are smiling and coo’ing and everyone has agreed that this is the sweetest baby ever to bless the earth.

You and your partner are so pleased with yourselves right now.  You might even cure leprosy later on in the afternoon, nothing is beyond you right now.

The visitors go home, the medication and euphoria starts to wear off.  You are starting to ache.

You really love your baby, but have deciced that you no longer love your baby between 2 and 6am.  You are sleep deprived, your nipples feel like you have been cast in a low-budget porn movie, you are not feeling your best as you have been in your bathrobe since last Monday.

Brushing your teeth has become the highlight of your day – you do not even try to floss, as really there is not enough time and this often requires two hands, which you seldom have the luxury of right now.

Partner kisses you on the forehead and skips off to work.  At some point you stand there – usually in the middle of the kitchen, still in your grubby bathrobe, and ask yourself  “What exactly happened here … this is not how I pictured it…and why is that shmuck not with me in this?”

You can’t say it out loud as the baby has finally fallen asleep and you need to sort of rock him to-and-fro, to-and-fro or he is going to start screaming again, but you think it.  Yes, you think it, and think it and think it.

You now glance over at the kitchen clock and start counting the hours down for husband (you have dropped the dear part) to come home.  By the time he arrives home, you pretty much shove the baby into his arms, scream at him about being late.

Then scream at him about something unrelated and stomp off in a furore.  You are waiting for baby to start crying, because now husband can get an earful of what you have had to put up with all day …

But nothing … you listen … and there is nothing.  So you sneak quietly down to the lounge … and there he is … baby propped on his shoulder … not a care in the world … he has a beer in the other hand and he is watching Super Sport … and looks at you like: “ This isn’t hard, what are you complaining about!”

This is where the cracks start.

Late at night as you wake to go and feed the baby you look over at your partner who is fast asleep and you wonder if you can stab him the shoulder with a fork!  You know you can, but you wonder if you can do deep tissue damage with just one fork stab, or whether you will need to do it numerous times.

Partner does not move while you feed, burp, and quiet baby.  You shlepp down the passage, put baby down and return to bed.  Right now the warm-even breathing of your partner is making you so angry you want to smother him.  Instead you roll over, being sure to jab him with your elbow in his back and then you eventually doze off.  Only to be awoken 5 minutes later by baby who needs to feed…..

You repeat the cycle, each time hating your partner for the fact that he has undisturbed sleep.

Next morning you wake up and he is getting ready for work.  He smiles at you, all happy, as if he has let you sleep in – never mind that in total since 1am, you have had about 45 minutes sleep.  He gets his clean clothes on, kisses you on the forehead (because you have not brushed your teeth) and goes off to work.

And now your mild dislike has turned to hate.

It is actually his fault that this has all happened, and now he gets to go to work, talk to adults, surf Facebook and drink hot cups of coffee all day.  You hate him for every hour he is away.  The problem is when he drags his sorry arse in the door after work, you hate him for every hour he is home as well.

He has no idea what you go through, he does not realise that you have been crying for 6 hour straight.  He has no idea that you are so exhausted right now, you would swap places with a vagrant to get some sleep.

He has no idea that what is happening to you now does not gel with the picture you had in your head of this entire process. You love your baby – but right now, you really do not love being with him.

The right thing to say is that “this is the best thing in the world…” but maybe it isn’t.  Maybe it is really hard and maybe you are really struggling.  The thing you can’t understand is that no one has really told you how difficult it is going to be, and now you are really struggling.

Your partner does not understand, actually he has no clue what is going on. You are angry and upset and the person who is going to take the brunt of it is the poor sap who comes whistling through the front door at about 17h30 each day.

You start fighting with him because he goes to work.  You fight with him because he is at work.  You fight with him because he is at home.  You fight with him because he can’t change the baby the way you want him to do it.   You fight with him because he does not know which babygrower to use … well basically you fight with him because he exists (don’t even start with me about the fact that he has to breath so damn loud!).

Husband is starting to wonder if this having a baby was such a good idea, and at some point will make a statement of the sort.

This will be a bit like throwing gasoline on a fire, and you will unfortunately start saying some things you wish you had not said.  He is so annoyed as he does not know his wife anymore, and instead has this hormone soaked creature to deal with, so he will retaliate with something else, and you will have a come back which is akin to kicking him in the gonads.

And from there the situation will turn ugly.

But believe it or not  ….  you eventually start to get saner and realise that you (and him) are living through what feels like the apocalypse.  It does take a while before you realise that you and your partner are actually in this together.  You need to rely and lean on each other to get through this, rather than taking pot shots at each other as you run across the minefield.

You also start to wonder “why do couples who are in distress think having a baby is going to bring them closer?” when good sense tells us that a baby is the most strain you can subject on a relationship.

Don’t worry I wonder the same thing.

When my friends, who are young and in-love, have baby-showers I really want to give them vouchers for sessions of couple counseling.  Unfortunately decorum gets the better of me, and I buy them bibs and baby shoes like everyone else, and try not make them feel less invincible than they do right then.

Surviving the first few months

Within the first month after we got home with Georgia, Kennith had Kilimanjaro to climb and spent some time in Zanzibar.  I was at home looking after a new born and a 3-year-old.

Clearly he got the better end of the deal.  After the MBA Kennith’s horizons had shifted and he wanted to be challenged more at work, and his views on life also started to shift.  He had definitely changed, in a good way.  I think for him, he was also going through some fundamental changes in his life in terms of what was happening in his head.

While pregnant I had been approached with a job which was near to home and allowed me real flexibility – it was not hang challenging, but the idea of easy really appealed at the time.

When Georgia was 28 days old, I headed to work. We had a lovely Xhosa speaking nanny at the time, and she was really wonderful with Georgia – I also used to work flexi time, so it allowed me opportunity to pop in and visit with her when ever I wanted to.

I felt okay, I went to work, I chased around collecting kids and bringing them home and life sort of ticked by.  The relationship between Kennith and I was limping by.  I was focused on the kids, and he was out conquering the world.

At a birthday party we attended, a mutual couple we are friends with, announced that they were in the process of starting divorce proceedings .  I always viewed my friend’s relationship as solid, and felt that if they could not make it who could?  Definitely not us based on our present state of affairs.

It really sent me into a bit of a tailspin and I began insisting that Kennith and I start doing couple therapy – I was not sure it would work, and had no idea what it involved, but if I was doing something, then I was sure I would start to feel better.  Things were pretty bad and we just did not know how to make it better.

Eventually Kennith agreed and we went along to couple counseling.  I thought that we might have found a 3rd person who could fix us, because hell, we sure as well were so far down the line, that we could not fix ourselves.

So you think you’re alone now

It really is quite blissful having a first baby – you feel like you have given birth to a messiah and you are just blooming.

It really is so wonderful and you feel dreadfully special – like the world has chosen you to be the one – the one WHAT is still open to interpretation.

For me it was all soft and flowery around the edges and I felt like I was being carried around on a pedestal.  Everyone smiled at me, and people drop by and bring you presents and congratulate you – it really is all quite good for one’s self-esteem.

I remember with such clarity when my lovely bubble burst.  Connor was born in December so we had the benefit of a lot of holiday and Kennith took some time off work to cherish his new family (The family Walton’s theme tune plays in the background.)

Then one day, the sun came up, and he put on his work clothes and seemed to make movements that indicated he was going to be going somewhere.  As the morning wore on, he picked up his car keys, gave me a peck on the cheek opened the front door and disappeared through it.

I remember how shocked I was as the car drove off – I was standing on our little stoep in my jammies holding this baby and wondering “what the hell do I do now.” I kept thinking this was some practical joke and he was going to turn around and come back saying “ha ha that was funny!!!”  (er, not so much …..)

I came back inside looked at the clock on the wall and it was 7:05am – and I calculated that it was going to be 11 hours until Kennith walked back in the door at about 6:00pm.  Who thought it was a good idea to leave ME alone with a baby?  And more importantly WHAT was I going to do for 11 hours with a baby!!  I was so scared and really felt quite lost.

True to form the day was chaos/scary and jammies seemed the easiest outfit to go with puke and spilt milk.  It might be the crazy pattern that hides all the stuff you spill on yourself all afternoon.

The day stood before me as a great open crevasse of time.  It soon got filled with feeding, burping, bum changing, making tea, more feeding, burping, bum changing and so on.  Busy – but not terribly fulfilling – am I allowed to admit to that?

I really do love the sage advice people give you about sleep when the baby sleeps. It is such great advice, but I think anyone who has had a baby will be able to testify, even though the books say that a new born baby should sleep for 16 – 20 hours of a day, somehow it does not seem like that.

If they were sleeping for 20 hours, why are you not getting your 8 hours of sleep – why are you walking around like the zombie extra from the Thriller video?

If they sleep for 20 hours why are you not lying on the couch Nutella smeared sandwiches and watching the box set of Desperate Housewives?  Because every insane new mother knows that they do not sleep for 20 hours – after three I still can’t tell you how much they actually sleep, but they definitely do not sleep for 20 hours.

Sleep is when you are in a coma like position and lie down and remain there for a few hours – babies do not do this!!  I am lucky if I get 20 – 45 minute breaks from my baby, and that is only because I have been breastfeeding him for what feels like 3 hours to try and get him to be calm and be sleepy.  Sure my nipples are about 5cm longer than when I started and throbbing like no-one’s business, but anything for some peace and quiet.

Really there is no sleep for the wicked and I realized this very early on in the relationship I was trying to forge with my son.

By the time 3pm swings round, I am watching that clock like a hawk and literally watching the minutes tick by in anticipate of Kennith walking through the door.  By 5pm I am climbing the walls, and by 6pm I am in a rage.

Poor unsuspecting Kennith skips in from his little day at the office and I am the lead character in the Omen, and practically throw the baby at him – usually with a  phrase like “Why the hell are you late?” or “Do you know what I have been through today?” Either way it is small wonder that our partners start to work that little bit later …. of course this tactic does nothing to calm our inner bitch and as the weeks tick by our rage does tend to turn towards our partners.

I recall thinking that “we” were in this together.  Remember how “we” were pregnant?

Well I was pretty shocked when the “you” part of “we” toddled off to work and left me holding the baby.  How come this has become MY problem when “we” were so much a part of this before.

It’s all quite shocking stuff, and really unless you have been there – difficult to imagine how absolutely lonely and desolate you feel.

It does pass – eventually – but not before you have made best friends with the wine bottle and the cork screw, maybe had a bit of therapy and if you are lucky some mind altering medication –  maybe even have a go at couple therapy with a lovely therapist in Kenilworth …… ah happy times.