When I think back to the first weeks and months after Eliah was born, it literally seems hazy to me. Like in one of those TV shows when they want to show that something is a flashback? Maybe I have just been watching too much Netflix. That time seems so surreal, even though it was only 17 months ago. It is probably a combination of shock, sleep deprivation and hormones (well everything is explained by hormones when you have a baby isn’t it? So I just assume hormones factor into it somewhere). Anyway, as wonderful and exhilarating and life-completing as that time was, it was a HUGE challenge for me, WELL beyond what I was expecting. And as I said in my previous post, my over analytical brain has been musing over why this was. And on reflection my brain did kind of stumble onto some thoughts.
There is a counsellor named Gordon Bruin, who specialises in addiction and recovery. He came up with an acronym BLAST, which stands for:
Bored. Lonely. Anxious. Stressed. Tired.
He came up with this acronym to speak to his clients about their common “triggers”. Things that drive them to the edge; that trigger them to feed their addiction, whatever it may be; alcohol, drugs, even food.
I myself also like to use it to kind of do an emotional “check in” when I’m not feeling right, but don’t really know why. I find it is a good starting point for self-reflection, and also for discussion when someone asks “what’s wrong”- which I never have an answer for, so I always resort to “I don’t know”, “nothing”, or “this is just my face, deal with it”.
In thinking about post-partum, I’ve realised that not one but ALL of these “triggers” came into play for me. No wonder I was tapped out! And here I am just going to go on for a bit to hopefully explore a bit about how each of them came up for me personally in that period.
I never really wanted babies. There, I said it. Kids, yes, babies not so much. To me, babies are cute, but they’re very boring. It’s a pretty one sided relationship for a while there, with SEVERAL long weeks of thanklessly wiping bums, feeding bellies, bathing, massaging and rocking to sleep before you even get so much as a hint of a smile, which is probably just gas anyway. Don’t worry, it gets ridiculously fun and unimaginably hilarious when they can interact a bit more, but at the start, they are a bit of a lump. You know you’ve thought it too. You know it. You think that too right? Am I normal?! ANYWAY, the days feel really long when you are doing everything in a 1.5 hour “feed – play – sleep” cycle (I’m only half sure I got the order right there, cos I was never good at following a schedule). There are a lot of 1.5 hour periods in a day and they don’t end at 8:30pm like my day used to! The nights can be super long and lonely…Which brings me to my next point.
I’ve spoken before about being an introvert; so you’d think loneliness wouldn’t be a massive issue for me. Day after day, no work, alone at home with someone who sleeps every 1.5 hours (well that’s the plan) and can’t talk yet; sounds great, right up my alley! But it wasn’t great; I felt isolated and trapped in it.
Loneliness is not the same as solitude. I see solitude as intentional, an intentional space between me and the world. A way to recharge, to connect with the energy inside me and to ground myself. But loneliness isn’t that. Loneliness to me is a sense of separateness. Everyone else is the same as they were; I am different. Everyone else is at work; I’m at home. In the middle of the night, everyone is asleep. I am awake. All “little” things, but enough to make me feel…separate. Lonely.
“They” say (whoever “they” are) that it takes a village to raise a child. After I had Eliah, I didn’t have my village. Well, I had them, but they weren’t close in proximity. My family (both Gavin’s side and mine) are all interstate. Well rather, we are interstate, since we are the ones who moved away, about 6 years prior. I was feeling it, every kilometre!
The plan was for the whole family to come up and stay for a couple of weeks. We asked for a week or two to settle in as a new unit of three and then it was family holiday time! The problem was that Eliah was born five weeks early, so it actually ended up being seven weeks before ANYONE in our families was going to meet him. Unacceptable. My mum and mum-in-law ended up flying up for a few days each to visit beforehand, so that was awesome. But then they had to go home again. Boo.
When hubby had to go back to work after a week at home with me, and the mums had gone home, I was left to my own devices with baby Eliah. And here comes the next point.
Anxiety was pervasive and penetrating in those first weeks. First up was the most important concern: How do I keep an actual human being alive? I couldn’t produce milk: Yes, that Lactation Consultant from my last post was obviously an utter failure at her job; my “great boobs” were “udderly” useless (see what I did there?) Eliah developed jaundice and kept losing weight. But I couldn’t put him on formula, the home visit “L.C” insisted, because it was “poison” and “anything good you’ve ever heard about formula is due to their great marketing”. She went on to explain that I would need to breastfeed every two hours until Eliah was at least two, like she did with her two twin babies and her two-year-old kidlet, sometimes all at the same time. (*Inner monologue: Did she have three boobs? I did sneak a peek, I must admit, because even in my sleep deprived state I thought that didn’t sound right; we do only have two right?*) But what about when I went back to work in 18 weeks, I asked? Well, I would just have to figure it out, she said, and take my pump to work. I did actually have a great pump, lent to me by a great friend, but not only was it no better at milking me than Eliah was, but also I wasn’t sure that my clients at work would appreciate talking to me while I was strapped up to an electronic milking machine. Cue anxiety that I was going to have to resort to poisoning my son (spoiler alert: He’s fine. Although when I said this to a mum who bottle shamed me in the chemist one day while buying formula, she told me “I’m not really aiming for just “fine” for my babies” so I was put back in my box. He is fine though). Besides feeding him, there were many, many other things to be anxious about, I could go on all day, but I won’t. Summary of my worries: Is he normal, am I normal, am I doing a good job, did I actually put my pants on like I had planned?
The amount of new information you have to learn when you have a newborn at home is flipping unbelievable. I felt quite stressed, especially when hubby went back to work and I was on my own with bub. Apart from the actual keeping a human being alive business, there is their STUFF! Oh man…I am really not a spatially aware person, so having to figure all this stuff out was a source of major stress for me. The carseat! The capsule! The pram. The cot. The baby swing. The Hugabub baby wrap thingy. The steriliser, the pump, washing nappies and what the heck a “dry pail” is. Wowzers. Mind meltdown and brain overload. STRESS!
This one is short and self-explanatory.
I never slept. Never. That is all.
In short, thanks to Gordon Bruin’s fab little acronym, I’ve realised it is normal for us with newborns to feel this sense of overwhelm! ALL of the most common triggers for causing us distress, and needing to resort to our coping mechanisms, whatever they may be – come up quite significantly during this stage. If you are going through this stage now, please remember this, give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it at all, and remind yourself “this too shall pass!” It gets really, really good!