Newborns, Part 2: The First Weeks (aka the flipping hard part!)

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!


Newborns, Part One: The Giving Birth Part (aka the easy part)

My littlest sister is about to pop! bring forth a precious human life into this world. I can’t wait to be an aunty again! My next littlest sister has a newborn at home, and some of my beautiful mother’s group pals are also reproducing. All of this new life has got me reminiscing about giving birth and the newborn stage, and reflecting on just why it is that I found it to be so very, very challenging. I know this is normal, but my over analytical brain wants to know WHY?!

I remember when I was about six months pregnant with my son, one of my sisters said ominously “you have no idea of the shit storm that is about to hit you”. Geez, dramatic much, I thought! “I think I can handle it; I am a psychologist you know”, I said haughtily. Oh, the young are so foolish! (except I wasn’t that young). I cringe now, because she was right! That made me wrong which is never a nice thing to be, I’m not a fan of the feeling. And what did me being a psychologist even have to do with anything? Idiot!

Anyway, the way Eliah came into the world, was that one night when I was 35 weeks pregnant, my waters broke, and it was on like Donkey Kong (but even more ape-like). I freaked out and ran downstairs to very calmly went downstairs and told Gavin “something weird has just happened” and we packed my bag and went to the hospital. After 8 hours of labour, helped along by some gorgeous gas (the pain relief type, the other type probably wasn’t that gorgeous, nor was it helpful to anyone involved) he was here. After such impatience to get out into the world early, he did have a last minute hesitation and try to stay inside me, resulting in him getting stuck and his heart rate dropping dramatically, and me needing an episiotomy, which was really fun. For the most part though, it was relatively straightforward and we were lucky. #soblessed even.

That night, I was in a room with four other people. Two of them had already had their babies, like me. We didn’t talk, but we occasionally exchanged weary smiles, and now looking back I think we all bore the slightly shell shocked look of comrades in arms. “What just happened?” we asked each other silently with our glassy, sleep deprived eyes as we shuffled around the room to the toilet and back, pushing our brand new mini humans in our little glass bassinets on wheels (that they make you take to the toilet and shower and in fact EVERYWHERE with you, can you believe it? No getting used to it slowly around here!) The whole time I was there I was wondering when they were going to take him away to the nursery thingy like in the movies, and let me have a little nap, but I was too embarrassed to ask; LUCKY I didn’t, because nurseries apparently don’t exist anymore, cos they aren’t “baby friendly” or some such malarkey.

The other two ladies in the room were still in labour; they were in my ward (MY ward lol) because the birthing suite was full up; no room at the inn. One of them had been induced, and she was eating McDonalds. It would have actually been pretty handy if she had offered me a chip or two, but she didn’t. Oh well. I’m sure deep down, she is a nice person (damn chip hog).

*SUDDEN THOUGHT – I’m hungry for hot chips*

But I digress…

Anyway, I didn’t get any sleep that night. I mean, at all. I was so afraid my baby wasn’t breathing (he was so still!) that I kept getting up to check. Then every two hours the nurse would come in and make me wake him up to feed him and stick a needle in his foot to check his blood sugar levels, because he was a “sugar baby” which sounds so, so cute, but really just means that I had the diabetes while I was pregnant with him. So after one full night of labour, followed by one night of no sleep on the ward, I was ready to go home to my comfy bed, husband, and puppies. So, home we went: And like all new parents (I expect) we were vaguely surprised when there was very little pomp and circumstance when we left: No parade, farewell party, test, ceremony, not even any user guide. He was all ours now! At one point a nurse did chase after us when we left and I thought “finally”; but we had just dropped a beanie (I’d bought about a squillion of them in the hospital cos what else do you do? I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with them; it was summer).

Anyway, that ended up pretty long and I didn’t even get to tell you about the nurse who had me standing up for half an hour, stitches killing me, insides feeling like they were about to fall out, telling me about how she was going to go be a psychologist but she chose to “actually help people” instead. Or about the Lactation Consultant who told me that if she couldn’t get my breasts to produce milk, she was a complete failure because I had the best boobs she’d ever seen. *BLUSH*. Oh wait, I just did!

I was going to write about the newborn stage and explore why it was so hard for me (and others) in that post, wasn’t I? It ended up so long just talking about the birth, so I will write about “what came next” in the next post – another story for another time!

Thanks for reading, and sorry for the TMI moments!

Love Sally

I am an introverted mum…but I still like you, kid.

Every night (well, not every single night, we’re not in a TV cult or anything, but lots of nights), when the Giggle and Hoot bedtime song comes on, my husband says “Time for the night-night song” and our son puts his head on Gavin’s shoulder, holds my hand, and sits perfectly still until the song is over. (You know the song; “It’s time for all the stars that sparkle in your eyes, to fly through the night and light up the sky”). This is literally the best, cutest thing I have ever seen, and I recently saw a duck who was unlikely friends with a goat at the zoo, so yeah, pretty cute then.

Anyway, shortly after the song, Gavin inevitably becomes sad and asks if we “really have to put Eliah to bed?” I’ve also heard the phrases “I might just go and wake him up” and “when is Eliah going to wake up, I miss him?” pass through his lips at nap time.

Now, I can safely say I have NEVER missed Eliah while its nap time or overnight, nor felt the urge to wake him up to play with him. I have even gone so far as to not turn on the kettle or open the fridge for 2 hours at nap time, in fear of the too-early-wakeup. And if you knew how much I love my cups of teas and snacks, you would know that that is a big deal!
Is this because Gavin is a great parent and I am an uncaring monster who will never have a secure attachment with her child? Nope; well, I hope not! We are as bonded as superglue, he and me.

I believe it is because of our different temperaments. Gavin leans towards extroversion, while I am introverted, as I have already said on my first post. Introverts get their energy from within themselves, while extroverts get it from being with people. When he gets home from work, Gavin may chat to our neighbours, talk to me for a bit, play with Eliah, and then chat with a friend on the phone. I, on the other hand, may not notice if I spend a whole long weekend not speaking to anyone but Gavin and Eliah and maybe mum on the phone. It’s just how we roll.

Does this make me weird? Well, yeah, maybe. Probably. Does it make him weird? Also yes. We are all weird in our own ways, cos there is no such thing as normal. But will we continue to grow in love, and make our little family work? Yep, always.

One piece of advice though, for those who have different temperaments like us. Discuss it! Discuss how you are, how you feel, and what you need from each other. She may not know you need some time alone to recharge, and aren’t just sick and tired of her. He might not know that you are feeling lonely and need some time out of the house with people other than you or the family. He might think you don’t love your child enough because you don’t want to wake him up after a 15 minute nap and deal with a tired-toddler-tanty – *ahem*. If they are not things we personally need on a regular basis, we usually don’t think of them by ourselves. And we all need to make allowances for each other, work out fair compromises and creative solutions. But, it starts with some reflection and self-awareness on each partner’s behalf; and then you are ready to have the discussion. Reflection-Awareness – then Communication is key!

Night Night!

Love Sally

Why I’m writing…

There is a quote by Justine Musk: “Reading is the inhale, and writing is the exhale”. It spoke to me, particularly at this point in my life: Knee deep in the “working mum with toddler” stage. At the moment I’m shallow breathing it through each day; not taking full breaths in, and breathing out only to the extent that my lungs don’t explode. The last time I remembered to practice mindfulness and put myself and all my senses in “the moment” I was unfortunately in the midst of a blueberry induced nappy explosion, and I skedaddled back on out of that moment before my brain could fully catch up with my nose. Suffice to say, as the cliché goes, the past 18 months have been “the most challenging and rewarding time of my life”. How many times have we heard that one!

I am definitely an introverted person. I’m not really shy, and I do enjoy (most) people. Sometimes people say that they think I am an extrovert (some of this might be due to learned behaviour through my job as a clinical psychologist). But as introverts do, I draw my energy from within myself (where extroverts gain their energy from being around other people), and I feel tapped out when I’m around other people too much. A night out at a birthday party for example, gets to be too much quite quickly for me, and I will often seek refuge and retreat to the comfort of my home, my dogs and my TV before the cake is even cut.

People are exhausting for me! And for some reason I didn’t think about this beforehand, but do you know little people are people too?! I’ve been blessed (and cursed hah!) with an amazing firecracker of a kid with a strong will, adventurous spirit, boundless energy and an amazing, social temperament. He relies on me for everything (as he should!) and I haven’t had any “me” time since he came along 18 months ago and caught us on the hop 5 weeks early, just busting for his next adventure of “life on the outside”. To be honest, I feel so selfish even writing the words complaining that “I haven’t had any me time” – cos he is a gift, absolutely, and I couldn’t be happier or more in love – but I am keeping it in here, because it is true, and it’s really hard sometimes. And I’m writing a blog to process stuff and “exhale” if you will, so I might as well be real with it, or what’s the point?

On top of being a parent, I didn’t follow my 12-year-old self’s literary heroin Cathy Earnshaw’s advice to marry rich (Hi honey!! Love you!) so I also have to WORK, can you believe it?! Hah. As I said earlier I’m a clinical psychologist and I do love my job, and find a lot of meaning and identity in it. But it is obviously very people oriented, and with a few hours of toddler chaos in the morning before work (he is an EARLY riser), and a few hours of hubby and toddler after work before collapsing into bed, there is little time to decompress and recharge, particularly for an introverted person who needs that time alone. I’ve been finding myself becoming irritable, stressed out, and am beginning to notice familiar and uncomfortable signs of anxiety like hair pulling, biting nails, stress eating (I’ve put on 8kg in the past two months, hellloooo!), and going back and forth between not sitting still for a second and sitting frozen like a lump not being able to comprehend moving, scrolling through facebook to make it seem less alarming. My mind is racing a mile a minute most of the time and I don’t know why we aren’t made with an “off” button or at the very least a “sleep” mode. Something has to give! That’s where the above quote with the inhaling and exhaling business comes into it.

BT (Before Toddler) I used to live with my head stuck in a book; I was drawn to books, to bookshops and to libraries like a magnet, and I’ve lived a thousand happy lives in between those magical dust covers. I lose time, feel connected to the world and gain that elusive sense of “flow” that earnest hipsters, creative types and mindfulness people talk about.

So, here begins my challenge to myself to begin to inhale again, by taking some time out to recharge every day. That will hopefully include a lot of reading and writing, among other things! And I am going to take time to properly exhale too; lest my inhalations become another chore on my to-do list. I am going to process life as it happens, IRL and on this blog, mostly for myself but you are invited along, and I hold the hope that that might keep me accountable to continue! I might write about books, psychology, working, parenting, trying to be healthy, annoying things people do; anything that pops up in my life and is on my mind, probably.

Well, thank-you very much for reading this far (I’m assuming “you” probably consists of hubby, mum and maybe dad if mum shows him) and I hope to be writing again soon!

PS: Please forgive the inevitable typos, its 10:39pm and I haven’t stayed up this late in over a year! I’ll sleep well tonight!

Love Sally.