I will never forget the day we temporarily moved into the room at the hospital’s special care unit where our boys were born. I was home packing some basic stuff for us and knew that we would not come back soon. The senior midwife at the hospital told me earlier on that the boys would need to put on some weight and be able to eat on their own in order to be discharged as at the time they were still being fed by feeding tubes.
I got to our room around noon and as soon as I got there a huge load of anxiety hit me straight to the pit of the stomach. The reason was due to how small the room was and my anxiety which I get when appearing in small or limited spaces. I say more about the events prior to this day in the post My birth story.
Soon after my arrival, the boys were moved to our room still on the special care unit. It was my first time alone with them. Yaw was at work at the time and was supposed to arrive in the evening. Of course, he got two weeks parental leave but we decided it would make more sense to save these two weeks for the time the boys and I got back home because at the hospital I had professional help during the day. I knew I would need him much more when we got back home.
I remember looking at the boys lying in their cots and sensing huge range of mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to have them, I was happy they were healthy, but somehow they felt like cute little strangers to me. I was astonished by these feelings and I cannot describe how ashamed I was because of that. What kind of mother am I?
First couple of days in the hospital I tried to get used to the situation. I spent a lot of time learning how to change nappies, practicing breastfeeding and expressing. That was basically all I did apart from eating and using the bathroom.
Everything was so new for me. Everything changed so fast and I felt like I did not have time to process what had happened. From one day to another I had two babies who totally depended on me. And they were supposed to stay with me forever. How could you process this from one day to the next? It is a massive life change and if you don’t go though it in the comfort of your own environment, it is very easy to start to experience feelings of sadness, confusion, or depression.
Especially when you spent most of the time listening to babies’ screaming. This is something I also was not prepared for. Sure, you expect babies to scream but you cannot be prepared for the impact it will have on you. Personally, the unending screaming was the hardest part for me to deal with. Often I wanted to scream too. Being closed in a small room did not help at all. I longed to take them out at least for a while just to change the environment. However, due to the hospital policy we were not allowed to move babies outside the room. I soon started to feel like a prisoner of the room and of my depressive thoughts.
Nights were the worst. Boys slept only for short periods of time and spent most of the time crying or whining. Very soon this turned into a mental torture and I did not know what to do. We had the feeding times scheduled and we had to follow them. We were supposed to feed them every 3 hours at first and a midwife who was on a duty at the time always came in to make sure we did not miss out on a feed. These regular visits made me feel even more anxious and hopeless. I longed to go home. I wanted us to deal with everything on our own. I hated being watched and controlled by midwives. Although they were there to help, it soon started to feel rather like the opposite to me. Since I was constantly judging myself, I felt like everyone around me was judging me too.
As for the feeds, I always started with the breastfeeding first. This often took about 45 minutes for one baby and ended up with a tube feed as boys did not want to latch for quite a long time. Having two of them did not help either as I basically had no time to sleep at all. While I practiced breastfeeding with one of them, the other one started to cry of hunger. And by the time I finished practicing with the other one, it was often time to feed the first one again.
I think it was after the fifth night or so when Yaw asked me to stop doing this as he saw me practicing breastfeeding in the middle of the night with a flood of tears running down my cheeks. Midwives had previously suggested to try and offer boys a bottle, but I refused it. A part of me longed to go for a bottle as I felt that if I had been trying to exclusively breastfeed for a bit longer I would have fallen apart. However, another part of me, influenced mostly by the environment and media, imagined a finger pointing at me and threatening that the offering a bottle would make me a bad mother. You can read more on this subject in the post Don’t judge me unless you have walked in my shoes.
Besides, I also believed that offering a bottle could eventually ruin my effort to breastfeed. I believed that the boys needed to learn how to drink from a breast before I’d eventually offer a bottle.
So I did not give up and kept practicing. I do not even remember when and how it finally happened, but boys started to latch eventually. I am not sure if it was good or bad as although I gave them what I believed was ‘the most important’ for their health, the price was too high. I did not get any sleep at nights or during the days, which led to a higher level of exhaustion and anxiety which in my case eventually turned into depression.
I thought that after the boys had started to latch things would finally get easier. However, as it soon turned out I did not have enough milk for the boys to feel full. That is why I eventually had to get the bottle involved. I was not very happy about this solution at first and initially tried to latch the boys more in a hope the lactation would get better, but I had no energy left to keep doing it. I was literally dead inside. So we ended up doing both, breastfeeding that was followed with a bottle feed so the boys would not feel hungry.
The best thing about the bottle being involved was that Yaw could help me with night feeds, which made a huge change in the routine. However, by the time this had happened, I was too shattered to actually enjoy it. Very soon I started to experience feelings of postnatal depression.
No matter what I did, no matter what people had told me, I felt like a horrible mother. I remember the first time a midwife asked me for a vest and I had no idea what she meant. When I figured it out, it turned out I did not have enough of them with me. There was not a problem with it at all, but all these small experiences only built up to me feeling like a complete failure. Looking back I think I somehow expected to know everything from day one. As if I already had 10 children at home.
Taken the circumstances, until today I do not understand how Yaw could wake up each morning, leave for work and then come back and deal with the boys and his broken wife. He did not get much sleep at nights at all and yet, he did not show any sign of discomfort. He was there for me, for us. It was the first time I realised how important it is to have a supportive partner when becoming a mother. I truly cannot imagine what would have happened to me if I had been a single mother or a mother with an unsupportive partner at the time.
Sometimes, when the boys were asleep, I was looking at them and trying really hard to feel the love I believed I was supposed to be feeling. I can still feel the emptiness I was experiencing at that moment when this unknown feeling possessed my mind and I sensed a massive regret about the decision to have children. It was so intense that it scared the life out of me. Why did they have to be born? Why was I so stupid? No matter how hard I tried I could not stop these thoughts running through my head. I say more on this subject in the post What should I do when feeling depressed? The interesting thing is that I did not feel depressed all the time. There were moments when I felt like I could do this. There were moments when I felt strong. However, the more time we spent in the hospital, the more I sensed the inner strength to be wearing off.
I remember one morning when Yaw was leaving for work and he asked me if I had fed Henry. Trust me, as soon as I heard the word ‘feed’ I started to cry uncontrollably. I broke down. I did not say a word back, just cried. Yaw did not understand what happened as he only wanted to know if Henry ate so he would know whether he needed to feed him or not. However, at that stage and with everything happening, whatever I heard I only saw people pointing at me and judging my ability as a mother. Even when it came to Yaw who is the last person who would ever judge me. I cannot even start to describe how useless I felt.
I did not want anyone to know how I felt but at the same time I desperately needed to hear from someone who went through this before that it is not going to be like this forever. What I did was ask friends of mine what it was like to be a mother for them. I gave them a hint I struggled but I made sure I did not show even the slightest sign of experiencing feelings of depression. I felt incredibly ashamed of it as I thought I was the only mother in the world feeling this way. Sure, I had heard about PND before, but never knew what it actually felt like when it eats you up alive.
All my friends supported me, they were saying I only needed to get used to this, some of them were trying to make me see the situation using humour. Comments that were intended to be funny, like: “don’t worry, in 18 years you will get your life back; only now the freedom will be over” etc. weren’t the best choice in my mental state. Because exactly the thought of how drastically everything had been changing was causing me a huge anxiety. I truly believe nobody meant it, but their effort to lace it with humour definitely didn’t help, rather the opposite.
From other directions I heard: “Don’t worry, you’ll be ok soon; it’s just a beginning; it needs time; you’ll get used to it; it will be alright,..”, but it did not get me out of that dark circle either. I was thinking: Time for what? What happens next? What does ok mean? I will get used to it and that’s it? Will I also be happy?
In my head I did not get how the idea of geeting used to it should comfort me. I don’t want to get used to this. I want my life back. I want to by happy!
From each direction I was overwhelmed with impulses that brought a common warning – everything is going to be different now. Not that something will be different (I was counting on that of course), but that everything will be different. Take it literally and imagine it – everything you know, what you are used to, what you get up in the morning and fall asleep in the evening with .. this all is about to be gone forever. And everyone seems to be completely fine with it and acts like it is the most natural thing in the world. Well, I don’t know if I’m the crazy one or whether there is crazy everyone around me…? How do you want me to be ok with something like that? How can you be ok with something like that?
It was only a couple of days later when one friend of mine (also a mum) mentioned that she envied the motherhood time I was going to experience. That was the first impulse that made me think that being a mum might not neccesarily mean end of life. Now I know it sounds silly but as a fresh mum I had no idea what it feels like to be a mum, to be in love with your children and to enjoy moments with them. That is why it felt like someone lit a torch in the tunnel for me when I heard there was a chance for me to enjoy motherhood one day.
However, the feelings of depression are not so easy to overcome and I believe that the space we lived in did not help either so after a couple of days during one of the midwives checks I started to cry and said that it felt like my life was over. The midwife started to talk to me and within hours sent a counsellor to see me. She was the first person who told me directly that the way I felt was totally normal and that I would start to enjoy motherhood over time. Thanks to these words I was able to get through the rest of the days we had left in the hospital. I kept going on inertia but at least I did.
After around two weeks we were finally discharged. I was hoping to feel better once we got home, but things did not develop exactly the way I hoped they would.
However, that is another story…