In the weeks before Baby A was born, I was mentally preparing for the possibility that Lou might get the baby blues, or worse post-partum depression (PPD). Her sister and her mum both have histories of PPD (one diagnosed and one undiagnosed), but this equals every woman in her immediate family to have a baby. The upside was that Lou herself does not have a history of depression or anxiety, but I knew that if it were to hit then she would be the last to come forward and say that she wasn’t feeling right. She has an extreme dislike of medicating away any pain – be it physical or emotional. It took me years to convince her to take ibuprofen for her menstrual cramps, and years again to get her to ask the GP for Valium to help her deal with her fear of flying. Even while she was in induced labour, she refused gas and air for hours, then refused an epidural for a few more hours, even while the midwife was telling her “Please, you are not even in active labour yet, you’re hours and hours away from having the baby, and you are already exhausted.” Only when I said to her it was definitely time, she surrendered to the epidural.
So I planned to be super vigilant. I would know if my wife was going down that road, and I would do my best to steer her to safety.
As it was, the birth was fairly traumatic. As I mentioned before, breastfeeding did not go well from the start. And in hospital Lou was exhausted from 21 hours of labour and constant feeding attempts. It was all so much change and trauma to deal with in such a short time, and we both felt like we had been pushed into the deep end…. and were drowning.
I remember one instance in particular when we had just come home from hospital, day 3 I think, where we caught each others eye and in both our eyes there was fear and panic… and regret. Is this what our new life is now?
Just days before we were sitting on this sofa, our arms and legs tangled up together like so many times before, the fire was on, I was watching TV and Lou was dozing off. My main concern was whether I should just hold my tea or if I could balance my tea on the pillow beside me. We had a really nice life, before. We have been together for 9 years, married for 2.5. We were settled into our own little routine, which was just enough not-routine to keep it interesting. We had friends round for dinner, we did the pub quiz on a Thursday, on a weekend we popped out to Ikea to look for some new candles. And most evenings, our favourite thing to do was chill out quietly on the sofa watching mindless TV and cuddling.
In an instant that life was a million miles away. There was a baby, whose harsh, insistent cries made both of us jump, even from the other end of the house. We knelt down in servitude to the whim of this tiny person, this tiny little dictator, who now ran the show.
Would life ever be the same? Would we ever know each other again? What have we done?
A friend who was also a non-birth mother, rang and said to me, “Lou’s job is to look after the baby, and your job is to look after Lou.” So I did. I told Lou to sit on the sofa and relax, and focus on feeding Baby A and sleeping. And I ran around the house like a headless chicken, fetching bottles, muslins, bibs, changes of clothes for both, doing laundry, doing dishes, running the steriliser, changing nappies, reading the baby books, bringing Lou water and juice and meals and snacks.
We were running on 3-4 hours sleep per day for the first two weeks, but I had energy. In fact, I was manic. I couldn’t sit still, I could always think of something else I could do, even when everything was done. I could light candles to make the room feel relaxed, or I could Google whether it was OK that my baby hadn’t pooped for 3 days, or I could take the tags off the new baby clothes our neighbour dropped off. Countless times, I made a cup of tea that would go abandoned and cold. I would reheat it and hours later would find it, still in the microwave.
Pretty soon I noticed that I was having a bowel movement every time I went toilet, and actually it was diarrhoea. Friends would visit and cook us delicious dinners that I would pick at because I had no appetite and everything tasted like sand. Most of the time I would just forget to eat. A couple friends laughed at me because I couldn’t hold a coherent conversation, or would jump between topics and lines of thought without warning. Whenever the vacuum was on or the tap was running, I was certain I could hear the baby screaming, so I would turn everything off several times just to listen and check. My eyes were so tired they were blurry, and my muscles in my arm and back started twitching. When I would start to fall asleep in bed, my leg muscles would seize and jerk.
Lou was not doing enough resting, she was also trying to get things done around the house and look after the baby. This stressed me out and worried me because I was trying my best to protect her and stop the bad thoughts creeping in. but it only angered her when I commanded her to sit down. So I tried to do everything before she could even think of doing that thing.
Our friends would come around and would coo and cuddle, and Baby A would sleep like an angel, and they would ask “Are you loving it?” and “Enjoy this because they grow up so fast!” “Loving it” was not the correct words, but “relentless” sprang to mind. This was the hardest I had ever worked in my life. But I needed to put on a brave face for Lou, who was visibly exhausted, in pain, and struggling. So I would smile and nod.
I remember standing at the sink feeling my heart race. I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths and put my OM chanting music on. I needed to regain a bit of control and CALM DOWN, and I managed to marginally do so before the baby started crying again.
I was due to go back to work 2 weeks after Baby A was born. On the eve of my first day, I weighed myself. In two weeks I had lost 5 pounds off my 5’2″ frame which was already running fit. It was my lowest weight since high school.
In the following days, there was a drastic improvement. My first day at work I cried at my desk several times and rang home constantly, the second day I only cried once, the third day I remembered to eat lunch at lunchtime, and even finished it.
In retrospect, I was in survival mode. I was also experiencing high levels of anxiety and an ounce of depression, which was basically mourning our old life and the uncertainty of what this new life would be like. Fear of whether I was cut out to be a mom, and if not, holy crap what do we do.
The best way I can describe it now, it was the feeling just before you give a big presentation – hyper alert, adrenaline kicked in, nervous and anxious, and ready to go. I was like that for 2 weeks straight and could NOT kick myself out of high gear.
I have since tried to Google whatever this 2 week phenomenon was, and every single time “Baby Blues” comes up. It links to almost every symptom that I had: restlessness, inability to concentrate, tired but unable to sleep, loss of appetite, anxiety. Not so much the diarrhoea but I think the stress triggered an IBS episode, which I have had a couple times in the past.
The main confusion I have with the “Baby Blues” explanation, is that it is always linked to hormone changes. But as the non-birth mother, I would not have had the same level of hormonal flux, even if some hormones were triggered by Baby A’s birth. Was it just a bad reaction to stress? Was it just a reaction to being 100% out of control and trying to retain some sense of control? Was it just being a first time parent?
Can a woman get baby blues if she hasn’t had a baby?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. All I know is what I experienced, and that I wanted to share it with the t’internet in case anyone out there is going through the same thing.
It does get better! This is how it was for us:
Week 1-2 were specifically hard, in every possible way.
Week 3 – still hard for sleep, but we felt more calm because we started to get the hang of caring for Baby A, knowing her cries and how to make her happy (also this is when we switched to formula feeding).
Week 4 – Baby A started to reliably go 4 hours between feeds at night, which meant only one night feed, so Lou and I could start taking shifts and get some predictable sleep.
Week 5 onward – we both manage to get 6-8 hours of sleep per night (added up, and in shifts) which has shone some perspective on the whole situation and made literally everything feel more manageable.
So if this is you, hang in there. I feel your pain, you are not alone, and just know that it WILL get better very soon, and soon this new life will feel much more comfortable.
SN: The responsible side of me needs to mention that if these symptoms continue for a month or more, or feel so extreme that you have harmful thoughts about you or your baby, it’s time to see a doctor. Please don’t feel ashamed or like a failure, even just talking to somebody can help.