If you have read my previous two posts, you would know that we got off to a rough start. Postnatal depression and anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks and is something I am still fighting to recover from every day. Especially my anxiety. I still see my psychiatrist on a regular basis, am now seeing a psychologist as well as getting lots of support from my child health nurse and also the parenting centre, and am still trying to find the right medication mix to help me deal with life in general for now. I am happy to say though, that I am so much better than I was during those first, dark 10 weeks or so. I am enjoying motherhood so much more, taking the challenges in my stride and enjoying the time I spend with my precious baby boy.
Coming home from the Mother Baby Unit was terrifying for me. I honestly expected to be admitted again within a few weeks as my anxiety levels were still fairly out of control (and still are a lot of the time). I am really proud to say that I have managed to get into a good routine at home and have even started to enjoy being at home with Isaac. We have lots of cuddles and play time, watching him grow and develop is truly a gift and is one that I am incredibly grateful for.
I've decided to break this post down into categories, (idea borrowed from my favourite blog applesundermybed.com) to try and gather my thoughts a bit instead of just rambling on as usual (no promises this still won't happen!) It's hard for me to gain control when I get going :) There are a whole lot of thoughts I want to cover, so breaking the main ones up into categories seems most appropriate.
This seems like a very negative way to start, but when I think about the past six months with its joys and many happy moments, unfortunately, amongst it all, is an overriding feeling of guilt.
I know it's normal for there to be a certain amount of "mother guilt" - lots of Mums talk about this and ultimately I think it comes from a place of only wanting the best for your baby. Unfortunately for me, this feeling of guilt has overwhelmed me almost daily for a number of reasons.
Breastfeeding. I touched on this issue in my previous posts, but honestly, I don't think it is something I will ever be able to come to terms with. I was so, so excited at the prospect of breastfeeding. I was going to persevere, I was going to love the bonding experience and feel so good that I was giving my baby the very best. I still can't believe it didn't work out the way I wanted to. That the deepest, darkest depression that almost made me not even want to live anymore could impact those first few weeks with my beautiful baby so much that I ultimately wouldn't have a choice when it came to breastfeeding (due to the medication I needed to take in order to become a functioning human being again), not only that, but that I just didn't want to do it. I didn't enjoy it one bit. Not because it hurt, not because I didn't have a good supply, not because there were any physical issues - I just hated it. I hated every minute of it. Having this tiny human who I felt so detached from being attached to me almost 24/7 (he was a very hungry baby, and nothing would settle him but boob!) made me feel crazy. Even though the decision was largely taken out of my hands, I don't think I will ever be able to forgive myself for not trying harder. Every article I see about breastfeeding makes my stomach drop. When I see or read about other women breastfeeding I get so insanely jealous. I know it's irrational, I know my baby is perfectly healthy and happy and thriving on formula. I did my research and picked the formula I thought was best; it's organic, it doesn't smell gross like a lot of other formulas I've seen and Isaac took to it straight away. That doesn't ease my guilt unfortunately, and to be brutally honest I still cry about this issue on a weekly basis or so. I feel like a failure. I have nothing against Mums who choose to formula feed, I have nothing against Mums who breastfeed - just my own personal journey has not worked out the way I thought it would and I am still grieving for that experience that I wanted but only got for 4 weeks (and definitely didn't enjoy it because of my mental health at the time).
PND. This is going to sound really silly because postnatal depression is an illness. Why feel guilty about something out of my control? If only it was that simple. I feel guilty that I felt like I didn't want my baby. I loved him and wanted him safe and happy, but I didn't feel like I was able to be the good Mum I wanted to be. Those thoughts cause me so much pain it's almost unbearable. I am slowly learning to come to terms with this with the help of my psychologist, but far out - I look at my beautiful son and just cannot believe that I could have ever felt so awful when he came into my life. We have a beautiful relationship. I love seeing his little face light up when he sees me. I love it when he snuggles into my chest and when he just needs his Mum to settle him. I know that the awfulness of that detached feeling is over, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't haunt me. I think because of this, I spend a lot more time cuddling Isaac and "letting" him snooze on me if he wants to, maybe as some kind of way to help make up for the fact that I wasn't the one there for him overnight while we were in the Mother Baby Unit for six weeks. I hate the thought that you can "spoil" a baby with too much love and affection. I think people with those sorts of opinions can just keep them to themselves honestly (I wish), because if my baby wants to be cuddled and rocked and sung to - then I'm going to do just that and be there for him. I'm his Mum and I get to make that choice.
Social Anxiety. Along with the PND came a sudden and intense withdrawal from almost everyone in my life. I am so grateful to the understanding family and friends who got this; who gave me space and didn't see my withdrawal as some kind of personal attack or like I was trying to exclude them from my life or from Isaac's. Honestly, it was just so hard (and mostly still is) for me to cope with the most basic forms of existing and looking after Isaac that the thought of seeing people sent me (and often still sends me) into a frenzy. I am getting better with this as time goes on, although am definitely still struggling. I am meant to go for a daily walk, but I am usually terrified to even walk to my letterbox. I have started going on some walks with my sister through the week and have been coping OK, but it's definitely not something I enjoy. So many people say that getting out and getting fresh air will make me feel better but it honestly makes me feel worse. No matter what. It's something I'll keep working on and am hoping this issue will keep fading as time goes on as getting outside is good for me and for Isaac. Going anywhere public is a real struggle for me. I am generally OK going to people's houses, or people coming to my house when I feel able to cope - but the thought of taking Isaac somewhere by myself (e.g. the supermarket, a café) makes my heart start to pound out of my chest. I don't even really know why, but it has been that way since he was born. I know there is nothing to be afraid of - I know how to settle him if he gets upset, I can time things between his feeds - but none of these rational thoughts seem to matter. The panic attacks that started for me after he was born has a lot to do with it I think. The thought of having a panic attack when I'm out with Isaac alone is unbearable. This is something my psychologist and I will be focussing on a lot - I know I have to take Isaac out in public by myself eventually!
Isaac is not a great sleeper... but I think babies who are, are rare. There is so much going on in that first year (and beyond), it's no wonder they need some help at times to settle down and learn to sleep on their own.
He is an incredibly active baby. Everyone who sees him comments on the fact that his legs and arms never stop moving. He is incredibly strong - whenever he lies on his back he just lifts his head and neck straight up and his feet, kind of like a reverse plank and holds it for ages (he has done this since he was about 11 weeks old). He is observant and sensitive and it takes a long time for his little body and brain to calm down enough to go to sleep. Through the day he fights his naps sooo hard. I have to hold him tightly, play him relaxing music and sing to him while we sit in the rocking chair - all the while he is crying because he is so tired (I try my best to get him to sleep before he is over-tired but it is almost impossible) arching his back against taking his dummy (because he knows that will make him sleepy) and frantically looking around the room at anything and everything to try to stay awake. We ended up buying blackout curtains and a Lulla doll - both things have helped him to settle a bit more quickly along with the "Music for Dreaming" album we play on repeat for his naps and at night, but he is a chronic cat napper through the day. The only thing that will calm him right down after a few minutes funnily enough, is me singing to him. I used to do this a lot when he was in my tummy so I have to assume this is a contributing factor. He will not go to sleep by himself in the cot yet through the day, I have to rock him to sleep first. I have tried numerous times to get him to "self settle" but I just don't believe in the cry it out method for babies his age (nothing against those who do). At the moment, it works for us to rock him to sleep then gently lower him into his cot where he will snooze for 20-30 minutes maximum. When he wakes, the only way to get him to have a longer sleep is to hold him, and I do this at least once a day so he gets at least one 1-2 hour sleep along with his little naps. He is not going to want to be held forever, so I cherish the time I am able to give him and hold him and make him feel comforted to be able to sleep for longer in my arms. It's a beautiful thing and while a lot of people are very opinionated on this matter about "bad habits" etc., I don't know of many adults that can't fall asleep without their mother rocking them so I think he will be just fine. Night time is very hit and miss. We have a very strict night time routine of bath, massage, bottle, book and bed and he is normally asleep by 7/7:30 in his cot (he falls asleep by himself at night, just won't through the day!) and I can't say we have a good overnight routine as he is very hit and miss. He is either incredibly wakeful, or will do one 5-6 hour stretch before a feed and then be fairly unsettled after that. He is always unsettled from around 4:30/5 in the morning and I often bring him into our bed (yes, safely, we have done our research) where he will usually fall straight asleep until 6:30/7.
I think I mentioned this in a previous post but nothing prepares you for the sleep deprivation when you become a parent. You just don't realise how important sleep is until you are suddenly at the mercy of a tiny human who doesn't come with a manual and who doesn't necessarily want to sleep when you do. It is frustrating and beyond tiring and the thought of a full night's sleep just seems like a distant memory. As the months have passed, I have become used to functioning on much less sleep, and getting 6 hours or so can make me feel incredibly refreshed. I know this won't last forever; one day Isaac will sleep through the night in his own bed and I will miss those late night snuggles - this is what I try to focus on when I feel like I'm about to lose my mind because he is wide awake and wanting to party at midnight until 2am.
Our days change week to week - some days I visit my sister or she visits me, I visit my sister-in-law and twin niece and nephew every week or so, and every Friday my Mum takes off work to spend with me which I love. Having my own Mum around when I feel so anxious and stressed has been incredibly helpful. Not to mention how great she is with babies, having raised four of her own and now has seven grandchildren!
Most days however, it's just Isaac and I at home, which I both love and hate depending on my anxiety level.
I get up at around 6.10 to shower while Reid is still at home. I really hate to shower when it's just Isaac and I alone at home. I know that's so silly, I have done it a few times and he just plays happily on his play mat or in his bouncer outside the bathroom, but I still really stress out about it and just don't feel right if I haven't at least had a shower. Yay, anxiety! Isaac is always up by 7 at the latest for his first bottle of the day. He usually has a bit of quiet play time in his bouncer with some toys after that and is ready for a nap after an hour and a half, two hours at the most. This is then a 15-30 minute battle to get him to fall asleep and then have his 20-30 minute nap. This is when I rush around trying to get washing done, vacuum, sterilise bottles etc. I have some pretty annoying OCD issues when it comes to my house cleanliness. I know I should really let some things go, but if things aren't the way I want them, it causes me even more stress than just rushing around, even if I'm way too tired. The rest of the day is a mixture of bottles, feeding and making veggies for his solids, organising what we are going to have for dinner, play time and getting Isaac to nap. It sounds like not much, but it feels pretty frantic a lot of the time. I have to try to constantly remind myself to slow down, make sure I eat breakfast, lunch, snacks - I know I need to take care of myself to be able to properly take care of him but honestly, my anxiety makes me prioritise washing the floor or putting clothes on to wash rather than sit down for 10 minutes and eat lunch. Just something else I need to work on, especially when Isaac becomes mobile and I know things are going to get messier and busier! I am pretty good with food prep but even that doesn't guarantee that I'll eat properly. When Reid gets home it's pretty much straight into the bath for Isaac while I rush around getting mine and Reid's dinner sorted, then he has his massage, a story and bed time. It can take up to 45 minutes for him to fall asleep, but he is usually happier at night time to just chat away in his cot. Every now and then we might need to pop in and put his dummy in his mouth if he is upset or give him a bit of a "shhh" and a rub on the tummy (haha, just made him sound like a dog!) and if he is really upset I will get him out and sit with him in the rocking chair which is normally the precedent for a rough night, but normally he will just chat away until he falls asleep. Then Reid and I eat, maybe watch an episode of whatever TV show we are watching at the time and I go to bed while Reid stays up for an hour or so playing his Xbox which is his down time and he keeps the monitor with him so I can try to get to sleep as quickly as possible. I have now been a full-time stay at home Mum, and worked full-time, and in my opinion, being a stay at home Mum is definitely harder and more tiring as there is pretty much no down time, your needs always come second - but it's totally worth it. I have just extended my maternity leave until early February (I was meant to go back mid-November) but I feel like I missed those first few months with Isaac because I was just in a fog of depression and fear, so I wanted to extend it as long as I possibly could.
I really should have done a blog at three months - I know I'm going to forget things trying to cram a lot of info into one post!
Ultimately, Isaac is coming along in leaps and bounds. He has always been between the 80th and 90th percentiles in both height and weight. He is smiling, giggling, is incredibly chatty, loves to blow raspberries, loves to play with his feet and basically anything he can get his chubby little hands on and into his mouth! The look of concentration on his face when he is reaching for toys (or my face or Reid's face/hands) is just incredible. When he first wakes up in the mornings, he is never frantic for a bottle, so Reid and I lie in bed with him and have some family time for 15 minutes or so. He looks between us as if he can't believe that both his favourite people are there at the same time (Reid is out of the house at work at least 10 hours a day Monday-Friday and is usually out at work for 5-6 hours on a Saturday). He reaches up to touch both of our faces and it's just beyond adorable. He is definitely most content when we are both at home. Sundays are our family day and this is when we are all at our happiest. When Reid walks in the door after work, Isaac just beams and gets so excited. He then gets around an hour of Daddy time as Reid baths him, gives him a massage (we use MooGoo products as he has quite sensitive skin and we like to use natural products where we can) and gives him his last bottle before bed. It's really beautiful watching them both together. Reid works so hard for us and gives every last bit of energy he has to Isaac and to me after long days at work. He really is the most wonderful husband and father. Our relationship has definitely changed since having Isaac (of course) but not in a negative way. Although I definitely snap more these days, mostly due to being so tired I think, but this is something I am trying to work on. Reid has actually become a bit unwell over the past week or so, we are both pretty burnt out and need to try to find ways to recharge when we have the time. Saying no to commitments is hard, we both love to spend time with our families and friends but with all the work Reid does plus the state of my mental health most of the time, we need to do what works best for the three of us at this point in time. Reeling it back and spending more time at home just the three of us is something I am hoping we can do in the coming months.
We started giving Isaac solid food when he was just over five months old. He had started keenly watching us eat and reaching for whatever we had, and he just seemed ready. I started with some plain old rice cereal (Bellamy's Organic) just to see how he would go with something of a different texture and he loved it! Now he eats mostly vegetables - so far he has had sweet potato, carrot, broccoli, pumpkin, white potato and avocado. I introduce a couple of new things every week at the minute and anything he doesn't seem to like (so far he hated carrots by themselves!) I just mix with sweet potato and he eats it no problem. It's fun watching him try new things and he gets very impatient and will bang on his high chair table if I am not getting the food to him quickly enough! He takes after his Mum and Dad there - we both love our food :)
As I mentioned before, Isaac is constantly moving. He is very close to crawling I think... his upper body strength is enough to pull him forwards but he hasn't quite got the coordination to get up onto his knees and stay there long enough to move them yet. He can sit up by himself for about 10-20 seconds before toppling over and he has rolled over from 6 weeks old (tummy to back that is). It surprises me that he still hasn't rolled from his back to his tummy as he is forever twisting to the side, but it's like he gets to his side then can't be bothered going any further! It only takes a little prod for him to roll all the way but he hasn't done it all by himself yet. He loves to stand up (with help obviously) and his chubby little legs are just beyond cute.
He doesn't have any teeth yet but I feel like this isn't far away. I can see bumps on his gums and I think this has been contributing to his wakefulness overnight - so many "signs" of teething can also just be seen as normal developmental signs, so who knows?!
Ultimately Isaac is a happy, healthy, very loved little boy. He is fairly social and loves our families although is just starting to become a little bit more clingy at times. He is very strong-willed, I think we are going to have a full-time job keeping up with him when he is on the move. He loves story time and we spend lots of the day singing songs and dancing around the house. He loves the pram and the Ergocarrier and going in the car. His change table is his ultimate happy place. He loves nappy free time! Kicking away (as always) and chatting and laughing as we play peek-a-boo and sing silly songs. ("Galumph went the little green frog one day" is currently on high rotation). Basically, the only things he doesn't seem to like much are carrots and sleep! :)
We have come a long way in six months. All three of us. I look back at Isaac's newborn photos and just can't believe how far he has come, not to mention how far I have come. I feel so honoured to be Isaac's Mum; to be the one he needs, the one who gets to be there for him and spend my days looking after him, as tiring as it can be. I love watching his personality develop and just think he is going to be one incredible little boy (I might be a bit biased though!). Reid and I are so happy to be parents, to get to raise this gorgeous boy and help shape who he becomes. I just want him to know how loved he is. Regardless of the PND, regardless of my horrendous anxiety, he is so, so loved and cherished and we would do anything to ensure his safety and happiness. These past six months have been the hardest but also the happiest of my life. Every down is worth the amazing ups, every smile makes me melt and every giggle is almost too much cuteness for me to handle! This beautiful boy is our everything, and I hope he will know that for his whole life <3
*Photos by Expose Photography when Isaac was four months old*