Being a first time mum and living the other side of the world from my immediate family could have been an incredibly daunting prospect. I was lucky that my mum was able to make the 26 hour flight from the UK to Australia, arriving the day before I had my daughter.
On the first night, after arriving home from hospital, my baby was screaming and wouldn’t settle. Suddenly the enormity of the responsibility I had for this baby struck me. I freaked. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL TO DO. I burst into Mum’s room, tears streaming down my face in despair and desperation. For the next 10 weeks of her visit, my baby and I moved into that room – with Nanny.
Nanny rocked her grandchild to sleep, held her, sang to her, bathed her, changed her dirty nappies, dressed her, had broken sleep because of her, was thrown up on many times and treated her as though she was her own. The love she gave our baby and the guidance she offered me and my husband was immeasurable.
It was during that time that a friend and I established a mothers’ group. We met every week to share stories, offer support and provide reassurance to each other. My days as a new mum weren’t always perfect - I had my share of challenges at times - but I coped and loved being a mum.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I felt that all those initial anxieties and uncertainties I’d experienced about becoming a new mum were no longer a concern – this time round I knew what to do. Or so I thought.
I don’t know whether I just found the whole thing harder the second time around because I already had a child, or if it was because she was practically still a baby herself at only 18 months. Or it could have been because my mum wasn’t there at the start. Could it have been because I didn’t bother with a mothers group this time? Or was this baby just more challenging? For whatever reason, my experience the second time around has been tough; I have no doubt that I have hovered on the brink of postnatal depression, at times feeling like a total failure and utterly despairing.
The sleep deprivation has been torturous and relentless, the obsessiveness about trying to establish a sleep routine for the baby seemed more intense, her screaming felt harder to cope with and the days and nights merged into a surreal blurry fog of never-ending repetitive exhaustion.
Her reflux was severe, and it was heart-breaking to see how much she was suffering. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t find any conclusive answers. The GP wasn’t hugely helpful and the paediatrician just prescribed medication which didn’t make much difference apart from seeming to make her sleep worse. I spent hours and hours reading anything and everything on reflux to try to come up with a way to help her. I joined a reflux support group on Facebook. On the one hand - it provided me with comfort that I was not alone dealing with and trying to understand reflux, on the other hand- it scared the hell out of me reading about some of the other peoples’ experiences.
After 3 months of her continual screaming, waking and apparent discomfort I felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I broke down to my doctor and she referred me to Karitane (a charity for parenting advice and support).
My appointment was at Karitane Randwick Parenting Centre and was with a lady by the name of Sally – someone I now affectionately refer to as ‘My Angel’. From the minute we started talking to each other I felt a strong connection with her. An experienced midwife, counsellor and mum herself she just seemed to ‘get it’. I cried, she listened. She helped remind me about the techniques that could assist the baby getting to sleep. She then she told me to lie down and have a sleep myself on the couch whilst she watched my baby. She understood the exhaustion and despair I was feeling. She helped me come up for air.
I went to the appointment thinking it would be all about my baby. I was wrong. Whilst she did enable me to press the reset button, reminding me of what I could do to assist my baby, she then shifted the focus to me – I suspect she had seen many other teary, pasty and knackered mums in that very room. I offloaded, able to be honest about how tough I was finding being a mum this time around. Things I hadn’t admitted to anyone until this point. I started to feel like I could breathe again and that everything I was feeling was ‘normal’. More importantly she reminded me that I was not a terrible mother and that it was ok to feel like this especially given the challenges we were experiencing.
Unfortunately, as we continued to experience severe sleep deprivation over the months that followed, I had many more times when I felt I wasn’t coping. I could have done with’ My Angel’ moving in with us but I guess that’s expecting a little too much of the charity.
Nonetheless I will always be grateful for that day and the relief and love she gave us.
When my baby was 8.5 months old I received a referral to Tresillian. They offered us a residential stay which meant myself and my baby checking into their care for a week.
As you can imagine, it’s a no-frills kind of place, set in the grounds of a hospital. The accommodations and food were basic to say the least; I joked it was rather like checking into prison with the standard question to any new ‘inmates’ being “what are you in for?” Unsurprisingly the answer from every parent the same “my baby doesn’t sleep”.
It wasn’t some miracle place that cured my baby from her aversion to sleep and I didn’t get a huge amount of rest myself (when my own baby wasn’t awake I was often woken by a chorus of other screaming babies in the adjacent rooms). However, I am grateful for what it did give me. Once again the reminder that I was not alone with this, I was not a failure – sometimes babies just don’t sleep. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Just having that support for a week, no washing, cooking or cleaning to do and being able to focus on my baby enabled me to really connect with her and re-establish a routine. Once again I felt hopeful, invigorated – things could get better. And they did….a little.
She is now 18 months old and started sleeping through about 2 months ago.
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion to get to this point. I’ve questioned my ability as a mother hundreds of times, I’ve lost my patience and felt I was losing my mind, I’ve drunk more wine and cried more tears than I ever thought I would. But what I have learnt from this journey is just how vital having a strong support network is when you are a mum. Whether we are a first time mum, second time mum or even third or fourth time mum we will all have times when we need help. Just because we may have done it once and been ok doesn’t mean the next time will be the same. There may be many contributory factors that can make the whole experience entirely different another time. In simple terms – when I stopped and asked for help, I felt better.