I’ve reached the Big Countdown; six days until I’m back at work. Eeeuuurrrrggghhh. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn, my hands shake, and my eyes fill with giant tears. What happened to my big lottery win? More to the point, what happened to the last nine months?
Let’s see. I spent the first six weeks in hospital having tests done for what turned out to be anaemia, learning to “walk” on crutches having been diagnosed (very late) with SPD, at physiotherapy appointments, planning a house move, speaking to solicitors and removals firms, trying to pack, struggling to sleep, and worrying that we hadn’t bought enough stuff for The Baby.
I spent the following three weeks regretting moving house (we had an ant infestation, a broken shower, blocked drains, a gas leak, a badly fitted kitchen which meant the fridge-freezer sits ever-so attractively in the hall, and hideously decorated rooms), trying to unpack, getting the nursery decorated and furnished, worrying we hadn’t bought enough stuff for The Baby, becoming bigger by the second, and getting increasingly fed up of waiting for The Baby to arrive. She was only 12 days late, but having struggled to move as I was the size of a house-end by 30 weeks and on crutches, and in pain due to the SPD, each day that went by with no sign of The Baby sent me further into despair. On her due-date, having been told by the consultant that he was unable to perform a membrane sweep as my cervix was too high to locate, I sat in the dark red dining room, next to the brown, ant-infested kitchen, and envisaged myself sat in the very same place in the very same state at Christmas.
Once The Baby had arrived I spent the following three, almost four months, becoming more and more anxious about leaving the house, or indeed leaving the front room. I hated the rest of the house. The ants could have been anywhere by now. I was low and rapidly becoming depressed. I didn’t want to go out in public as I thought that people would stare at me and judge me; I’m not quite what I thought they would judge me for, maybe I thought people would think I was a bad mum and not coping well. I’m not sure how I thought they would know this information, but suffice to say I was feeling extremely vulnerable and insecure, and did not want to put myself on show. Guilt set in, and that was that. I could never do anything right. If The Baby was sleeping I felt guilty that I wasn’t stimulating her enough. If The Baby was awake I felt guilty that she wasn’t getting enough sleep. If I did leave the house (really only ever to go to my mum’s house, or to the houses of two very good friends) I felt guilty that I should be at home and establishing some sort of routine. If I stayed at home I felt guilty that we should be out doing something else. Whatever I did, it was wrong.
Having realised that the way I was feeling wasn’t right, and that the thoughts I was having and my actions were becoming increasingly more worrying, I sought help and so the ‘counselling’ began. Although this wasn’t particularly successful, it did start to make me realise that getting out of the house was something I needed to do; that sitting at home was contributing to a downward spiral. So the next five weeks were spent attending baby massage sessions. I began to feel better. It was good to meet other mums. The act of leaving the house was pretty awful, there was often tears and screaming, not wanting to go (this was me, by the way, not The Baby), but once there I spent a lovely hour massaging and cuddling The Baby, and chatting to other mums. It did make me realise that I had a “difficult” baby, I think that probably sounds harsher than I mean it to. But each week, one or more of the babies in the class would fall asleep during the session or once it had ended, without any crying or screaming, without having to be bounced or rocked or cuddled, with no fighting or tantrums. In a strange way it made me feel better.
Christmas arrived. I was very up and down. I looked at more baby groups to go to. The New Year came, I had the bottle-feeding epiphany, and that was six months of The Baby’s life gone; a little more than seven months of my maternity leave gone. How did that happen? The guilt set in again. Why had I not been normal? Why couldn’t I have just left the house, gone to baby groups, visited friends, looked after The Baby while looking after the house, and been an all-round ‘Proper Mum’ since the start? I had struggled with doing anything other than looking after The Baby; The Boyfriend was doing most of the cooking, washing and shopping. I felt useless. When my mood started to improve, so did my energy and motivation, and I began to do more in the house. Little tasks like cleaning the bathroom didn’t feel so daunting any more, whereas previously the thought of even making a cup of tea could reduce me to tears. Once I was feeling better, I started to feel angry at myself for being so useless and not being able to cope like everyone else could. I have no idea who these people were that I was constantly comparing myself to, but they were obviously more capable and more confident and more organised than me.
The last two and a half months have been spent both enjoying all my time with The Baby and desperately wishing I could turn the clock back. I know it’s not my fault, and in no way intentional that I was unlucky enough to struggle with depression and anxiety. Yet I feel in some ways that it was entirely my fault; as if at some point I could have chosen to stop it. This is good, I feel, as I think it’s a good sign that I’m feeling much better and in a hugely different frame of mind than I was back then.
I now intend to spend the next six days breathing in every tiny detail of The Baby, and making sure I enjoy every moment with her, even the ones where she refuses to sleep, the moments spent having ridiculous tantrums over ridiculous things, the horrendously early wake-up calls in the morning, and every spoonful of yogurt that is raspberried over my face. I don’t want to look back in nine months time, wondering why I spent my last week at home feeling sad about not enjoying the previous nine months, when I should have enjoyed my last few days at home with The Baby.