I have been trying to post this forever! I’m currently sat in the car waiting for our little lady to wake up. Then we are off to see papa and opa in Leiden for Koningsdag or King’s Day. Basically a lovely day which celebrates being Dutch and the King’s birthday. There is lots of orange everywhere, huge markets where even little kiddies put out stuff to sell and lots of beer and good food. It’s great fun.
But anyway onto the post. It’s hectic having a baby (hence taking a moment of peace to blog in the car!). One former colleague described parenthood in the early years as being ‘cumulatively tired’ which I thought hit the nail on the head. You build up this reservoir of lack of sleep and it just accumulates over time. One or two early nights is just never going to make a dent. People try and tell you about how exhausted you will be but, as with pretty much everything in life, no one can prepare you for the onslaught which is no sleep.
When they are first born you are feeding them round the clock. I am not a good sleeper at the best of times and I have a hatred of sleeping during the day, so the advice to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ was quite useless.
Our baby as I think I’ve mentioned previously was in the neonatal intensive care unit for her first week and then in a medium care ward for the second as she recovered from Strep B. A truly terrifying experience that I still can’t think about – but it also meant that again I had no sleep. Lorazepam didn’t work (the mothering instinct is overwhelmingly strong) and I wasn’t sleeping as all I wanted to do was sit in NICU and hold my baby, willing her better.
Now, I have very strong opinions on the whole breastfeeding/formula feeding argument for women with mental health problems which I am not going to go into here. I will do so in a dedicated feeding post. But suffice to say that as I continued my lithium through pregnancy and after birth, I was categorically told no breastfeeding.
I didn’t realise how much not being able to breastfeed my baby would devastate me until she was lying there helpless in her incubator and I felt utterly useless as a mother to even do something as basic as provide food and the best nourishment possible for my poorly little one.
Logic and reason dictated that I had to take increased dosages of lithium to keep me stable and sane to support my baby. But, in the first throes of motherhood, with pregnancy and labour hormones charging around, combined with the sheer hard work/exhaustion of giving birth and a mental illness on top, logic flies out the window and nature’s instincts become warped beyond reason.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I also had postpartum psychosis and since then the whole feeding thing became this huge issue in my mind. It took me a good 3 months, if not more, to get comfortable with giving her a bottle. I felt quite panicked every time I had to feed her, and only relaxed when DH was home. Yet somewhere in those early months with our little potato I grew to love those quiet moments where I could gawp at this amazing creature guzzling down this synthetic fluid, able to keep her alive in a way I couldn’t.
As the months have rolled on and our potato has turned into a roaring, crawling rocket powered Womble getting into every nook and cranny possible (evidence below) – or chasing after the dog with abandoned glee at every given opportunity – quiet moments of contemplation have become rare.
Exhibit A: baby womble in action
Our peaceful moments now come at four intervals during the day, courtesy of bottle time. I have learned to cherish these breaks with her, admiring how she still has the same single minded determination in her eyes that she did at a day old to get as much milk as possible down her. It allows me time to sit and cuddle my baby and take time out just to admire how goddamned amazing she is. And to be baffled all over again at how on earth we managed to make something so perfect.
These feeding minutes of still and silence, bonding with my baby every step of the way (it is entirely possible to have just as meaningful a bonding experience with bottle feeding as breast feeding I happily discovered), bring me such peace. A recurring theme in my self-management of this illness is establishing peace. Watching my baby guzzle her bottle, putting down the phone and turning off the TV and focusing just on her is such a stabilising thing for me to do.
At 11 months we still cuddle and hold her to give her her bottle. I’m going to do it for as long as possible.
Exhibit B: optimum baby Womble feeding position
Who would have thought the poison that I was convinced was formula would end up being a leading source of contentment, just letting me hold my baby whilst she is quietly in a milky haze? Certainly not me, but these days I am so grateful for it 🙂
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