Part 6- The Beginning of the Rest of My Life!

So, what is motherhood like 13 weeks post partum?

You will hear everyone tell you it’s hard work but rewarding, but what exactly do they mean by that? The first month was an assault on my boobs and my sleep as she was up every 2 hours for milk and cried through every nappy change (but we think the cold baby wipes had something to do with that). Breastfeeding also helps shrink your uterus and you feel it shrinking – feels like mild contractions. So unless you’ve eaten for two or three, most of the pregnancy weight comes right off, very quickly. This was the time when sleep deprivation was at its most intense, as just as you are about to fall asleep, it’s time for another feed. Sometimes I would dread those feeds because my nipples were sore or one was cracked.

Babies will cry for everything! That is the only way they can communicate with you. So if they are tired, hot, cold, pissed off, want a cuddle, etc , they’ll cry. Sometimes after you’ve checked the obvious, they’ll still cry, just because… then you realize that sleep will never be the same for the rest of your natural life. You will sleep with one eye and ear open, and will develop surveillance skills that will put a CIA agent with night vision goggles to shame. I can tell when she’s about to wake up when she’s in another room, with the TV or radio blaring in the background. My husband took two weeks paternity leave, which helped as we were basically on our own, as my mum was looking after my sister who had lost her baby, and almost died due to placenta accreta – where the placenta grows through the uterus and surrounding organs. So those of you that had mummy dearest or the equivalent, consider yourself lucky.

The second month was better as the sleeping was stretching for a bit longer, my stitches had just about healed and my baby was starting to smile. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, when they smile, all is forgiven. I still found it hard and incredibly lonely as it was just me and my baby, all day until my husband got home from work. I never thought it was possible to forget to eat or drink or shower, but you do. Going to the toilet was Mission Impossible because she would wake up the minute I left the room, then you’d be wracked with guilt that you just want time to yourself, just for 5 minutes. My hubby was responsible for bathing her, and this was my time to take a bath and sort myself out. Breastfeeding was getting easier too and I was so glad I soldiered on through the pain. If she over-slept, my boobs knew about it as they would fill up with milk – you can feel it coming in. Sometimes they’d be engorged and they would get as hard as rocks. I’d then have to express the milk as my boobs were too round with milk (think balloon) for baby to latch on. One time I left the milk in too long and it blocked a milk duct – you don’t want that experience. Think someone piercing hot needles through your nipple, and the only way to cure it is for baby to suck even more. There is nothing more toe curling than that…

The third month was getting there and I was in the throes of a routine and was starting to feel human. She was only waking up once at night, but we now had to contend with eczema. I’ve never had it, but watching my baby girl scratching her head till it bled was heart breaking. If God granted such prayers, I would have asked him to give me the eczema because at least I knew what it was. We managed to get a handle on it after 3 weeks, but those were the longest 3 weeks for me. We did cover her hands but she always managed to free them, and we cut her nails but she only dug deeper. There were days when she would cry for what seemed to be no reason, and I would just sit down and cry with her. What no one tells you is that motherhood is over-whelming – you got hormones coursing through your veins, plus sleep deprivation mixed in with hunger, physical changes and your other life you are trying to maintain. I remember really wanting to sleep, but she was awake and crying from colic/reflux, I was on my own and I just cradled her and cried. I wasn’t crying because I was depressed, I just really wanted to sleep. I totally understand why some women get post natal depression… You can’t do simple things anymore and I quickly learnt how to brush my teeth, load/unload washing machine, take a wee, and even make a fried egg toasted sandwich with one hand.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not all doom and gloom but this period will test your limits – I understand why sleep deprivation seems to be a standard torture tool in the movies. Every morning I was greeted by the biggest smile, and reminded that at least someone was happy to see me, regardless of my unkempt appearance. I still live for those smiles each day, as I’ve been told the teenage years will put a stop to it. My daily to-do list looked something like this:

1. Whatever baby wants (i.e milk, cuddles, playtime, nappy change, etc)
2. Toilet breaks – especially for a number two
3. Food – usually a bowl of cornflakes at 11am
4. Sleep
5. Bath/shower/brush teeth
6. Keep house looking OK
7. Everything else…

99% of the time, I’d just about make 1-4 and the rest would be scrapped for another day. This was my routine, how I spent my day and I’m convinced my husband thought I was being lazy as he would often remark at how someone who spends all day at home, has done nothing. Sometimes he would find me in the same spot he left me when he went to work in the morning. I would have moved during the day, but he always got home during nap time. How I wish it was nothing – when sleep is at a premium, nothing else mattered. He didn’t realize that by bathing our child, he was allowing me some Me time in the shower and the opportunity to work my way down that list. That time allowed me to be just me – Varaidzo, not a wife, not a mum, just me. It was important because I felt like a cross between a cow and house maid, where you get to the end of the day and you still haven’t done you. You will realize that it’s easy for men to switch off, but mum can’t switch off. For example, men will often say, “The baby slept well last night” … erm no, you slept so well, you missed the action last night! You will get loads of visitors, but the best are those that cook for you, iron your clothes, clean the house, etc. I don’t understand how one visits a new mum and expects to be catered for – I really didn’t care for what kind of day or journey you’d had, especially when you’d had the opportunity to have your meals with no issues.

My hubby also found the transition difficult, I mean, I was his number one fan until I popped a new star out. No one to dote on him, he couldn’t breastfeed, eating meals alone, etc, I’m sure it was hard but as far as I was concerned he had it easy because at least he was sleeping at night, could eat whenever he wanted, he could soak in the bath tub for hours, he could even make an online purchase in 10 mins or less instead of 5 days. My time was now managed by my new PA – my daughter and he had to do manage himself. I can understand why they say a baby will test the strength of your relationship – the changes to your world are so immense and surviving this period
is really down to both of you being mature about the other person’s situation. So for the men with the balls to read this, this is what foreplay involves :

  •  take the baby off her so that she can have a bath or go for a Number 2. If you are worried that the baby will cry, guess what? Babies cry, get with the programme and welcome to our world. Just because I’m it’s mother doesn’t mean I enjoy the crying or know why they are crying in the first place.
  •  If the house is untidy, don’t add to the mess – in fact help out a little. Just because we are home all day, it doesn’t mean we are available for house work. If my baby decides to have a 45 min feed, followed by nappy change which might involve projectile pooing or weeing on Mummy (even girls), followed by 30 mins of playtime, then another 45 mins fighting sleep; and I am still “nil by mouth”, that dirty kitchen or room can frankly go to hell. Household chores do not qualify for Me time.
  •  If you don’t have clean clothes or ironed shirts, pick up that ironing board and do your thang. Or even better, pay someone to do it. I used to be able to do laundry and ironing every Sunday without fail – key words are used to.
  • -Help with bulk cooking and offer her food – just because I’ve been home all day doesn’t mean I’ve eaten. We need something that can be prepared using one hand, and eaten with a fork, preferably a spoon, for those moments when baby decides your other arm is a perfect seat or bed.
  •  Just give her a hug and a kiss – If you want your other manly needs to be met, do this more often. The only skin to skin a new mum gets is with her baby, and that kind of skin-to-skin is not the kind for sexual healing. More random hugs and kisses remind us that you are still there, even as eye candy.
  • Realize that life as you know it has changed forever. It changed for the woman the minute she knew she was expecting, and it changed for you when you realised your sex schedule had been re-arranged without your consent. So you got some catching up to do.
  • You will get loads of advice from relatives, but remember that their circumstances are different to yours, and the mother of your child knows that baby better than anyone. If people think she holds the baby too much, so what? They are not spending 99% of their time with your child, so maintain some common sense and perspective. For example, nappy change advice is often based on reusable cotton nappies – well guess what? I’m using disposables and babies can last longer in those. Or relatives that advocate that you let your child cry it out… My little girl has just been thrust in a world which requires clothing, breathing, eating, hunger pangs, car seats and houses – she is not crying for fun and I’ll find better ways to exercise her lungs.

This is not an excuse for women to let go, the point is, the more people help without being asked, then it’s more likely that I’ll do my hair, my nails, etc as we really do not like looking like the cat lady from The Simpsons. I also found it important to make friends with other mums with kids that will be in the same school year, at least your conversation will show you that you are not alone, and you can share tips. This is not discounting the non-mothers, but like I said, the only people who’ll be able to understand your frustrations and worries will be other mothers. The non- mothers are important as they are your link to the rest of the world and current affairs, so don’t ignore them – they are the key to your sanity.

As you leave one set of worries, another set will spring up in their place and you realize that this is how it will be for the rest of your life. Such is the life we chose, and such is the life we must live. I hope my experience has lifted the lid on this secretive world, or helped someone somewhere. The important thing to remember throughout all those sleepless nights, feeding stations, etc is that they do grow out of that phase so fast, and you will find yourself reminiscing. I look at her now and marvel at how much she has grown, it’s like where’s my little baby gone. Maybe it’s because we had a long journey to conception, but even when she’s keeping me up at night with her wails, I am grateful as I know she is here and alive.

So, to summarize:

  •  Unexplained infertility is hard, but what is harder is letting go and just relaxing. There have been countless cases like ours, where you let go and you get pregnant. So that’s the only advice I can give those experiencing it – just let go. The human body doesn’t see the sense in supporting life when you are stressed.
  •  Miscarriages are a fact of life – it happens more often than you think. Sometimes your late period is a miscarriage.
  •  Severe morning sickness is a real medical condition and can be life threatening. When the Duchess of Cambridge had it, I didn’t think it was real, until I got it. I couldn’t even take any prenatal vitamins, but that was fine because my preconception diet was very good. Your body will use your reserves for the baby in extreme situations.
  • If you are ever asked to contribute to or organize a baby shower, please pass on the information that will make a difference. In fact, I think men should have their own version where they are prepped for whats to come.
  • Conquering labour pains is more mental than physical. I was expecting to have a near-death experience but in hindsight it wasn’t like that. Be prepared for anything – I had a music playlist and when contraction peaked, I just turned the music off. See how far you can take the pain, then make your decision.
  • Be prepared for the random thoughts and irrational fears once you give birth – it’s normal. People say you will throw yourself in front of a train to save your child, true, but I’d rather not find myself in a situation where I’d have to do that. I now understand why my parents never traveled on the same flight together without us.
  • The first 3 months are hard, but take one day at a time. Remember that your baby knows nothing about this new world and their tummies are tiny – they will cry.

And as we both continue our journey around the sun, I don’t know whether Mu will have a little brother or sister as I’m still traumatized by my morning sickness but I do know that she will be loved. I also hope my journey has enlightened the first time mothers here or anyone planning to have a lodger in their uterus. I wish I’d known what to expect, as I didn’t even know what questions to ask? Now, you do and here’s to better birthing stories and a more supportive sisterhood!

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