It's telling that after typing in 'baby' whilst browsing through my web provider's generous offerings of stock photos, there wasn't a single picture of a crying baby- I even typed in 'crying baby', and 'newborn'. My point is, that unless you have first-handexperience of raising a newborn through to toddlerhood (maybe you were the eldest of a large family -I wasn't- or you might have had very close friends who let (!) you share in their new baby experience (I didn't), then a newborn baby comes as a shock. They cry. A lot. For no apparent reason. And that's scary...
The shocking realisation is that you are actually human after all. You probably realised this already. Not me, I was labouring (no pun intended) under the misconception that I was in control of my life and I also had the somewhat teenaged notion that I was outside of the aging process and also that I could cosmically order stuff to appear in my life, in short, I was pretty sure that I was a supreme being. I really miss that last super power and hope that it returns one day.
Changing Sense of Self
In actual fact, the analogy I used in all genuineness in those early days was that of Superman in Superman II (the OLD superman films, of course!) when superman elected to give up his super powers in order to become a mortal and experience all the richness that entailed. Hmmm... it's telling that within a few minutes of this happening he caught a cold and was beaten up by a bunch of rednecks in a bar. That was how I felt once the strange glowing unreality of the first two weeks of being a new parent wore off. If I'm honest, I never got beaten up , but I felt like I had been, does that count? I caught cold after cold, my car was written off whilst parked outside my house. This is the car I'd forgotten to tax in the last month of waiting for my daughter's arrival thus making for numerous complications and anxieties. My best friend of years fell out with me and my stomach looked like an empty bagpipe. Things were not going well.
And yet...my terror at my daughter's crying- which really did sound like a twelve year old's scream on the Pepsi Max (turned out she had reflux and a tongue tie, but that came to light MUCH later)- led me to sit up alone with her all night on the second night and just hold her as she fell asleep in my arms. And as the dawn came in I just melted inside, something gave and I felt nothing but pure love and cried with some sort of completion I'd never known before. She still cried, and slept. And the hours of blissful breastfeeding whilst sitting in the sun (and watching the highly un-milky 'Fortitude', followed by Poldark) were like a tiny flame glowing into life. And in this, believe me, I knew I was lucky. I had had the moment that I feared throughout my pregnancy wouldn't happen- falling in love with my baby. And I'd also found breastfeeding remarkably straightforward- another overwhelming anxiety during my pregnancy. So everything was great. Except I was still Superman without any powers and as she grew in strength and personality I seemed to diminish and become more snappy and obsessed.
Breakdown or Breakthrough?
I really couldn't understand how I could take so much delight in this burgeoning new being, feeling such giddy happiness, and yet feel on the edge of, well it wasn't despair as I understood it, more irrationality, verging on insanity on those bad days. I have now come to realise that it was the breakdown of my personality and my fight to maintain the self I had come to identify with before I became a mother. So this tale of two cities has a happy ending (a happy continuation really- I have broken this post off three times to soothe my daughter who still doesn't sleep and is teething) because I have made peace with the fact that I am not the same person I once was and I never will be again. This sounds like I just made a decision. In the end I did but it took lots of support and hard work to manoeuvre myself into a place where acceptance or even understanding of who I had become was possible. And you know what? I even paid for some of that support. My family is fragmented and lives in far flung places and some of us just don't get on. My mum would come up when she could, cleaning and cooking us marvellous meals and pushing girly up and down cobbles in her pram, but emotional support is not always best served by family.
It happened by accident really. I phoned an acupuncturist to say that I felt something weird and hormonal was going on and could she stick some needles in and make it all better. She said she thought it sounded like depression. I didn't really agree as I didn't feel sad- people feel sad when they're depressed, right? I didn't say anything though and agreed to an appointment with the acupuncturist who is also a psychotherapist. And that was the start of my feeling better. And it didn't take very long to feel better.
So now I don't hesitate to consider emotional support (paid or not) as the most important tool in my parental tool kit. And because of this I have had a 'breakthrough' and not a 'breakdown'. My life IS richer as a mortal- feeling all the pain and anxiety that parenthood can offer, in fact allowing myself to become vulnerable so that I can show my daughter how to do the same.