It’s funny how you forget the newborn phase. It’s been five years since my first daughter arrived and suddenly with my second, it’s all come flooding back. The first week I felt like a mess body-wise. It was hard to sit down without wincing so sleep wasn’t a priority. I also had a healthy does of adrenalin leftover from the birth and the sudden shift in family dynamics. This time I’d also armed myself with a hefty self-care tool kit – deep breathing, carbs, chocolate, warm showers, gentle stretches, more deep breathing when the panic set in, andSelfishMother.com2watching comedies (as an aside I watched Ellen Degeneres’s new stand up show on Netflix and would recommend to anyone in need of a positive boost). These things worked. I felt less anxious than I had first time around (and I was SUPER ANXIOUS first time). I felt stronger. More resilient.
I’d nailed this whole newborn thing or so I thought.
’How’s it going?’ a fellow Mum asked in the local park, ’I mean you look like you haven’t even had a baby.’
’Oh great,’ I replied, ’SO much better than last time.’
I didn’t tell her that I’d got up early to apply make up. Or that the minute it began to get dark in the evenings I felt a creeping sense of unease.
’Well that’s good’ she said smiling, ’Well done you.’
I told myself I was doing well. I was doing well. I tried the deep breathing and then when I got home I wrote in my diary (this apparently helps with anxiety and managing emotions too). The health visitor came the next day.
’So how are you mental health wise?’ she asked.
’Great,’ I said.
Underneath I could feel a glimmer of anxiety rearing its ugly head. I hadn’t slept. I had forgotten the not sleeping bit. I had forgotten how weird it could make you feel.
’Are you sure?’ she asked.
I was being analysed. She was trying to determine whether I was fibbing.
’Oh yes I’m great,’ I said, my voice shaking ever so slightly.
’So many of the women I see have post natal depression,’ she said before she left, ’But you seem to have a good handle on things.’
’No I’m great.’
I was saying GREAT a lot. I was really thinking just how tired I was. I was mentally okay but tired. If I kept saying GREAT then maybe it would all be okay. Week two and the full impact of sleep deprivation kicked in. You can be as determined as you like but no sleep does funny things to your brain. You nod off whenever you sit down on a comfy chair. Small things like someone snoring irritate you WAY more than normal. It doesn’t matter how much mindfulness or gentle stretching you do. Or how much under eye concealer you spread all over your face. Or comedies you watch back to back. It’s torture.
I started to do some mental arithmatic. I calculated I might be getting some sleep in six months. Maybe eight. Maybe a year. I started to feel not so great.
’My two year old has been awake every night shouting,’ another friend said in the park the next day (this time I was thinking how comfy the hard, wooden log looked to the right of the climbing frame. I was wondering if I could nap on it for a while.)
’TWO?’ I said alarmed.
Then I remembered that my oldest daughter hadn’t really slept through the night until she was three. She’d always been an early riser. I felt a wave of panic come over me. No more sleep. NO MORE SLEEP EVER. At this rate I would be in my late forties by the time I slept again. I would be claming a pension. I’d have grey hair and have gone through menopause. I would be in a mobility vehicle. I would be in a retirment home. I would get one decent night’s sleep and then I would die.
’You need to nap in the day,’ the friend said, ’Sleep when the baby sleeps.’
I’d always hated this advice. The thing is I’m not good at napping in the day. I can’t. I can close my eyes but I won’t drift off. Some people are daytime nappers and others aren’t. I CANNOT SLEEP WHEN THE BABY SLEEPS! I wanted to scream. HELP ME! I WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!
And it’s winter and it gets dark at four pm and the anxiety starts up. So I stretch or run a bath or watch a comedy and it passes again. It’s only sleep. I can survive. I will survive.
My advice? Well unfortunately you cannot MAKE a baby sleep so I try to take it one day at a time. If I catastrophise about lack of sleep, or think too hard about the future and how the sleep deprivation stretches into infinity…well the anxiety re-surfaces. I try and do other things. I write. The writing about it keeps me sane.
’It’ll pass,’ my Mum said, ’It always does.’
And she’s right. It’ll pass. That parenting old chestnut. How many times do people say IT’LL PASS? But it might be six months. Or it might be three years.
’You might have a good sleeper,’ Mum says.
She’s right. I might.
Or I might not.