Expectations: Part 2 (The very honest part)
So after my ranty post last week, it’s time for some honesty.
As I have previously said, I have high expectations. Very high expectations. Maybe too high expectations. I believe that if a job is worth doing it’s worth doing well. And in stark contrast to when I was growing up, when people would always comment, ‘Ah, she gets there in the end!’ things for me now need to be very immediate. I expect results, quickly. (That’s why I hate trying to lose weight, it never bloody comes off as quickly as I’d expect, or would like!)
So when I first got pregnant I naturally had expectations. Of the pregnancy, of the birth, of what being a parent would be like. And with my first, and every baby after, those expectations changed, and were either challenged, or exceeded.
To begin with, when I was 24 years old, I didn’t expect to fall pregnant. Nor did I (Unsurprisingly!) expect the father of the child to say that I was a ‘slapper’ (I wasn’t) and that the baby couldn’t possibly be his. Several long and lonely months and one rather expensive paternity test later (funded by the father, not by Jeremy Kyle) I was proved right. Then, I expected things to change. I thought the hard work was over and that I wouldn’t be alone in this anymore. That he’d be around. But I shouldn’t have expected anything like that. After a pregnancy where he saw me only twice and wasn’t present at the birth, I was silly to expect him to want to get involved. He didn’t. At all. He went to Crete for a holiday when our daughter was three weeks old, saying he was stressed about being a father and needed time out. *Insert own swear word here* So…he was in Crete, sunning it up, and I was awake 24 hours a day feeding a dependent little baby. I was exhausted. And felt isolated. I remember one particularly difficult day, when my Aunt came round to meet my daughter. She held her and said, ’She’s gorgeous, I bet you can’t stop looking at her.’ And I smiled, an empty smile, and said, ‘Of course.’ But inside, all I was thinking was, ‘Actually, I could quite easily stop looking at her.’
Don’t get me wrong, I loved her, very much, but as many new mums are I was exhausted, and completely and utterly overwhelmed. I would think, ‘What have I done, why can’t I settle my own child, what am I doing wrong?’ The health visitor wouldn’t even let me fill in the mental health questionnaire at my six-week check. She said I was obviously depressed. (No s*** Sherlock) But no support was offered. No anti-depressants, no counseling, no nothing…oh, except a half an hour visit to teach me the basics of ‘crying it out.’ My baby girl was just six weeks old. And I was told that crying it out was the only option, my only option, and the only solution to my problems. No recognition of the fact that I was doing it all completely on my own. That I was exhausted and doubting myself. That most of all I needed support, and encouragement, not some hideously awful method that leaves both you and your baby in even more tears and a worse state afterwards than you were before. But I was desperate, and against all of my instincts I followed the health visitor’s advice. One night my daughter cried on and off (with me going in regularly as instructed of course) from midnight until five o’clock in the morning. And so did I. But agree with it or not, eventually it worked, and she slept. And I began to feel better.
I met a lovely group of mums who met regularly. We each took in turns to cry when we were together, (Thankfully our meltdowns all seemed to happen at different times!) and we were all so fantastically supportive of each other. I never expected to make such wonderful friends through having a baby. And good friends we were, for several fun-filled years. But as our lives changed, so did our needs, and our friendships sadly fizzled out. I’d never expected that to happen either.
So…I put my post-natal depression down to the fact that I was a single parent, sleep deprived and struggling alone. And it was never mentioned or talked about again. Until I got pregnant with my second baby. (This time planned!)
My daughter was 6, and I was living with my now husband. I was excited about having a baby. About having a baby with a man who wanted to have a baby with me. I didn’t expect all of the unresolved problems and emotions from my first pregnancy to come back with a vengeance. I became irritable, panicky, suffering so many palpitations that I eventually needed an ECG, which thankfully was normal. I became a jealous woman, over obsessing about some woman my husband worked with. (Yes I even checked his phone and emails) I would cry, a lot. I couldn’t seem to get a grip. My poor husband could do nothing right (Don’t get me wrong, he’s not perfect by ANY stretch of the imagination, but he didn’t deserve the abuse he was getting) and my daughter didn’t understand where the mummy she knew had gone. So pre-natal depression was diagnosed. And this time I was offered counseling. There was a waiting list of course, but thankfully not too long. Counseling was hard. I regularly didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to talk about myself yet again. (Which is MOST unlike me!) I had light-bulb moment during session four, where I realized that I was subconsciously expecting my husband to be as big of an arse as my daughter’s father. That I was taking out all of my hurt and anger on him. And annoyingly now, even as I write this I’ve never been able to stand up to my daughter’s father, to tell him what I really think of him. He’s in her life now, every other weekend and I’ve left it up to her to make her own judgments about him. It’s not my place to tell her I think he’s an *insert own insult here* I should perhaps tell him one day though.
Anyway, my first son was born and it was wonderful. He slept better than my daughter had and I had a man there to help in the middle of the night. (Plus an iPod with games which I hadn’t had the first time!) I had however, expected to breastfeed. I tried. So hard. And he kept losing weight. So formula top ups were suggested. After only 3 days. My milk hadn’t even come in yet. But they worked and thankfully he gained weight. My milk came in and I stopped the top ups, expecting it to all be ok, like it had been with my daughter. (Well, until three months when some idiot on his mobile phone driving a massive lorry crashed into my car and the stress of the accident caused my milk to disappear overnight) But it wasn’t ok. My son lost weight again. My big hungry boy either wouldn’t latch on properly or my stupid boobs wouldn’t work properly, or the crash did untold damage. I had no choice but to continue the top ups and mixed feeding, and did this until he was twelve weeks old. I never expected to feel guilty about not fully breastfeeding, I was always and still very much am pro-choice, but I still do feel guilty. It’s not as easy as they say it is. It’s bloody hard work and it doesn’t always come naturally. No matter how hard you want it to work and no matter what you do, sometimes it just doesn’t. As always the media and social websites don’t help, often comparing formula feeding to smoking, but…I digress and once again that, is another blog post!!
So onto my third (and definitely last baby!) You’d think having done it twice before I’d be well prepared. That my expectations of parenthood and being a mum would be pretty much spot on. That nothing new could throw me because I’d been there, done it all and got the t-shirt! Oh how gloriously wrong I was. My third baby, my second son, would see all of my expectations get thrown out of the window. He would challenge them all. Every single bloody one of them. My first son had slept, and I’d coped, why on earth would I expect having this baby to be any different? But he didn’t sleep, at all. And I didn’t cope, at all. I couldn’t understand it at first, ‘But my babies sleep’ went round my head and out my mouth often. And yet he still didn’t. He didn’t do what I expected, and I wasn’t coping how I’d expected and it threw me. I spent my days unable to look at him as if I did I would have a huge panic attack. I firmly believed that I couldn’t look after him, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to stop the crying. I spent my nights desperately trying to get him to sleep, crying uncontrollably when five minutes after he’d settled he’d be crying for me again. I’d scream at my husband that I couldn’t do it, that he needed to take him away. I constantly planned how I would run away, where and when I’d go. (Middle of the night, to a friend up north) I mentally wrote the note I would write and leave to tell my husband that I couldn’t be a mum to this baby, that the family was better off without me because all I did was panic and cry and shout. I’d cling to my son during the day and not let anyone hold him because then he would wake up and the crying would start. People now say I looked trapped. I certainly felt trapped. Everyone knew something was wrong. Even me. But I just thought I was sleep deprived. That when I got more sleep I would feel better. Unsurprisingly I didn’t. Five weeks in and my son was only waking once in the night for a feed, yet I had developed insomnia, and would cry all night, unable to sleep a wink. Thankfully my health visitor recognised that I was ill. Very ill. And one day, when I was sat in my car outside the supermarket, thinking I’d rather go to sleep and never wake up again than live because life was just too damn hard, I recognized that I was ill too. And that I needed help. And lots of it.
I never expected to get post-natal depression. And when I did, so badly the third time around, I never expected to be able to get better. But I’m getting there. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been referred for CBT and art therapy and see my wonderful doctor regularly. But I’m also lucky that I have those high expectations of myself, and that I will do anything I can to get better and be the best mum I can for all of my fantastic children. (Um and yes, a good wife to that husband of mine too!) And get there I most definitely will.
Thank you for reading x