the first one is an experiment

February 11, 2011

family life

My first child kicked so hard and so much in utero, we joked that he was going to be a world class soccer player. He was active, and never seemed to rest. I worked two jobs whilst I was carrying him. One job was in a group home where one of the clients was very frustrating to work with. I used to say that my blood pressure went up twenty points every time I walked into that home. I now know that my baby was washed in the stress hormones that were triggered by that stressful work environment.

I fell over in the front garden when I was nearly 9 months pregnant. It was 11 o’clock at night, and I was talking to our neighbour, when I tripped and fell into our car in the driveway. I put a small dent in the door of the car. The social worker at the hospital asked me if I were a victim of domestic violence. Apparently heavily pregnant women don’t talk to their neighbours late at night. I told her that he was handing me a ginger cake that his elderly mother had made for me, and she frowned.

We were also renovating our house throughout my pregnancy. Renovations that are still not finished, by the way. I was standing on the kitchen bench painting the cornices when my labour started.

I worked past my due date. My workplace did not offer maternity leave and if I wanted to retain my job I would have to return to work when the baby was 6 weeks old. My husband planned long service leave to look after the baby for a few months when I returned to work.

The birth was long and painful. When the contractions started they were five minutes apart and stayed that way for several days. The hospital kept turning me away, saying it was going to be a long labour. In the end I was hallucinating, I wasn’t in my body any more, I was dreaming about walking in the park.  I felt that I was going to die. Such was the intensity of the pain, I felt calm about death, it would have been a release. Several shifts of midwives clocked off and on. The midwife that saw the delivery through suggested an epidural and my husband agreed.

Under the epidural, the pain ceased but the birth was taking so long. As the baby grew more stressed, the midwife said that if I couldn’t push the baby out they needed to do a caesarian. Eventually my baby was delivered by ventouse. He had inhaled meconium and needed to be taken to intensive care.

After the birth, one of the nurses took some blood tests. She said that my ketones were so high my body was drawing energy from my organs. I could have suffered organ failure. It was no surprise to me. The active phase of labour which is the only bit they measure, went for something like 18 hours. They don’t take into account the long days of contractions five minutes apart. When expecting mothers tell me they are worried that there will be too much intervention in hospital, I say that sometimes they allow things to go for too long.

After two days in the NICU, my baby pulled out all of the tubes and wires that he was attached to. An older matron said to me “he’s a horrible baby”. They were feeding him formula whilst they supported me to breastfeed him. The matron said that he was getting too much formula but that she was following the regulations. My body was too tired to produce milk.

When he came up to the postnatal ward with me, I couldn’t feed him. He was used to getting fed formula on a regular basis. He didn’t sleep because he was hungry. I didn’t sleep because I was trying to feed him. No sleep on top of a traumatic birth meant no milk. The nurses kept saying “keep trying”. 

We had to stay in the hospital for a week to make sure my baby’s lungs were free of infection from the meconium. That was the worst week of my life. I remember laying in the bed with the crib next to me, and holding my hand on the dummy in the baby’s mouth just so I could get some rest. Every now and again, my baby would stop breathing, and when I called the nurses they told me I was being a panicky mother.

The home visit nurses kept saying “keep feeding him, the milk will come in”. He still wasn’t sleeping and neither was I. He got jaundice.

We took him to the paediatrician when he was six weeks old. The paediatrician was a huge man. His hands were enormous. Think Hagred on the Harry Potter movies. My husband whispered “that’s why he wasn’t a gynaecologist”. The paediatrician held my outstretched baby in one hand, looked at me, and said softly “your baby has been going hungry”. I was so tired, I just nodded. The paediatrician recommended that I supplement breastfeeding with a bottle. Finally someone was making sense. I found out that my baby’s tongue tie was also affecting his feeding.

As soon as I started comp feeding, my milk came in. I’d alternate breastfeeding with bottle feeding, and doing that gave me the rest I needed to produce the milk my baby needed. I returned to work the next week.

But my baby still wasn’t sleeping. He would wake every hour, on the hour, every night. I would lie in bed waiting for him to wake up so I could settle him to sleep again, usually just by giving him a soothing pat. To make matters worse, the breathing monitor would go off several times through the night. He would stop breathing but start again on his own. 

Through the day he wouldn’t have a sleep like ‘normal’ babies. His sleeps went for 20 minutes at a time and he might have two per day. Despite all of this lack of sleep, he was a happy baby.  I was a zombie. He was a very colicky baby up until he weaned himself at 5 months. I honestly think my milk didn’t agree with him.

People said…

  • When he goes to daycare, he’ll sleep better. They’ll be able to get him into a good routine (implying that I couldn’t). He was an un-routinable baby, and he still didn’t sleep. 
  • When he’s fully on the bottle, he’ll sleep better. He didn’t.
  • When he crawls, he’ll sleep better. He didn’t.
  • When he has solids, he’ll sleep better. He didn’t.
  • When he walks, he’ll sleep better. He didn’t.

I took him to an osteopath to see if the trauma of birth had done something to his skull. The osteopath did an alignment, but said he didn’t think there was anything physically wrong with the baby.

I was at a function and someone asked me if my baby was sleeping any better. When I said he wasn’t, an older woman looked at me with a scowl on her face and said “it’s all your fault”. One friend, a single dad, told me that I attended too much to the baby, that I should let him cry. I looked at his traumatised kids, and disregarded his advice.

A friend suggested I go to Tresillian. I told her that I was fed up with being judged, I was meeting all of my baby’s needs, and although I was tired I was able to monitor my mental health and seek help if required. I told her that I refused to do controlled crying, which was the only method Tresillian taught at the time. I did try controlled crying once. I did it for 40 minutes and baby slept for 6 minutes. Six minutes? Who sleeps for 6 minutes and wakes up ready to go again? He was also the kind of kid who would vomit if he got distressed, and I was too tired to wash blankets.

I still managed to continue studying at uni throughout.

My husband keen for baby to sleep better, started him on solids too soon. I thought he wasn’t ready, but my husband insisted. Baby choked a bit on the solids, which established a fear of solids, and he refused them until he was 2 years old. My boy lived happily and healthily on formula and custard until he was 2 years old. Rice cereal upset his tummy. We always offered a variety of foods and one day he decided to eat.

My boy continued to wake every hour, on the hour, every night, for 14 months. Why all of a sudden did he start sleeping through the night, eight hours straight? No idea. I cannot come up with any reason for it. I was just glad for it.

People asked me why I went for another baby, I laughed and said “how could another baby have been that tricky, and if he was then I knew what I had to do”.

When my boy was about 18 months old, he fell ill. He had been falling over a lot. He developed a very high temperature, and was banging his head on his pillow through the night. I took him to the GP straight away. He couldn’t find anything wrong with him. We took him to another three GP’s over the next two days, until he was finally diagnosed with middle ear infection. One GP told me I was just being a fussy mother and was more concerned with the bruise on his head than with his high temperature.

When he was two years old, a carer at the long day care centre told me she had been concerned that my boy wasn’t talking, but he had recently been saying a few words. I told her that was interesting as he never shut up at home.

People insisted that I toilet train him at the age of 2. He just wasn’t ready to give up his nappy, dummy, or bottle. Having studied Freud, I told them I would start him at 3. He was toilet-trained in 2 days. A friend who toilet-trained her son at the age of 2, struggled for the whole year.

He continued to have a bottle before bed until he was 5 years old. He found great comfort in it. Was he psychologically damaged because he had a bottle for so long? Having trained in psychology, I say that he wasn’t. Is he a sook? As a sensitive soul, he will probably always have a soft side, it’s one of his strengths.

Although I had very long (and posterior) labours with the next two babies, I stayed only one night at the hospital, and that was only because they were born at night. Both were comp fed from birth. Both were indoctrinated into the ‘sleep, feed, play’ cycle from birth.  Both were toilet-trained at 3. I learnt a lot from my first baby, and I was far more assertive.

I refused the home visits with the second baby, but allowed them to come for the third baby. BIG mistake. As I was comp feeding, the nurse recommended a formula that was more compatible with breast milk, rather than my tried and true formula that I had used with my other two babies. The formula turned my baby’s poo a bright green. I was assured that was normal. I later found out that they took the formula off the market because the babies couldn’t absorb the nutrients from it. My third boy is very small for his age, and I have to wonder whether the formula had a part to play in that. I’m glad that I also breastfed him until he was 9 months old.

Same employer, same lack of maternity leave. Baby number 2 went into long day care at 8 weeks of age. Baby number 3 went into long day care at 9 weeks of age. I chose really good quality child care, that worked in partnership with parents. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t have any regrets.

My eldest boy is now 9. He is very athletic, toned, and muscled. He does play soccer very well.  He does kung fu extremely well. He is the sort of kid who can’t stay still, he has to keep moving. He is great at reading and maths. He eats a lot, and he eats everything, but tends to be a bit anxious that he won’t get enough. He is very kind and protective towards little kids. He loves babies. He has a low tolerance for frustration and is easily stressed. He has funny little habits which he finds great comfort in, and we have to choose our battles. He does tend to be bossy and is highly competitive, something we continue to work on. He sleeps very very well.

I’m not against advice. I give a lot of it in my work with children and families. There is definitely a knack to offering suggestions which consider the strengths of children and parents, and supporting people to make the right decisions for their situation.

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

View all posts by hakea


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28 Comments on “the first one is an experiment”

  1. kloppenmum Says:

    I so agree. The lack of understanding of temperament does my head in! I also struggle with the ‘highly nurturing mother = fussy/weak mother’; I know there are mothers who compound their children’s sensitivity, but that’s not everyone.

    There was a lot in your birth story which was familiar to me – a mixture of those things happened to our number two and number three. I, too learned, how to be assertive -after number one – after we threw the parenting books and old advice away, and found attachment research and lots of text books on neurology and biology. Great post.


    • hakea Says:

      After being treated so well by the paediatrician, I knew the difference between good advice and bad advice. Most of it was bad and didn’t consider me or my baby. The good advice was delivered in a kind and caring tone but was straight to the point.

      I hadn’t studied attachment theory with number 1 but I was reflective. I started my masters degree in the year I had baby number 2, and with all the study on attachment theory I was so glad I had not followed most of the advice handed out.

      I don’t understand why parents are so easily dismissed. If I am telling a GP that my baby has a high temp and has been writhing in pain, why does he think I am lying? I know that there are parents who create factitious disorders for their children but it is rare, and if you look at my medical record that’s not me.

      Thank you for your comment.


  2. kloppenmum Says:

    I think some parents aren’t reflective and tuned into their children, perhaps those are the ones the GPs see often. And GPs are the result of their own early attachment and emotional experiences, I guess they might not always be who we need them to be.

    My pleasure commenting, I’m very opinionated! (Hadn’t you noticed?)
    Have a good weekend.


    • hakea Says:

      I see some non-reflective, non-attuned, quite needy, parents in the work I do, but they always have a story that needs to be listened to. I have big ears. 🙂


  3. kloppenmum Says:

    I agree, everyone needs to be heard, but not everyone is listening. Lucky for the people you see…


  4. darkstarburning Says:

    Ugh.. the “You’re just being a fussy mother…” thing. It drove me crazy with my first child. “Professionals” would nod, smile, and say “First time Mom, eh?” like popping out my first child had replaced all my common sense with paranoia. I knew from the age of 2 that my son was autistic, but it took me 6 years of constant pushing to get him diagnosed.
    Pet peeve… grrrr! lol


    • hakea Says:

      quadruple grrrr

      I think that when we are aggrieved like that, we should write a complaint to all the bustards who refused to listen. But we usually are too relieved and tired to bother, and we just get on with things.

      To make it easier to complain, what about creating a postcard with some appropriate photograph (use your imagination) and emblazoned across the front “I was right, and you were wrong!”. And on the back should be printed “treat people with respect”. The parent handwrites a quick note. something like “you said I was a fussy mother, my son has finally been diagnosed with Autism. Thanks for your care and concern (not)!”

      Do you reckon that will do it? Jolt them out of their complacency maybe?

      thanks for sharing and commenting!


  5. phrogmom Says:

    it was great and harrowing to read this. i really think that if we listen to our hearts and intuition, we know exactly what our kids need. as a mom raising two boys in the attachment parenting style, i get a lot of grief from my parents about spoiling them, being too attached (like you can be too attached to your kids?), etc…


    • hakea Says:

      I was inspired to write this because of your post about the nutritionist visiting. It makes it all the harder when your kids have additional needs.

      Some parents get so tired of being judged, they stop asking for the assistance/support/advice they need. I see that in the community I work in, an overriding sense of hopelessness. The sense that they won’t be listened to, and the fear that they will be “under the microscope” as you said in your post. Who can blame them when they’ve been kicked in the guts their whole lives?

      Having worked in child protection, I know that there are some parents who will never have the capacity to parent and their instincts are not so great. But they still deserve to be treated with respect and to be listened to.

      You are right. Your kids can never have too much love, and a secure attachment creates great and wonderful humans.

      Thanks for sharing and commenting.


    • hakea Says:

      my favourite in-law story…

      I had 2 babies that I had to have ready to leave at 6:30 in the morning, so my husband and I could get to work. My husband started work at 7am and we had one car. At night I would put the babies in the clothes they were going to wear the next day, no pj’s. I had a lot to organise in a short amount of time and changing out of pj’s into day clothes was not a priority for me. My mother-in-law couldn’t believe it! She said I was being neglectful in my duty as a mother, and that she would buy my children some pj’s. I told her not to bother as I wouldn’t use them. I was working in child protection at the time, and told her that pj’s were not on the parenting capacity assessments.

      You’ll probably be glad to know that my kids did get pj’s when they were older, as things changed with starting times etc.


      • kloppenmum Says:

        Our kids still often go to bed in their clothes for the next day: more time to play in the morning before school. PJs are just a marketing ploy – I’m sure of it!

      • hakea Says:

        I’m sending child protection around to your place in the morning…lol

        Fancy those kids playing when they should be changing clothes?

  6. kloppenmum Says:

    I think you’re right about those who have never been treated with respect or been listened to, and I think there are a lot of people in ‘caring’ industries who are not able to listen due to their own backgrounds and emotional experiences and their own lack of self. Which is possibly a clearer way of saying what I was trying to say before.
    I also see another group of people who have everything in the world materially/socially and still have no sense of connection or feeling they are being listened to, sadly this often manifests as brattishness and an entitlement mentality. That’s the group of people I was talking about. Their needs are paramount in their minds, and often their visits to health professionals are less ‘my child has a real problem’ type and more ‘my child is an extension of me and my needs’ – you get this a lot with parents demanding antibiotics etc. It doesn’t help those of us with serious and real concerns, but if a health professional has little understanding of their own emotional processing and are constantly bombarded with this type of mother, it is possibly why the rest of us are shunted. No, it’s not ideal. Yes, I wish it was otherwise and big Yes, it’s not right – even for those who appear to be brats. But, currently anyway, it is. Thank goodness there are others who are more aware and truly engage in listening.


    • hakea Says:

      It’s the Aboriginal way…

      Let’s sit down and have a cuppa together, and I’ll listen to your yarn.

      One of my heroes in the solution-focused counselling field, Brian Cade, told me…
      If you push away a needy person, their need hasn’t been met and they come back needier. Meet the need until it is no longer needed!


      • kloppenmum Says:

        I can see that. It ties in with my understanding that you don’t force children to be independent, but satisfy their dependency needs and they naturally become independent in their own time. Exhausting business, though.

  7. kloppenmum Says:

    Naughty, eh?! hee, hee, 🙂


  8. lilzbear Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Motherhood is an amazing journey, and I love to read about the challenges others have gone through. You were strong all the way, good for you! Every day we raise our first baby with a combination of instinct, common sense, and also some parenting books. I am always bugged when people are quick to point why we do things a certain way. I feel that there is no right formula, just as long as baby is happy and healthy.


    • hakea Says:

      thanks lilzbear

      if you had ten babies they would all be different, and require some variation in the way they are parented. it’s trial and error, but the first one is the pioneer for everything. my next big scary thing for my first boy is high school, thankfully a few years away.


  9. cjdwhite Says:

    Wow. That is truly an amazing story. I can relate just a little–not to the labor part but the difficult babies. Two of my three were amazingly difficult babies. I got all the judgmental statements from random people, and from my mother in law, about giving up breastfeeding, establishing a schedule, etc. One lady at our church told us that all babies just settle down if you only give them a little pat on the back. Ha! She never met my #1 or #3. People mean to be nice (I think), but there is so much judgment involved in parenting. Everyone seems to think that if you do something different, you are declaring that what they did is null and void.

    It’s interesting that your first has a low frustration level–my #3 was an extrremely difficult boy who hated everything about being a baby from day #1, and he still has a low, low frustration level. Can’t be traced to our parenting practicies, as he is a twin, and his brother has amazing focus and constancy.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi CJ

      Good to see ya!

      Nature or Nurture? My husband has an anxious/nervous temperament and a low tolerance for frustration. My first boy is just like his dad, but whether it is hereditary or learned I don’t know. Maybe both? I have found deep breathing exercises work for kids (and mums), and I’ll post these today.

      Some babies are not routinable (if that’s a word). I’ve met a few other babies like my first boy, and their mums just had to ride it out as well. Interestingly they have all been boys, but that may be just a coincidence and I wouldn’t want to gender stereotype. One mum took her son to Tresillian and they couldn’t “fix” him. I found the sleep/feed/play routine from the “What Were We Thinking” website (Australian) worked beautifully with the other two.

      With my first baby, we both got such a poor start, compounded by bad advice. If I only knew then what I know now. If I could go back I would comp feed from birth, and tell all those nipple nazi nurses to go far away.

      Did your son not like being a baby because he found it frustrating that he couldn’t do what he wanted to do? That was my first boy. In a hurry to sit, crawl, walk. It was like he didn’t want to sleep because there was far too much to see and do. I was lucky that he was a happy little fella. He still finds it annoying to have to go to bed. He’s curious about life.

      Thanks for your comment.


  10. kloppenmum Says:

    Yep, two highly sensitive boys here too. One adventurous and sensitive so easily winds up or acts out, the other not so adventurous by nature, so tends to beat himself up internally if things aren’t going well. Luckily number three is Mr Chilled out, but I’m picking that’s going to pose challenges of it’s own.
    N Vs N : I think how nurture acts on nature (to modify or intensify) is where we need to be looking. 😉


    • hakea Says:

      Geez, you were quick to reply!

      That describes my first two as well – to a tee. I didn’t get the chilled out one. Number 3 is rambunctious, loud, melodramatic, and ACTIVE – a big personality in a small body.

      Definitely agree with your comment on nature vs nurture. Keeps us dancing!


  11. kloppenmum Says:

    Repying on here stops me from doing the dishes or the washing! Far more interesting…
    As our number three is only 17 months, I may be jumping the gun, of course.


  12. kaet Says:

    Thanks for this. We’d already been thinking that presuming our baby ends up with siblings, they’ll have a lot to thank her from in terms of parental experience and competence. Thankfully we haven’t had much overt disapproval of the way we do things, even when they’re far from the local norm, but I do still feel it sometimes. Someone on a forum I’m part of put it as “A mother’s place is in the wrong”, particularly in relation to the way advice keeps changing…


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Kaet

      Wow, that’s an apt statement. Maybe we should start a revolution and change it to something like “A mother tries her best to do what’s right”. I’m sure someone who is clever with words could suggest something better.

      It’s great how we can all share our thoughts and experiences and reflect on new ways of thinking and doing.

      Thanks for your comment Kaet.


  13. Yelena Says:

    Hakea, that’s some story! I can relate somewhat especially with the part about the baby not sleeping well and the toilet training. Especially the latter one since people can be so judgemental. My son was potty trained at 3.5. I tried once or twice before simply suggesting to him to use a potty, but he wasn’t ready. Oh, the jokes and jeers I’ve heard from even friends and family about the “not ready” part. And all the disapproval and the looks. But one day my son decided that he was old enough and didn’t want diapers any more. He was fully potty trained in 1 day with no tears, no accidents, no stress.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Yelena

      I remember being terrified of potty training with my first, and not knowing how to start or what to do. So, I decided to leave it for a while and figured out that he wasn’t ready and neither was I. It’s so much easier when they are older. It’s the same with night-time nappies. All of my kids were 5 before they decided they no longer needed a night nappy.

      I advise families to leave it longer if they can, but some of the folks I work with can’t afford to keep their kids in disposable nappies for another year.

      I hope Rocket Boy is sleeping well for you now!

      Thanks for your comment!


  14. kloppenmum Says:

    Absolutely on the toilet training thing. It’s hugely genetic: we still have a five year old in night naps and the older one was eight before he was out of them. Same with all members of that branch of the family two generations back, and the niece and nephew in the same gene pool.


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