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.
- 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.