When my beautiful daughter (quite literally) burst onto the scene in December, another creature was birthed at the same time. One that was entirely unfamiliar to me, yet was inhabiting my bed, using my toothbrush and talking with my voice.
You probably suspect that I am about to say something wonderful about how the minute I saw my daughter, a natural mother was created in me.
No, what I mean as I write about my reconfigured self, is something very different.
I can only describe the person I evolved into during those first few months of my daughter’s life, as a shadow self. One that was almost completely consumed by anxiety and worry. And the reason I call it a shadow is because it followed me around everywhere I went and threatened to darken the loveliest of moments.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been prone to high stress levels. But what I had never experienced before was the sheer terror and blind panic that come with having a baby.
Thinking back, I realise that this verging-on-maniacal alter ego began to take shape during pregnancy. I constantly feared the worst and would try to appease my mind with landmarks – if everything is fine at the 12 week scan, I’ll relax. As long as I hear the heartbeat, I’ll feel better. If I keep feeling the baby kick, it’s OK…
But it wasn’t until my daughter was here that the fear really got its claws into me. I remember lying on my own in the hospital bed a few hours after giving birth, staring at this squished little face in the crib and the nurses telling me I should get some rest, and all I could think was how can I ever sleep again? This tiny being is completely dependent on me to keep her alive, if I close my eyes for even a second, who knows what might happen.
And so it began.
From that point on, I literally worried about EVERYTHING – from how much she was taking into her body, to how much she was expelling from her body. And don’t get me started on the sleeping. Nobody told me how efficiently a four month old can fight sleep. For a while, my daughter fought naps like a warrior and as a result, became this crazy screaming, angry, unmanageable little bundle.
And I, in turn, became a nap Nazi. If anyone so much as sniffed within a ten mile radius of my sleeping baby, I was ready to commit bloody murder. I developed a visceral hatred towards a neighbour who mowed their lawn or a car owner whose engine backfired when passing my house. Whenever I put my daughter down to nap my nerves were completely jangled. I was in a state of permanent high alert, like a coiled spring ready to jump up at any given moment to intercept the postman before his finger even has a chance to hover on the doorbell, or clamp my dog’s mouth shut as she shaped it for a bark.
I realise now that the majority of these feelings stemmed from the profound sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn. Of course. I wasn’t going to behave like myself when I felt like I had been lobotomised but was still expected to function as a cranially fully equipped human being! Exhaustion and anxiety are perfect bed partners. When you are so tired, you stop thinking rationally and worry about everything and therefore can’t switch off your mind to actually sleep. Having a newborn was genuinely like permanently suffering from the worst fear ridden hangover I have ever had!
But also, I now realise that many of these feelings were a direct consequence of the trauma that comes with producing a human being from your body. Having a child is perceived as such a commonplace thing, that people often forget just how traumatic it truly is, especially for women who have had to undergo surgery during or after birth. For me, I was so swept along in the flurry of visitors and the festivities, that I didn’t take stock of what I had been through.
This resulted in an intense panic attack a week later when I visited the toilet and my body began to remember the pain that my mind had been trying to forget. Consequently my poor husband was left holding a screaming newborn, while trying to counsel his hyperventilating wife from the other side of the bathroom door. Hardly the idyllic scenes that I had envisaged while practising hypnobirthing!
I won’t lie, I have had moments while on this crazy journey where I have genuinely thought – I don’t think I can do this. I wonder if my mum had turned around and offered to raise my daughter for me until she was at school age, if I might have taken her up on it! Thankfully, she didn’t.
And I think that reveals my biggest fear of all - the fear of inadequacy. Suddenly, I was tackling something that I didn’t feel very good at. And unlike other things in my life that I couldn’t get an initial handle on, like maths, or driving, this didn’t appear to be something that I could work to get better at. But I know that ultimately every woman is different. Some take to motherhood easily while others, like me, find the loss of control in life hard to contend with, and constantly grapple to get a handle on the chaos that has become life. But, of course, that doesn’t make one any “worse” than the other.
So there you have it, the confessions of a psycho mum. Thankfully, that other self is starting to show her face a little less around here these days and as I read back over what I have written, I laugh at this crazed, neurotic woman that I have depicted. But only very quietly, of course, so as not to wake the baby….