I wrote this in two stages, in the hospital and a few months later. It’s completely unedited and there is much I would change, so much I would re-write, but I’ve forced myself to publish it in this raw form, rough and unpolished, like I was at the time of writing. So if it reads badly, if it’s disjointed and the prose style a confused mess, it’s gone some way to neatly capturing those first few months.
25th April 2014 on my phone.
Apparently I lost a lot of blood. I don’t think it’s measured in acres, but it feels like I lost acres of blood. It’s made me dizzy and lightheaded. I keep looking over at her in her plastic cot and marvelling at what came out of me. I still can’t make the connection between my body and hers. The after-effects of the epidural have numbed me and I feel nothing.
1st June 2014
You can’t really imagine how hard it is until it’s thrust upon you. Reading the books does nothing to prepare you. Watching others goes some way towards depicting reality, but ultimately, until the mantle is thrust upon you after that last push, you don’t realise how earth-shatteringly difficult it all is.
It’s a blessing, a rahma, a mercy from Allah. It’s a mercy that we’re fortunate enough to taste, but with this great mercy comes a massive test. You’re thrown in and all of a sudden, the nine months of preparation are not enough. Especially if you’re a first-time mother. There will be other posts counting and recounting the blessings of motherhood, and never will I dispute that we’re the lucky ones, forever blessed. However, there are things you never get told. Perhaps so that you’re not dissuaded from having children, or perhaps the rosy glow of motherhood makes people forget, perhaps people want to say something but the taboo surrounding any negative thoughts about having children silences them; nevertheless, there are things that should be said. Things that need to be voiced. If not, they’ll be pushed to the recesses, gather up dust and rear their ugly heads once more.
The shock. It hits you in the face either immediately after having the baby, or if like me, you had the joys of medical intervention, much later on. It’s that feeling that one second the life was inside you, writhing, kicking, clamouring for space, and the next it was out, shouting, demanding. If you’re one of the lucky ones to not experience this shock, then fantastic. If you felt no bewilderment upon seeing the baby in your arms, breathing in your air, then brilliant. But many women feel this shock and are just too stunned or just too tired to say anything. Often it’s awe: Did I just do that? The tiniest, most important part of myself. However, sometimes it can be genuine confusion and fear. It’s out, it’s crying, she’s not going away, it’s here forever. Forever.
The guilt. As women, we are programmed by our lifestyles, our religion and our sense of self-worth to want to have children. To not want children, especially being Muslim women, is something alien. It’s not a feeling we’re supposed to have. We are conditioned to believe that we will love whatever comes out of us. Immediately. Straight away. No questions asked. Forever. So when the realisation of your shock and fear hits you, you feel guilty. It can creep up upon you that first night, left alone with the tiny bundle. In hospital or at home.
The numbness. Like I said, not all women fall immediately in love with their baby. You may not love her straight away. Get used to that. It happens. It’s no good feeling guilty and beating yourself up about it. Keep it to yourself though. Other people won’t understand it and nor will they be able to try. But just know this, you are not alone. Hundreds of other women have gone through this. If, like me, your birth wasn’t all you’d planned it to be, this will probably be worse for you. Something in your brain detaches you from the situation, possibly so that you can cope with the trauma, but that something also turns off the switch which makes you immediately fall in love. That is not to say you don’t love your child, you do. You love your child more than anyone else in the room gushing over her. You love her more than her grandparents who are currently jostling her up and down in an attempt to wake her; you love her more than her aunts, uncles and cousins. I would even go as far as to say you love her more than her father loves her. You just don’t know it yet. It’ll happen. It will click. But right now, your mind and body is focussed on surviving. So survive.
Panic. You’ll spend a fleeting minute, an hour, a day even wanting things to go back to the way they were. Especially if you’re a first timer like me. This is also perfectly normal. The realisation that everything it going to change now will hit you and you’ll cave. But, don’t make the mistake I did and share this feeling with anyone; however close you are to your partner, you’ll never make them understand that it’s not regret, it’s sheer panic. He gets to go home at the end of the hospital visit, leaving you with the baby and your thoughts. He can’t possibly understand. It’s not that you’re ungrateful or you don’t want your child, it’s just sheer, blind panic. Things will never be the same. Just let that wash over you for a second. Because all the books you read, all the preparation you did, all the research, it’ll all disappear in that split second of panic. Let yourself panic.
The struggle. That Jihaad. That first week. If like us, you spend the first 6 days in the hospital, it’ll be even harder. But for everyone, that first week is hard. Your baby has no idea it’s night time and you need to sleep. She’ll wake up and make such an irritating noise that you’ll be forced to pick her up to make her be quiet. You’ll feel guilty for thinking it, but you’ll just want her to be quiet. This too shall pass. She’ll either get better at sleeping, or you’ll get used to it. For us, we slowly got used to it. When we got over the shell shock of sleep deprivation, it became more bearable. Notice how I didn’t say easier. It will never be easy. You’ll just cope with it better. I promise. Don’t let anyone tell you what she should be doing in terms of sleep, she’s doing everything properly. I promise you that too. (Sleep is a separate blog post yet to come).
Breastfeeding is also difficult, sometimes impossible. Too often we are lead to believe that it’s just going happen for us; it’s natural so why wouldn’t it? The reality for many, like me, is very different. I can’t do it justice here, but know one thing: it’s hard, no one tells you it’s hard, but it is. You’re not going mad, you’re not doing it wrong, it is just hard.
The Others. Other people become more irritating. If like me, you want to feed on demand and attend to the needs of your baby straight away, other people will become even more irritating. After having a baby, your whole world view shifts in a matter of minutes. So it’s not surprising then that it’s harder to tolerate people telling you what you should and should not be doing with your baby. It’s also harder to tolerate people who expect you not to feed your baby because they want to hold her/have to be somewhere/can’t wait any longer. I found it very difficult to be firm with people in the early days and I suffered terribly for it. I felt so guilty that my baby didn’t like other people to hold her (they didn’t smell right to her) so she would fake feeding cues so she could come back to me. I felt guilty that I had to take her upstairs to feed her as her latch was so bad I couldn’t use a cover initially. And I know comments were made by family members. What made it worse was I couldn’t express my feelings over it. Families are a minefield without a baby involved; add a baby into the mix and people just look for reasons to be offended. I was lucky. My husband was very supportive of me looking after the baby and putting her needs first. I’d like to say I’ve gotten over the guilt, but I haven’t.
Since the baby came out of you, you’d think you knew what was best for her. Nope. Apparently it’s completely alright to sit a newborn baby up, back bent, on a dining table so you can look at her face. This is how you want to hold her. Regardless of how many polite comments are made about how this position is not only bad for her spine, it makes her reflux worse. This was really difficult for me. Watching other people do whatever they wanted with my baby and not being able to grab her off them. There were times I bit my tongue so hard it bled. Like the time I was told by my husband’s aunt that she didn’t ‘look hungry’ and she was ‘going to hold her now.’ There were times I sat on my hands to avoid taking her off people. Had I gone right ahead and done it, it would have still been talked about to this day. Like I said, families are a minefield.
However, don’t let yourself be duped into thinking you can’t stand up for your baby. You can. If people make irritating comments like, “Oh if you keep her awake now, she’ll sleep better at night,” just be gentle and tell them that sleep breeds sleep. Tell them you’ve read countless number of books about it. That’s what I did. If someone in the family says, “Well she’s related to us, and I used to put my children to bed with a bottle at 11 and they’d sleep through. She will probably be doing this since she’s part of our family,” just remind them that your baby is different, sleep is not genetic, she is not going to inherit sleep patterns, they’re learned. Above all, be gentle. People quickly forget what they’ve said, but they’ll never forget what you’ve said. Especially if it was rude. (This needs more and is worthy of a blog post in itself).
The broken derrière. Your bum will be sore. I make no apology for the slightly-graphic description here. You know how when you’re really constipated and it hurts a lot? You might even have a haemorrhoid? That feeling. Well take that feeling and multiply it by about 100 and that’s how much your bum will hurt. The crack of your bottom might even be sore; steroid cream with some local anaesthetic is great for that by the way; as are salt baths, tea tree oil bathing and that beautiful washing pot we Muslims keep in our bathrooms, the humble lota.
The baby didn’t come out of your bum, no it didn’t. That’s why this is surprising. But that’s what it’ll feel like; especially if you suffered any kind of tear or episiotomy. Just be assured that your broken bum will fix itself. It might take 6 months, but it’ll be fixed. In the meantime, just nurse that broken bum and don’t forget to look after it just as you’re looking after the baby. Bathe it, cherish it, love it.
Why did I tell you all this? To put you off? To make having a baby seem awful? No. Because having a baby is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I told you this because people like to make their baby experiences look and sound the most tranquil, beautiful things ever known to man and this sets many women up for disappointment. After having read countless magazines, spoken to countless friends with babies, some women are disappointed they didn’t get their fairytale birth, fall instantly in love and live happily ever after.
What needs to be realised is, you had the perfect birth for you. It was supposed to happen this way. Your experience is unique. It may not be perfect. But it’s yours. Like that broken bum, if your birth experience was equally broken, still, bathe it, cherish it, love it. It’s yours.