As I begin writing this, my newborn daughter is breathing gently on my chest. I am trying to balance an F5-sized moleskin, a sleeping baby, muslin square and feeding cup on my body — a feat that seemed utterly impossible just a week ago. As they say, it does get better.
No amount of stories shared by well-meaning friends and relatives who have had babies could ever prepare us for parenthood; it comes like a missile in the night and shakes your world up to the highest Richter scale.
I have heard of the sleepless nights and how in spite of it, parents would not change anything about their circumstances. I’ve also heard of the baby blues that can accompany breastfeeding. But why isn’t anyone more realistic and honest about his or her first week with a newborn baby?
My daughter was born in St Mary’s birth centre after 17 hours of active birth, which is the term experts use to describe normal labour and birth and the way that a woman behaves when she is following her own instincts and the physiological cues of her body.
To help me with each contraction, I was able to use the relaxed atmosphere in the birth room equipped with a birth pool, birth ball, bean bag and several pieces of furniture that encourage gravity to do part of the work for you. Through the amazing work of my midwife, mum-in-law and hubby who were there to remind me to breathe through each contraction, I managed on gas and air and did without any pain relief drugs.
After what seemed like eternity, but in reality it was only an hour, I managed to push my baby out into the world.
Packaged in nothing more than a thin layer of slippery vernix, my newborn was delivered into my arms, evoking a feeling of euphoria and elation which made me forget about the painful ordeal. She was crying and kept slipping away from my grasp, but my maternal instinct kicked in to protect her and made sure she was safe.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by this creature of love. When they placed her in a crib next to me that night, I knew then that I will never stop worrying about her and not sleeping is only the beginning of my unconditional love for her. This idealistic thought was slammed on Day 3.
After two nights in the birth centre, we came home with our daughter.
When we switched the lights off that night, we heard her gentle breathing and I remember feeling completely in love with my new family — my husband, daughter and I.
Then the crying began. And our lives as we knew it, the normality and the eight-hour uninterrupted sleep, faded away.
Each subsequent day we learned new teething issues, whether it was to do with her nascent digestive system or my ability to breastfeed.
Why didn’t anyone warn me that I’ll no longer be able to shower and eat in peace, or type with both hands?
That the sleepless nights refer to the fact that you are up all night trying to soothe a crying baby who is wailing up to 115 decibels, which is 10 decibels higher than a jackhammer!
Normally confident and possessing a can-do attitude, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to feed my baby with my two modest mammary glands — which decided to go on an extended holiday and meant my milk came in late — causing my baby to lose weight in the meantime and me, a bucketful of tears.
Armed with no previous experience, I am now responsible for the care, nourishment, safety and stimulation of a new baby.
I did what most mothers do in these circumstances — I blamed myself, which was unhelpful as I found the more you view breastfeeding as a problem, the more it affects you, your baby and your milk supply.
I was close to giving in to commercially available formula but decided to persevere with the hope that if I overcome it, my baby will have the best start in life with the increased immunity and nourishment that my milk can provide for her.
One day she was feeding well, the next — usually in the evenings — she was not getting enough. This was when I realised that I needed to snack and drink in the night to boost my milk production, as night time is when my milk volume is at its lowest.
Every day was a steep learning curve and I was grateful to have a breastfeeding specialist whom I could consult and a group of breastfeeding mums who provided sympathy, support and solidarity.
At the start of week three, just when I am slightly more settled into the breastfeeding routine, my baby decided to undergo a growth spurt, which meant she is feeding every hour or two.
Make no mistake, it’s true when they say parenting is the hardest job in the world.
The best piece of advice I’ve received so far is that my newborn baby’s first relationship is with me, her mother, and no one should ever come between that.
Although life as I know it has ended, a new life has begun. And that is a real blessing in itself.