A Letter to My New Mum Self
A letter written to myself, on the eve of my six-year mummaversary.
I’m looking at my nearly six year old boy: his feistiness, his curiosity, his tendency towards easy rage, his fierce understanding of kindness and fairness (unless it comes to sharing toys with his brother), his love of Paw Patrol, his enthusiasm and brightness. And I’m wishing I could have had this vision while going through the months that followed tomorrow’s date, six years ago.
Six years ago today you were in labour, having been induced due to pre-eclampsia. You were still over 24 hours away from meeting your little one. All the preparation you did – the yoga, the peaceful hypnobirthing breathing, hoping for a “beautiful natural birth” (whatever that may actually be…) faded as each hour passed into the creases of the blue curtains surrounding you on the induction ward, the relentlessly sleepless public ward.
Labouring for over two days ended in the call for a category one (highest level) emergency caesarean. Nothing in my mental preparation had imagined my birthing room being suddenly rushed by medical staff with such a sense of urgency and panic, being sped down a corridor on a trolley to be prepped for surgery and have your baby pulled out within 15 minutes of the call being made. He wasn’t breathing when he was born, and the following minutes of waiting to see how the dice rolled remain pretty much the worst of my life.
In the months after his birth, I kept repeating to myself, with my unquestioned automatic ticker tape of thoughts, that my body had let me down, that I hadn’t prepared in the right way. Maybe I hadn’t shown my baby that I loved him and wanted him here enough, maybe I hadn’t trusted my body enough. I had failed. A close family friend had been due at the same time, and she had had a smooth home birth four days earlier, where they had been eating pizza blissfully in bed with their newborn within hours of giving birth.
It felt like everyone around was celebrating how brilliantly she had done, commenting on how amazing she looked, and giving you critical ‘better luck next time, never mind that you were a bit crap’ vibes in comparison. Dear new mama, I wish you had had the ability to view yourself through a kinder, softer lens, not to feel so judged by yourself and by others’ comments, to perceive such failure in what is inarguably such success.
On the operating table, I was told that I’d had a boy, but that he wasn’t breathing. In the eerie yet busy silence while they set about resuscitating him – no hearty newborn cries to be heard – I remember feeling like a truck was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I later understood that this was most likely to be the effects of the anaesthetic reaching too high into my chest, but I didn’t logically know that at the time. I decided to coax myself away from what I thought was a rising panic attack by focusing on calmly counting to ten, then back to one, then up to ten, over and over again.
I now hold on to that as a sign that I didn’t actually break in that moment, despite being put under immense pressure. It’s only now in hindsight that I can see how strong I was.
It can be bittersweet looking at my beautiful boy, knowing that bringing him into the world isn’t filled with memories of joy and sweary sweaty euphoria, but instead fear, pain, shock, being utterly out of control and powerless. I felt like I failed him by not being able to birth him naturally, with all the guilt bombarded upon you about the benefits for your baby of a natural birth.
I look back on the weeks that followed this date, six years ago, all the river of tears that I cried, and the times when I thought, how is it that I can’t do this most natural womanly thing in the world: give birth, and breastfeed? How can I fail at both? How is it that I cannot even feed my own child?
Sitting endlessly on the sofa all night – no point going to bed – endless feeding attempts and screaming. Every single one of the 24 hours in the day. 3am became sweaty, slippery nipples, breastmilk on a teaspoon, screaming tiny baby at the breast, somehow not able to offer the comfort and nourishment that he desperately needed. Does my baby hate me? I hadn’t ever felt despair like it.
I look back at those days, the thick fog of failure and anxiety, and now I think – all of these times when you felt your least ‘supermum’ were when you actually were at your most. Striving for your baby’s wellbeing. Holding his little screaming body tightly, soothing, bouncing, whispering, shhh-ing, offering up your painful breast knowing that it would feel like there was a knife slicing into it, but still offering it, with gritted teeth and curled toes, again and again and again.
You were such a warrior. Your birth and newborn experience wasn’t “your fault”. All birth is different, traumatic births sadly happen – it is NOT YOUR FAULT. There is an army of warrior mamas out there. There is strength to be found in challenging experiences, building resilience you only notice you have once you emerge through the tunnel into the light once more.
New mamas, all mamas looking back on your early motherhood: you did an amazing, loving, caring job and you just had no idea how strong you were.