The Dark Days: An open letter to mothers of a high needs baby
Everyone will tell you that the early days of motherhood is a difficult time. Especially for new mothers. Sure, you have those 9 months to mentally prepare for how much your life is going to change but can anyone with children admit that they really appreciated what that meant ahead of time? It’s impossible.
You’re told it will be hard, that you will be more exhausted than you ever thought possible. You read that getting to know your baby can take some time, but that’s ok! It’s exciting, like a budding new relationship that makes you giddy every time their name comes up. Yes it’s going to be tough, but it’s a biological certainty that you will do everything it takes because it just is, right? It’s a mother’s instinct, right?
The first few days will be a whirlwind. With adrenaline coursing through your body from the madness that is childbirth to the healing and soreness that comes next. The doubts will be endless. You won’t know if you’re holding them right. It will be so strange to buckle their tiny body into a car seat and feel at all like they’re safe. You will worry from the moment they’re born whether they’re eating enough food and constantly people will say ‘I think they’re hungry’, ‘has your milk come in yet?’, ‘are you pumping?’, ‘how often?’, ‘are you sleeping?’ ‘is the baby sleeping?’, ‘how much?’…it goes on and on and on.
At first it will be fine but as the days wear on something will seem not right. You had heard that babies sleep a lot and that all they do is sleep and eat but for some reason there doesn’t seem to be much sleep going on. Your baby will hate to have their diaper changed. They will scream with an intensity that seems disproportionate to their tiny bodies, with a redness in their face that is terrifying and for the next year it will be something you dread doing because of the screaming that happens when it’s time. They will want to be in your arms at all times and no matter how many times you try to lay them down once they’ve fallen asleep in your arms they will wake within a moment and scream in protest.
You will be proud at first. Too proud to admit that this wonderful experience with your newborn baby is causing you so much pain. People with practically smile through the phone to hear all about how your bundle is doing and for a while you will lie and say it’s great, or convince yourself that what you’re experiencing is typical. Eventually it will be too much. You will begin to grieve. You will be so sad because you feel like the beautiful experience you were promised has been stolen from you. You will begin to scour to internet for solutions, old wives tales, tricks, tips, how-to’s and stories to confirm that there are other people out there dealing with the same type of baby and that yours isn’t the only one who could be so miserable to have been born.
You will blame yourself. If you’re breastfeeding, you will think it’s something you’re eating and spend weeks eliminating everything from your diet and cataloging everything you consume and how it affects your baby’s temperament. If you’re not you’ll look into a type of formula that could be more digestible for their tiny body. You will try anything and would easily spend every penny you have if only someone could tell you they could ‘fix’ your baby. You will hate night time, you will dread it and feel so sad. You will cry, a lot. You won’t know how you’re going to get through another night with no idea if you will get a moment’s rest.
Only to feel anxious because if you don’t get any sleep you have the entire next day to get through…round and round the merry-go-round goes.
Time is a curse. Time is what fear and anxiety are made of. It’s time, the time ahead of you, the hours of unknown terrors that wait right around the corner for you. Time is waiting in the corner to creep out of the shadows and steal away the brightness and optimism that used to sit high up on your shoulders. It’s the long, endless dark tunnel that as much as you try you can’t seem to position yourself at the right perspective to spot the end of it. It’s too far, too dark.
You may even wander onto your deck one day to rock your screaming baby and gaze out at the gorgeous sunny day and feel nothing but pain. You will think to yourself, if only for the briefest of moments that you could just leap off that deck and all the pain would stop. But you won’t do that. You will quickly get a hold of yourself and carry on.
You won’t want to leave the house. It will seem so big, so hard and so intimidating that it can’t possibly be worth it. People will offer to help, once word has inevitably gotten around that you’re having a hard time. They’ll pop by. You’ll try really hard to make it seem like despite the misery that your life is, you’re doing just fine.
When they leave, you’ll go back to the dark corner of your house that you’ve begun to favor over the weeks and crawl back into the place that makes you feel some sense of security. You will love your baby, but you will hate them too. You will stare at them when they finally fall off to sleep and think they’re the most perfect thing you’ve ever seen but as soon as they stir and begin to fuss you will immediately be anxious because it’s only been 20 minutes. They will wake up screaming for a long long time. Never will you hear a happy little coo coming from their crib as the only indication that they’ve woken up. At least not in their first year.
I’m sorry to say all of these things to you. I’m not trying to hurt you or make you feel more hopeless. I’m saying them because I was you. I’m saying them because I want you to feel less alone. I want you to know that it’s not something you’re doing. It’s not something you can ‘fix’ it’s not anything but just the way things will be for a time. I’m saying them because I want you to do better than me and ask more people for help. I want you to drop your pride and your shame and tell your doctor that you are feeling really low. Ask him if there are any services or support groups out there to help you. Tell your partner that you need them to stay home if you do. Be brave. Face it head on. Don’t hide out, or do, but don’t do it alone.
You’re not alone. It will get better….I won’t say when, I will just say that bit by bit, you’ll feel that brightness begin to lift you up again and a love of life will bring a flush back to your cheeks. You will stare at your baby and feel so much love. I promise you. That day is coming.