Monday 11 December 2017

Siobhan O'Connor: All the things they don't tell you about being a new mum

New mother Siobhan O'Connor says she suffered the baby blues too

Keep mum: Siobhan and Erin Joan Norton Photo: David Conachy
Keep mum: Siobhan and Erin Joan Norton Photo: David Conachy

Siobhan O'Connor

'I mean you wouldn't give her back now would you? I always find the high-flying mothers are the worst at it," declared the public health nurse after I told her how hard I was finding the first few days after leaving the sanctuary of maternity hospital. I was on my own now.

The words, uttered just minutes after she entered my home, hit me hard. I really was that delicate in the days after I came home with my bundle of joy.

I had been so relieved to see the nurse pulling up outside, now I was floored. Was she referring to me? Was I, this complete mess in a maternity nightie, desperately weak and bleary-eyed from the lack of sleep, a "high-flying mum?" I certainly didn't feel it.

When you're pregnant everyone says 'you'll never sleep again' but I chose to blank it out. This sleeping through the night thing is a farce too - babies sleep in 45-minute sleep cycles, five hours in a row is a full night's sleep in their book.

But I did cry buckets of tears to the point where my partner had to remind me that I was the adult not the new baby! Crying more than a newborn was not my finest hour.

Hands up... Yes, I can be quite dramatic. The midwives in Holles Street sent me to the psychiatric nurse to assess whether I had post-natal depression. Turns out I'm just a natural crier, but for some this curse of the "baby blues" is a reality: a cutesy description of a debilitating and wretched condition.

In Ireland we like to brush it under the carpet, kudos to pop chanteuse Adele for destigmatising post-partum depression in a candid interview last week.

All the pregnancy yoga and my active birth workshops went out the window as I ended up being induced for 12 hours followed by an emergency C-section. A third of us mums end up undergoing surgery. It begs the question why aren't we having more natural births in Ireland?

The public health nurse told me to mark six weeks from Erin's birth date in my calendar, advising me that - like for all mothers - the haze would lift at around this point. She was right, but I wish someone had told me how vulnerable you feel as a new mother, how utterly useless you feel at the beginning and how you should trust your instincts.

I wanted to exclusively breastfeed but I think the system is failing us. The reason so many mothers stop once they get home is, in my mind, due to a lack of encouragement. Free lactation consultants should be provided.

This sentiment is backed by the members of my 'boob group' - new moms who all choose to breastfeed and share their experiences over coffee every week. Those chats are a godsend and I will always be grateful for the network.

Nobody told me how obsessed the nurses are with their weighing scales. One suggested Erin's slow weight gain was due to my "poor quality milk". If I heard them chant "tummy to mummy", one more time I was going to scream! I was feeding my baby on demand - so what more could I do?

Looking back now, I wish I had been stronger, but I succumbed and gave Erin top ups of formula as advised. I wasn't happy, so I hired a lactation consultant at - it was the best €90 I ever spent. Along with the team in the breastfeeding clinic in Holles Street I trusted my gut, stopped panicking about her weight and binned the formula. I was soon back breastfeeding.

As I write this my daughter Erin is on my right boob having her dinner, sucking away. It's easier to get things done while she's feeding. My nickname is Daisy the Cow because it's all about milking. I'm either feeding or pumping to increase supply.

As for my body I don't recognise it anymore! Day one after getting out of Holles Street I was straight back into my maternity clothes. Three months later and I still look pregnant.

I didn't give a damn about my mini bump until an acquaintance, who I hadn't seen in a year, congratulated me and asked when I was due! I cry some days - but it's futile, and I need to accept my body.

Having a baby is also the greatest test of your relationship. Sometimes it can be highly stressful when you don't know why your angel is crying. It's easier to have her beside me in the bed, so my poor man has moved to the spare room for now. But they're only small for such a short time.

The one thing I'm glad nobody told me about is just how much you fall in love with this little person. A little bit more each day. Yes motherhood is relentless, but we wouldn't have it any other way, would we?

Sunday Independent

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