Hope is not a feeling – a maternal mental health story

This is a blog I have written about parental mental health and the challenges I faced after having a baby with severe reflux. It’s an extremely isolating experience, so if you or anyone you know is experiencing similar difficulties on their new parental journey, please share this with them. They are not alone. We are available to support anybody who needs a listening ear throughout this challenging and complex journey. Please reach out to claudia@strategicwellbeing.com

I don’t think I can do this anymore. The thought creeps in again. Then I look down at her little blue eyes looking up at me, she needs me, I think to myself. Only an hour this time, an hour of inconsolable screams, that’s nothing compared to before, 3, 4, sometimes 5 hours of bouncing, shushing, walking, pacing, singing. I’m triggered, terrified to go back to those dark days, back to the depths of despair, on the edge mentally, pushed to the limit. We made it through 10 weeks, surely we could make it through more? 

The endless screams that wouldn’t stop. Watching this tiny baby in pain. The helplessness. Not being able to make it better or take the pain away. Leaving the room, her alone, screaming at the top of her lungs, shutting the door, the awful guilt. Believing I’m a terrible mum.  Sleeping her on her front to make her more comfortable, babies can die like this they say. Alcohol at 3pm on weekdays to calm me down. The endless crying when I breastfed her, I cried too, a tangled-up mother and daughter, crying together, frustrated together, hurting together. The heart wrenching decision to stop breastfeeding 7 weeks in, feeling like I was poisoning her with my milk. Feeling I had failed. Opening the freezer, bags of breastmilk going to waste. The disappointment. My milk drying up, pumping and throwing it down the sink. The jealousy. Other mums are leaving their houses, they are at baby classes, how could we possibly go? Jealousy of those lovingly breastfeeding. The jealousy and comparison full stop. 

Why us? The defeated attitude. Then a moment of calm. The regret, the relief, the first smile, a moment of joy. The taking up smoking. The immediate bursting of the newborn bubble. The grief of losing out on the first few months of her life. Happy tears shed after making it out for coffee, 6 weeks in. Wishing we could fast forward, sad we were wishing it away. The projectile vomits, the choking and coughing and knowing what’s coming. Pulling her into my chest to vomit over me 6 times in a row, already soaked through two pairs of bed sheets that day. The constant change of pajamas, the vomit-stained carpets. The endless washing of bed sheets. Watching her be sick and swallow it down. Losing her voice, barely any noise when she cried, throat burned by acid. Drinking wine in the back of the car to drown out the screams. Dreading the feeds. The frustration, the anger, the guilt. Hiding away, scared to feed in public, embarrassed, ashamed. Why wasn’t it simple for us? Feeding, that lovely bonding experience, they said. Staying awake for 6 weeks through the night, not able to put her down. The anxiety in case I fell asleep. Dozing off, her on me, waking up heart thumping, is she still breathing? Panicked calls to Mum late at night, bawling. Panic attacks. The intrusive thoughts that invaded my mind.

Being gaslit by medical professionals, no one listening. It’s normal they say. How hard it is for others to comprehend it if they haven’t lived it. The “oh it’s just a bit of reflux, she’ll grow out of it”. Being dismissed by loved ones. The isolation, the difficult decisions, the desperation, the money we don’t have, spent on private help. The first phone call validating what we were going through. “This isn’t normal” she said, “it’s negligent that medical professionals leave babies in this level of pain, you wouldn’t do it to a puppy”. Watching my husband, the strong one, leave his meeting sobbing. “I feel like jumping out the window” he said, the doctor saying nothing back.

The voice notes from another mother, the words that kept me holding on. Re-listening to them over and over, telling myself that one day things will change. Two babies with reflux, incomprehensible to me how she managed, me with just one. Agreements to never have another baby. The kindness of others. A fruit box sent from a new friend to help us through. A thoughtful card from a stranger, another parent who’d been there, a message of hope. A parent who sent us medication in the post, whilst we battled our doctors to prescribe it for her. Parents who’d been there, parents who got it, parents who’d lived this. Those strangers who reached out to us, those people I don’t know, those strangers who saved me. The guilt for pumping her little body with medication. The trying everything. The tearful feeling picking up prescriptions for formula. The return to therapy after years away from it. Clinging onto thoughts that it will get better. 

The complex and overwhelming experience of love, and frustration, and rage and stuckness and hope all rolled into one. Just remember, I tell myself through it all, there is love, in the midst of the chaos and feeling that I cannot cope anymore, there is love and there is hope that one day things will be easier –  “hope is not a feeling, it is an orientation of the spirit”- (Action for Happiness).