Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The loneliest hours

I have been absent for a long time, folks.  But you already knew that.  I wrote this post in August, but never got around to finishing and posting it.  There's been a few things I haven't managed to do over that time, some because they just weren't a priority and some because I just couldn't manage them.  Hopefully this post will help explain why.

The loneliness crept up on me. It wasn't a sudden jab in the heart like it can be for others.  I have lots of support; family, friends, Hubby, other bloggers. I had people I could turn to. I just didn't realise I needed them so much.

I was no stranger to the middle of the night cries from Gracie. I had come to expect them at regularly scheduled intervals and planned my own sleep accordingly. But as she got older her cries became more frequent as teething and winter colds kicked in. What I thought would be the time for cutting down her breastfeeding turned into a far more regular feed-on-demand routine, until we developed ourselves a horrible schedule of second-hourly waking that required the comfort of milk to get her back to sleep.  I was exhausted all day, which meant I was quick to scoop her out of her cot with each and every whimper in the hope that she'd drop back to sleep sooner.  The older Gracie got, the more determined she was to get what she wanted. And then she dropped her second daytime sleep. Leaving me without the solace of an afternoon reprieve.

There are many lonely hours in a sleep-deprived parent's day.  Sitting up all night while the rest of the house is tucked up in bed. Staying home all day because you haven't had a chance to eat, shower or pee, let alone get some shut-eye. You become your own best friend and worst enemy.  I became short-tempered, stressed, irritable. I would get heart palpitations at the thought of her waking up or Hubby heading out to work. Every evening her bedtime would arrive and I just knew I was in for another restless, lonely, dark night.  I would attempt to plan our day around her single nap time and pray like mad she wouldn't throw a tantrum in the car or at the shops.  She couldn't fall asleep on her own.  She would only sleep on my chest during the day.  We were stuck in this horrible daily struggle and I was losing, badly.

I didn't know myself there for a while. I would look in the mirror each morning at my grey skin, pale eyes and greasy hair and wonder who this zombie was. How had I let it get so bad? Do other Mums feel like this? Is this normal? And though I had all the comfort I could have asked for from family, I still felt totally alone and out of control.  I wanted to drop Gracie off at her Grandma's house and not go back.

A friend had recommended a sleep specialist to us a few times.  She'd come to the house and help us work out a way to get Gracie to sleep. But her prices were too high for our meager budget and we just couldn't get the cash together.  I got up the courage to see my GP about how "sad and down" I'd been feeling, only to be told I was being too hard on myself and Gracie. And that nature had not intended mothers to wean their babies earlier than 12 months old, or for them to sleep in their own beds before that age either.  I left feeling more deflated than when I'd arrived. 

It wasn't until a dear friend suggested seeing our community child health nurse for a referral to a local family care centre that I began to feel like someone was actually listening to me.  The nurse was frank and to the point. I filled out a mental health questionnaire and learned that I was teetering on the edge of Post Partum Anxiety; something I'd felt to be true for so many months but had not let myself believe it could happen to me.  I'd wanted Gracie in my life for so freaking long, and now I wasn't coping with her baby behaviour.

Two months later Gracie and I found ourselves booked into what I fondly called Baby Boot Camp. Five days and four nights of intense parent/baby re-education. We hit the ground running and by night one Gracie was learning how to gently cry/put herself to sleep.  She fought us, as we knew she would, she cried and protested. But by the end of the week she was able to settle herself in her cot rather than on my chest. I was able to shower and eat and have adult time with the other parents, but most excitingly I was able to sleep.  And for me sleep meant a change in my physical and mental outlook. I was enjoying being Gracie's mum again. I was enjoying my life again. I stopped panicking at nap and bedtimes. We left the house, caught up with friends who I'd made excuses with for so long.  And when I felt comfortable enough to explain why I'd been such a shut-in for so long I was met with understanding, empathy and similar stories to my own.

I'm not saying life has been perfect since that time, or that one week of Baby Boot Camp changed my baby permanently. She still struggles at bedtime. I think in some ways she may always do so. Her own Father has always been a night owl. But I learned something so very important during those darkest of days: depression and anxiety can effect ANYONE and can rear its ugly head at any time. But there are people who can help, who want to help, and know HOW to help you.  Sometimes they know you need them and sometimes you have to ask. But you can't be afraid to ask. For the sake of your sanity, your health, and your child and family you have to ask.  There is no shame in it, despite what your misguided brain might tell you at the time. 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing, I am so glad that you were able to find a listening ear as well as practical help. I have struggled with sleep issues with my second baby much more than my first ever did. She will be 1 in February and is still in our bed and nursing a few times through the night. You are not alone. I am counting down days until then because we had decided to nurse her until one. Then she's cut off and I am hoping it helps with the sleep too.