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November 25, 2015

7 Things I Would Have Done Differently With My Baby

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depressed-woman
It's already been almost three whole years since Emma was born, but I can still remember the feeling of being thrown into the deep end and drowning. I'm the first to admit that my despair after Emma was born was something I kept hidden from everyone - after all, when a life is brought into this world, into a happy family, you should be happy, shouldn't you?

I suspect I had some sort of postnatal depression, possibly even bordering on the more serious postpartum depression, but I was not medically diagnosed with it. However, postpartum depression is a silent, guilty reality for many women and then what do we do about it? Nothing, because we simply feel too guilty to say how we really feel; we feel too ashamed because we should be cherishing every second instead of feeling the urge to bawl our eyes out.

It was a bumpy road for me emotionally when Emma was born and the one thing that helped me keep my sanity was routine. And boy, was I a stickler for routine! I did everything at the same time every day; I kept a pedantic record of how often Emma urinated or her tummy worked, how much she drank and whether or not she threw it up, when, how often and how long she slept. Getting her to sleep and keeping her asleep was another challenge I solved by instituting a bedtime routine, which had her falling asleep by herself and sleeping through the night when she was just eight or nine months old.

Looking back now, I realise that clinging to a semblance of a routine was the only way I could feel in control of a situation that had terrified me: the responsibility of looking after and raising a child in a world filled with tragedy and violence was altogether too much for me.

And looking back now, I have many regrets; things I would have possibly done differently had I sought help for my issues and settled on my own happiness instead of my guilt.

Here are seven things I would do differently that you should consider if you have just had a baby or have one on the way:

  1. I would have spoken to someone about how I felt. The despair was a terrible cycle that made me the perpetrator and the victim at the same time. I was determined not to let anyone know how sad and scared I felt, but lashed out at everyone around me because they did not notice.
  2. I would have had more naps. I am a terrible napper as I need about 20 minutes to become settled. This was difficult with a young baby, but as Emma became older, I simply didn't bother at all, even though her own naps were long and peaceful. A lack of sleep did nothing but exacerbate the emotions I was feeling.
  3. I would have relaxed more. I spent most of Emma's nap times cleaning the house. I washed dishes and floors, cleaned the bathrooms, tidied, moved stuff around, did knitting and sewing and embroidery. I kept myself busy at all times. I know this was to distract myself from my feelings, but I really did need to relax more.
  4. I would have tried not to worry so much about Emma's wellbeing. Before you think this sounds like a terrible thing for a mother to say, let me explain: Emma was the only thing I was worried about. I didn't eat, I didn't hydrate, I didn't exercise, I didn't go outside. I was so focused on making sure her stools were healthy and that she was drinking enough milk that I did not worry about myself. Many mothers forget that they do not disappear when their baby is born: they still have their own needs that they should fulfil, too.
  5. I would have cuddled more and listened to my intuition more. Now that Emma is a toddler, she very seldom wants to cuddle unless she is feeling sad or ill. Cuddling was easy when she was a baby, even though she didn't like it that much to begin with, being quite a wriggler. But I would have held her and rocked her and cuddled her more and followed my instincts about holding her instead of worrying about whether or not she was sticking to her nap- and bedtime schedules.
  6. I would have exercised more. My favourite exercise is yoga, which is really beneficial for my core and for its meditational purposes. I did yoga regularly while pregnant, right up until the middle of my last month, but stopped doing this entirely after Emma was born. The first time I did yoga after she was born was when she was a year-and-a-half old, and then very seldom. If I had kept up with my practice, I wouldn't have found myself as unfit as I am now and my mental and emotional state would have been better all through the postpartum stages of Emma's life. Even now, I cannot get into a regular practice. This has set me back almost three years in my health stakes.
  7. I would have asked for help. My genetics does not allow me to do this easily. As proof you can take the fact that I would rather teach myself how to do something than go to a teacher or on a course. But I would have asked for help. I did not ask for help with anything and then felt pained when no one offered.

I believe the last point is the most important thing you should do differently than me: ASK FOR HELP! If you have help, you might be able to solve all my previous regrets: speaking to someone about my emotions would have helped me feel important and listened to; having someone babysit while I napped would have solved the exhaustion issue; having someone to do the dishes and tidy up would have helped me relax; and all this help would have given me more time and less anxiety to cuddle with her.

I become teary-eyed when I think about how much I feel I have done wrong as a mother, about how I have done Emma an injustice through these actions I regret.

However, I have a very happy, very healthy little girl, who is affectionate, playful, kind, generous, and unbelievably smart, so I must have done something right!

{Image credit: By Irais Esparza (Own work Naucalpan de Juárez, Edo. México) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

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