My daughter is four and a half months old. We are a third of the way through a year. Time is passing. She is growing – stretching and plumping and advancing before my eyes.
Since she was born, I have had the full might of the wonderful Australian health system behind me. Obstetricians, GPs, paediatricians, maternal health nurses and gynaecologists all working in unison to ensure my daughter and I have had the best start possible, into this brave new world.
My family have been there. Offering help when it wasn’t asked for. Allowing me to need support, to feel helpless; to be helped. At every instance, every milestone, I have been checked in on. How are things? How am I coping? How am I feeling?
Fine, fine. She truly is a wonderful little baby. I have nothing to complain about. Everything is OK.
But, it’s not. I am not OK.
I think I have a problem with anxiety. It is getting worse. I am getting worse.
It’s crept up on me, because she is not a newborn and I am no longer so new at this myself. And she is – really is – a happy, settled, beautiful little girl. So, how could I possibly be struggling?
It’s other mothers that make me feel this most acutely. If I’m having a particularly bad day, I venture a hesitant, ‘It’s hard’, out into the conversation. But unless I can back this up with tales of abject baby-based horror, I’m met with blank looks. I’ve even been second-guessing this post. Fretting that my anxiety isn’t seated in something with more substance.
You have nothing to complain about.
And I don’t. She’s perfect. I know, it’s me.
I don’t think I’m depressed. Every day begins with my heart hurrying at the chance to see her face again. I function well. I get dressed, put on make-up, eat, clean, visit friends, run errands, make sure I tick off the endless list of Things To Do. And I enjoy myself. I know I am lucky to have this life.
But what were a few road bumps a while ago, now send me into a tailspin of fear and worry. When she doesn’t nap. Or doesn’t stick to a routine. Or life intrudes into whatever carefully mapped-out schedule I have in my head … I don’t cope.
There’s a constant, endlessly repeating cycle that exists … like living in the twilight of happy and not. When she’s awake, I am ecstatic, hungry with love for her. When she’s crying in bed, not sleeping, I am exhausted with disappointment. The other times, I’m brittle and taut – watching the clock, eyeing the monitor, one ear and eye always out. ‘Is she awake?’ ‘Is she overtired?’ ‘Have I failed this time?’ ‘What will I do if things don’t go to plan?’
It’s affecting how I enjoy these precious days. When I leave the house, knowing she’ll miss a nap, I worry she’ll be ruined for the rest of the day. When Mr Bun and I settle down to dinner, I worry she’ll wake up ‘early’. When I pop her down after her late feed, I worry about the night ahead. Worry worry worry.
When she doesn’t sleep, we both feel it. She is unhappy. Her smiles drift away. Her feeding and playing and sleeping all suffer. She has a worse day – and then, so do I. But I should be able to bear that. I should be able to take it in my stride, shrug with the understanding that she is just a baby, that these things happen – and that it will get better.
Instead I obsess and worry as to what it means. I fear for what’s to come, constantly. Every time I use the dummy, I picture a spiral of screaming addiction ahead of me. One bad night has me convinced months of bad nights are coming up. One tough morning and I’ve already written off the entire day.
It’s affecting my marriage. Poor Mr Bun now asks, hesitantly, ‘Has she had a … good day?’ He’s not asking because of her. It’s because of me. How will his wife be when he gets home? Will there be tears? Snapped whispers of ‘Don’t wake the baby’? Or just the silence of my concern filling the room?
I had a realisation last week that turned a corner for me. I’m not so sure fixing Little Bun’s sleep will mean I am fixed too. The rising panic in my chest will remain, and just find some other cause to focus on.
I have always been a huge proponent of therapy and getting help when you need it. I am the first to encourage loved ones to seek help. I am an avid believer in mental as well as physical health. But what’s unsettling is when it’s me, I feel helpless and – yes – embarrassed.
None of what I’m feeling is normal. I know that – but it’s still hard to face. On the good days, I forget all of the above exists; with relief I let it fade like a bad dream. Then I have a bad day, and I’m desperate for help again.
I am seeking help, I will get it, and things will improve. We are looking into sleep school, and support for me too. In the meantime, I’m writing this post. Because no matter how much you wished for this, how tough you are, how wonderful your baby may be, and how tight your support network is – you may still need a little help.