Dear new mum of a premature baby or baby with special needs,
I know this isn’t what you expected – a baby born too early or with some medical complication/s following his/her birth, but this is now you & your family’s reality.
You’re feeling a myriad of feelings & emotions at the moment, not to mention the normal postpartum/postnatal mood swings. You’re tired, overwhelmed, in shock, sad, relieved (if your pregnancy was medically challenging & you worried about your baby each day), feeling robbed & at the same time dealing with all the unexpected & unplanned for scenarios you’re now living with. Of course you’re relieved your baby is alive & makes it harder to rationalise your negative feelings & disappointment over your situation because so many others are not ‘this lucky’. Welcome to the equation, guilt.
All these thoughts & feelings are shoved (read, suppressed) into an imaginary box of emotions. The ‘box’ is not tied up because new contents will added on a daily, & sometimes hourly, basis. You hold onto these thoughts & feelings tightly because sharing them would deem you self-centred & selfish & none of this is about you. It’s all about your baby – you looking after him/her & taking care of your newborns’ extra needs.
You’re going through the motions of feeding, expressing, vising PICU, NICU or special care & not even stopping to think about how you’re feeling about any this. You just keep busy & keep moving because you are a mother now & this is your job.
What you have time to digest any of what’s going on, or as you’re trying to sleep, thoughts race in & out of your mind. You might be thinking some or all of the following:
- You feel guilty that your body failed to carry your baby to term. You failed at the one thing your body was meant to do once becoming pregnant & the pregnancy being viable.
- You feel guilty that your body didn’t create a ‘perfect’ & ‘healthy’ baby & that you’ve caused all the medical complications that may or may not occur following the birth.
- You feel immensely guilty for causing any developmental deficits or developmental delays to your baby.
- You feel angry & robbed that you are not having the postpartum/postnatal period you imagined during your pregnancy.
- You feel sad that you don’t have the balloons, stuffed toys, cards & flowers like the other rooms because you’ve told visitors that they cannot come to visit your baby since he/she’s in care.
- You feel robbed for not being allowed to hold you baby after the birth, because it needed to go to NICU, PICU or special care. And then guilty for not having all that skin-to-skin contact that all the books & websites say is essential for bonding with your baby.
- You feel invisible at times as others take over the basic care (not medical) of your baby right in front of you – the midwives that pick up & undress your baby, change it’s nappy all while you’re craving to just be its mother.
- You’re envious of all your friends that have had ‘normal’ postpartum/postnatal periods & brought home healthy babies home after a few days in hospital, because you’re not going to have this experience.
- There is an air of sadness about & around your newborn that everyone’s ignoring or avoiding.
- You feel as though you don’t matter – people have forgotten that you’re also recovering from having a baby & don’t think to ask how you’re doing.
- You’re sad because you missed your imagined ‘newborn’ photo shoot because by the time you get home from hospital your baby is no longer a newborn.
- You feel immensely sad seeing your friends’ newborn & toddler photos in your newsfeed because you’re unable to have/do this yet or at all.
- You get upset when you see other babies feed well & are content following a feed because every feed you do is emotional torture. That’s if of course you are able to feed your baby because the midwives do most of the feeding when your baby’s in their care.
- If you have a toddler, you’re angry that he/she can’t go visit their new baby sibling because of germs they may have picked up at daycare that might jeapordise the health of your baby (or worse other babies in care). You completely respect & understand this rule in your head, but your heart seems to be taking longer.
- You feel a pang of sadness seeing mothers walk their babies in prams because your imagined postpartum/postnatal period is nothing like you imagined or hoped for.
- You get annoyed that people have no understanding or (at least) compassion for just how much harder you have it (& possibly for the foreseeable future).
- You often feel like your baby’s nurse at times & not his/her mother.
- You get angry when you hear women complain how uncomfortable the last weeks/months of a pregnancy is, because you would take their place in a heartbeat.
- You want to ask yourself, ‘why me’, but you don’t feel you’ve got permission to do so.
- You get annoyed & defensive when questioned about your babies health or developmental delays because of the guilt you feel about it.
- You life is on hold & you don’t know how long this will be for.
- When you hear, ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or girl, as long as it’s healthy’ said to someone around you, your stomach turns in knots because people don’t realise just how meaningful that sentiment is & how much you wished for the full term baby or good health.
- Images with mums & their newborns will forever upset you, as this was not the experience you had.
- People are quick to ask you about extending the family again, with little or no regard for anything you went through or are still going through on a daily basis with your baby.
- The mothers in your mothers group seem like distant strangers because the only thing you have in common is that you both own prams/strollers. Nothing about your experience is the same.
- You get agitated when other mothers discuss seemingly insignificant things around you, because your priorities are miles apart.
- You feel lonely.
Your nervousness can be debilitating, you’re always on edge & absolutely everything overwhelms you. You don’t feel as though you’re allowed to feel anything other than being grateful & blessed with this little life. You’re unable to sleep when you can – that is, after all the expressing, steralising, cleaning, administering & monitoring – & the sleep deprivation is all too much to cope with. You don’t know how to just be a mum to your baby because of all his/her other needs & all the things you have to do & deal with. The adrenaline of your situation keeps you going & going until you finally crash. And when you do, you STILL don’t think you have permission to do so.
To my dear (new) mum, please know & understand that you have a lot to deal with now (& possibly in the future*) & your feelings about your situation are understandable, permissible & valid.
When you’re later diagnosed with postpartum/postnatal depression & /or anxiety, (because you were finally honest with yourself on how you were really feeling), you will feel immense relief because you’ll be able to get the help you need in order look after yourself. You will be able to discuss the racing & irrational thoughts you’re having & the trauma with someone that will listen& cares & they’ll be able to provide you with strategies to turn the voices down, & in time, turn off for good. You might need the aid of medication, or as I call it Ventolin, because it too will help you breath. There is absolutely no shame in getting help or admitting you’re not ok because what you’ve been through & what you’re going through is hard & at times, frankly, just suck.
Your reasons or circumstance for suffering any postpartum/postnatal mood disorder doesn’t matter, but what I’m about to tell you does. I will keep reminding you in each & every post I ever write about postpartum/postnatal mood disorders because it’s true & you need to hear it.
I want you to know that you’re not alone.
I want you to know that help is out there.
I want you to stop believing everything you think.
I want to tell you that you will get through this.
Be gentle with yourself, as you will be delicate for some time. You must give yourself this time. Allow yourself to grieve over the loss of your imagined post-birth experience & if you have this experience more than once, allow yourself to grieve the fact that you will never have the post-birth experience that others do & that you always wished for.
I hope that the passage of time treats you well & your recovery is triumphant. Be patient with this process – your recovery will be full of highs & lows, achievements & regressions. The ride will be bumpy my friend, but we’ll be here for you cheering you on & supporting you on your good days & holding your hand & throwing you a lifeboat on the hard ones. No matter what the future holds, you’re strong, you’re fierce & an admirable woman & mother.
Sending you love & hope always & forever,
Yuz (Warrior mum & survivor)
* Research has shown that mothers with premature babies or babies with special needs often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which often goes undiagnosed until many years after the initial trauma or experience.
I’ll be Climbing out of the Darkness (COTD) in Melbourne Australia on June 21. To join her team or to make a donation, click here: http://www.crowdrise.com/yuzrozenblum-COTD2014
Sunday May 11th, is the 6th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Mums’ Mental Health. This Rally will feature 24 letters from survivors of postpartum/postnatal depression, postpartum/postnatal anxiety, postpartum/postnatal OCD, post-adoption depression, depression after weaning &/or postpartum/postnatal psychosis. The purpose of these posts is to inform & encourage pregnant & new moms who may be struggling with their emotional health. The Rally is hosted by Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression & other mental illnesses related to pregnancy & childbirth. To read the other posts on this Mother’s Day Rally, click here.