Noa is almost one month old and we fall even more love with her each day. These past four weeks have taught me a lot. Before she arrived. I had quite a few opinions on motherhood, how I would do things and exactly how I wouldn’t. I tend to like a routine, for everything to be controlled and exact, but Noa has taught me that when it comes to mamahood, that won’t always work. I now know that, as a mum, I have to be more flexible. She has taught me patience, to let go of my own agenda and listen to hers. She has taught me strength and that comparison is the thief of joy. But the most important thing I have learnt is this that the first few weeks are hard.
I feel like no-one warned me, or perhaps they did and I wasn’t listening. There have been times when I felt completely overwhelmed, clueless, sleep-deprived and desperate. The responsibility of caring for another human being who is entirely dependent on you has sometimes brought me to tears but my biggest learning has been the simple truth that raising a child takes a village and that I am not too proud to say I can’t do it on my own. As the weeks roll out and I chat to other mums, I realise that many feel immense pressure to be perfect and often suffer in silence, too proud to share their struggles or to ask for or accept help. The result is that many put up a façade. I have longed for real, honest conversations with other mums where we can be open and honest about our challenges, journeys and experiences. Somehow women are afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to say, ‘Shit, this is hard.’
Sisterhood and motherhood teach us to support one another, to accept one another and how important having a community is, but I find that mothers are afraid to be entirely honest, afraid of being judged. Instead, they compare themselves to others (usually based on assumptions) and say nothing at all. I have connected with a few mums who are brave enough to share an honest account of their experiences and they have shown me the value of honest conversations, breaking down walls and being frank when it comes to raising your little one. I hope their experiences in some way empower or inspire you to keep doing what you are doing and to know that in your little one’s eyes, you are enough.
Sarah Le Sueur
The date was set. I knew that my baby boy or girl was due to arrive early in the morning on 22 February. I was totally at peace with having a caesarean, a decision my husband and I had made with my gynaecologist due to something called foetal growth restriction caused by high blood pressure in the umbilical cord.
I had spoken to a few other mums who had C-sections and felt totally prepared. The day arrived and before I knew it, I was sitting on the side of the bed in the operating theatre. They had just put the driving needle in (which I hardly felt) and it was time for the spinal. As it went in, it suddenly reached a spot that caused a horrible pain. My body jerked a little and the needle hit bone. It was unable to penetrate any further into my spine. The anaesthetist removed the needle, told me I needed to remain dead still and proceeded to try again. This, unfortunately, continued for a painful 40 minutes before he said I would have to have general anaesthetic.
It was not something I had prepared for mentally or emotionally. In the blink of an eye, I was surrounded by a team of people and had a mask put over my face to put me to sleep. I woke up about two hours later to find out that I had given birth to the most beautiful baby girl.
Her birth is still something I struggle with. It was quite traumatic for me as well as for my husband. But I’m learning that not everything is within our control. I may not have been able to experience her birth or find out that we were having a girl together with my husband, but I carried and birthed a perfectly healthy little girl. Yes, birth is amazing and I do hope that things will go differently when I have another child, but those few hours that I wasn’t present are just one small part of her beautiful life.
I couldn’t be more grateful to my husband for being so strong. The first few weeks at home were a blur. Recovery was harder than I had anticipated and the lack of sleep is no joke! I am so grateful for my family and my friends who are like my family. We learnt to accept all the help we could get. Family members, friends and our church community dropped off healthy, hot meals almost every night for more than two weeks. We learnt that people genuinely wanted to help.
I’m no veteran, but what I’ve learnt from our baby’s birth and the first few months of motherhood is to let go. Don’t try to control everything. Choose a few people whose advice you trust (even the nurses in hospital gave us conflicting advice) and go with your gut. There’s no shame in accepting help from your loved ones. Also, it really, truly, does get easier each and every week. My daughter brings me more joy than I could ever have imagined and I’d do it all a million times over just to have her here with us.
There are good days and bad days. One day you’re rocking at parenting and it’s all beautifully blissful and the next day it can feel back-brakingly hard! Last night I had to tell Harry that a fly flew into my eye. But each night that I go to bed, sore body and a planning mind, I go to bed with a full hear. We went from, “Will we ever have children?”, to 4 beautiful babies.
We were told all sorts of fatal possibilities for the triplets and Harry kept us awake at night for many years – parenting can be exhausting in so many ways. I have a lot of moms saying, “How do you do 3? I can barely do 1” – it’s all relevant. A first baby that battles to sleep can be just as hard as 3! Maybe even tougher! ( So please, don’t compare yourself!) Pat yourself on the back mama! You’re doing your best! And you’re doing great! There are days when I want to walk out the front door, slam it, and just keep walking. Walking and walking … but then they smile, your husband (the thread that holds us together) hugs you tight and everyone is purring in their beds and your heart BURSTS! I admire so many people who are opening up on Instagram and saying, “You know what, life is not perfect”, and it’s not! But the one thing I do love about Instagram, is looking over my little tiles and seeing all the beautiful moments and memories and I think, I’m actually doing ok! Life is good (think that artisanal coffee you shot, catching up with a friend selfie, your kid laughing, a lovely gift you received) and I am truly grateful.
I had my heart set on a natural, drug-free birth and spent my pregnancy watching endless birth stories, attending hypnobirthing classes and doing whatever I could to prepare myself. I hired a doula, drank gallons of red-raspberry leaf tea and kept fit. I was so excited to experience labour and felt ready!
My due date was Christmas Day and my gynae had agreed to let me go over by a week. When our baby boy hadn’t shown any signs of budging by Christmas, I spent the entire week trying every trick in the book to induce him naturally. (Spicy curries, whole pineapples, runs on the beach, castor oil, you name it, I tried it.) My husband knew how much I wanted our baby to make his arrival when he was ready to, without any intervention, and asked the gynae if he’d consider delaying my induction, which he agreed to on condition that I went into the hospital for regular CTGs to check our baby’s heart rate and my amniotic fluid. All was looking good but our little man showed no signs of appearing and at 42 weeks I was booked for an induction.
I arrived at the hospital armed with my Pilates ball and homeopathic remedies. I was told that I should feel contractions by mid morning and that I should be in active labour by noon. We were looking at an afternoon delivery, but every time my doctor came to check, I hadn’t made any progress. I was zero centimetre dilated and hadn’t felt a single contraction. So at 3pm, he came in and very patiently and thoroughly explained the risks of going further over term. He gave me the option of going home and trying an induction again the following day, but said that I should seriously consider a C-section. After chatting to my doula (who had never seen a failed induction before) and my husband as well as a lot of prayer, I strongly felt that our baby had to come out asap. I suppose it was an emergency C-section and I’m so thankful to my doctor that it didn’t feel like an emergency at all.
At 3.45pm I was prepped for surgery and wheeled into theatre. Much to my surprise, I can honestly say that I loved every minute of the birth. I had a phenomenal team talking me through every minute of the procedure and keeping the atmosphere light. When I heard that first little cry, the most overwhelming emotion took over and I sobbed as they placed my baby boy on my chest. None of the clichés come close to describing the feeling of meeting Gray for the first time.
Only afterwards, did my gynae discover that I had a condition known as placenta accreta, where the placenta overly attaches and grows into the muscles of the uterus. It can cause excessive haemorrhaging during natural birth and could be fatal. At that point I knew I had made the right decision to opt for a caesarean. I was fortunate to recover very quickly from the C-section and didn’t battle with much pain after going home. Where I struggled, though, was with feeding. My milk took six days to come in and my supply took weeks to build up. At the same time, Gray would latch but would fuss and become frustrated as he was a hungry boy and wasn’t going to wait for his food!
After trying and trying I resorted to expressing and bottle-feeding. It was a gruelling eight-week journey to get him to take a boob while pumping every three hours. After a horrid bout of mastitis and cracked and bleeding nipples, I made the tough decision to end what was for me a traumatic feeding experience and switch to formula. At that point his colic, which had been really bad during the day but thankfully not at night, improved and he started sleeping through at night. He was thriving and I thought the battle was over while it had really only just begun.
After taking the pills I had been prescribed to dry up my milk, I developed post-partum anxiety and depression. I didn’t sleep a wink for three nights, completely lost my appetite and for months I experienced insomnia for the first time in my life. It is incredibly frustrating having a baby that slept through while you are lying wide awake. This was the scariest and darkest time of my life. It robbed me of the joy I knew I should have been feeling at such a special time and completely destroyed my self-confidence. I felt as if my baby didn’t want me and that I was failing at my lifelong dream of being a mother. I overthought everything and drove myself mad by googling every single symptom Gray and I were experiencing. I had frequent panic attacks and was terrified that I’d never feel normal again.
I was very fortunate to have a phenomenal support system who I could speak to openly about what I was going through. My GP identified my symptoms very early on. While I struggled to come to terms with what I was going through and that I needed help, he explained the dangers of not treating PPD as early as possible. I very soon realised that it wasn’t worth it trying to battle through on my own and risk getting worse. I needed to be well for my baby and get back on my feet. The biggest blessing was moving in with my parents for four months and accepting all the help offered to me. My husband was my rock and even though I’d burst into tears every time he gave me a compliment or a hug, he made me feel as if everything was going to be okay. During months filled with a lot of help and treatment, both holistic and medical, I gradually began to feel better.
What I want every mum out there to know is that if they feel any hint of PPD or anxiety, it’s really not worth it to suffer in silence or to be too proud to ask for help. Once I opened up and wore my heart on my sleeve, especially to other mums, I discovered an incredibly comforting, supportive community that was and still is instrumental to my wellbeing. Pretending that everything is okay when it’s not, must be a really lonely place, and not sharing your struggles with other mums is doing them and yourself a great disservice. My recovery was a gradual process. Little by little, I made progress each week and at six months I finally felt like myself again. I’m seven months postpartum and I’m loving every minute of being a mum.
PPD shattered me into a million pieces but the process of recovery put me back together again and made me a much stronger, far more appreciative person. I am now completely besotted with my baby boy and am incredibly grateful for the joy he brings me. I am also far more present with him and don’t take one giggle or cuddle for granted. I feel like I’m the luckiest mom alive to have him!
Tips for mums struggling with anxiety and or depression
I wish I had taken a more open-minded view to birth and that I was less adamant about having a natural birth. By trying to be too in control of my situation, I was setting myself up for a hard fall when things didn’t go my way.
Get off google and be very selective with social media. Torturing yourself with images of perfectly put-together mums who seemingly have it all, is bound to undermine your confidence.
Talk about it and don’t be too proud to accept help.
Seek treatment and be open to different methods. There is a whole host of treatment options out there and there is no one size fits all approach to recovery.
Start each day by saying thanks for the things you’re grateful for. An attitude of gratitude can change the darkest moment into a bright one.
Get outside and exercise.
Nourish your body with good food and supplements.
I’d love to hear your story, comments and thoughts. Please share them in the comment box below.
During my pregnancy, I enrolled in the Thula Baby Centre for antenatal classes and I really recommend checking them out. The course gave us a basic understanding of feeding our baby, labour, the birth process and parenting skills. What I really loved, was the opportunity to connect with other like-minded couples. The centre in Mouillie Point offers a safe and cosy space where mums come in from the Sea Point Promenade with their babies for coffee, to feed and connect. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with other mums and seek professional advice at the same time.
The New Normal
The New Normal is a platform that brings awareness to the real, honest shared experiences of new and early motherhood. It made me realise that I am not alone – because what I’m feeling and going through right now, hundreds of women in our city, country and across the world are feeling, too.
Book for their session with homeopath Daphne Lyell, hormone specialist Simone Silver and pre- and post-natal yoga teacher Harriet Came.
When: Wednesday 8 August
Time: 9:30am – 11:30am
Where: Clarke’s Bar and Dining
Ticket: R200 from Quicket