I found our first year of parenthood the hardest year we have been through in the whole time we have have been parents. Including this last year where along with looking after five children under nine years of age, I was also pregnant with our sixth child. Or the last four months, where we have been parenting six children aged from newborn up to nine years old.
That first year just about broke me.
The first two weeks of life as a family of three were fine, well as fine as learning to be first time parents can be in amongst the visitors, the broken sleep & cracked nipples as we tried to get a handle on breastfeeding - something which does not just miraculously happen naturally, but takes an under-estimated amount of effort & perseverance. Then Ben woke up out of that newborn sleepiness. He cried, he screamed, he grizzled, then he would cry inconsolably some more. All day long. The only reprieve we got was from midnight until 3am. Those few hours were the only hours he would usually sleep soundly. Other than the rare 20 minute stints on my shoulder where he would cry himself into exhaustion.
I've never forgotten how hard, how arduous, how distressing & emotional those days were.
It was a very rude shock. During Ben's pregnancy I had ideals of how our days would go, how laid back & happy our baby was sure to be, given my own optimistic & easy going personality. Oh the ignorance.
I would be home with this red-faced, distressed little baby, who I spent hour upon endless hour pacing up & down our hallway, looping through the lounge room, patting, rubbing, cuddling, feeding, burping, changing, trying my best to comfort & console. Waiting for 7pm when Doug would be home from work, so I could pass Ben over his Dad, in the desperate hopes that he could get our little baby to settle, or by some impossible miracle, sleep. Even if Doug couldn't calm Ben any more than I could, I just needed someone to take him & give me a break. I needed one hour to myself to not feel like a failure to our son, & to Doug. I felt that as Ben's Mother, I should be able to calm him, to settle him or at the very least know what was wrong. I had no answers.
At seven weeks old I took Ben to our doctor for a snuffly nose & for help. I was certain that something wasn't right, no baby should cry as much, as often, as hysterically as Ben did. I was sent away with the advice that he's just a new baby & it's probably colic. If he's no better at twelve weeks old then to come back. In the weeks that followed there was no improvement. Our next appointment coincided with Ben's first cold. Again we were sent away & told to come back once Ben had recovered from his cold and was four months old.
I never went back. Instead, we had been referred via our child & youth health nurse to Torrens House, a facility where parents experiencing extreme sleep & settling issues could stay for 2 nights & 3 days, with one on one, hands-on help & advice from specialised nurses. Although we never resolved our issues completely whilst there, they were still a glimmer of light in what was a very dark tunnel. It was discovered & confirmed that Ben had severe reflux, GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease) which the following week, after our time in Torrens House, was officially diagnosed via a pediatrician. It came as no shock to myself, or to Doug, that I also had developed post-natal depression.
Both Ben & I started treatment, Ben for his reflux & myself for depression. This was a big step in the right direction. I felt more like my normal self & able to cope much better. When hearing Ben start to cry, instead of feeling nauseous, tense & anxious, I could stay calm & have a little faith in myself as a Mum that I could give Ben what he needed most, comfort. It still took us a few more months to get Ben's reflux under control & ease his symptoms, but there were small improvements each month. A baby began to emerge who I had thought we would never see.
By ten months old we had a much happier & relaxed little baby. But those months of pain for Ben had instilled an aversion, more likely a fear, to lying down & had many 'bad' sleep habits. Ben had associated his cot, the pram, the car, any attempts at settling to sleep with pain (as the acid from his stomach would burn it's way up his oesophagus).
We eventually got there, especially when we transitioned Ben into a 'big boy' bed from his cot. Starting fresh with a new sleeping environment gave us all the opportunity to break any old habits & routines that Ben associated negatively with.
By the time Ben was twenty months old, we had welcomed Rianan into our family. I was under no illusions this time as to how life may, or may not be. Especially with two under two.
I figured we would just take each day as it came & get through as best as we could. If it turned out that Rianan also suffered with reflux I now had a wealth of knowledge & experience that I never had with Ben. I was adamant that we would not have a repeat of what we went through in that first year with Ben. I also made a promise to myself that the moment I felt myself slipping into the dark struggles of post natal depression I would seek help straight away. I never wanted to go though that again, pretending I was okay when I knew deep down I wasn't.
As it turned out, Rianan was the complete opposite of how Ben was as a baby. We still had the normal crying moments, but instead of being inconsolable, she could be comforted. Instead of struggling to get her to sleep, & stay asleep, often she would naturally doze off herself, sometimes while lying on the playmat, or reclining in the bouncer while watching Ben play with his cars at her feet. I remember the amazement at how normal Rianan was, & how much we missed out on with the struggles Ben, Doug & I went through.
Since that hellish first year, each time we have been expecting another little minion to add to our family, I have never taken for granted or expected to have a smooth transition. I figure if I go in expecting that this new little person may be unsettled, may cry more than expected, will need lots of cuddles & help to fall asleep, then I won't be as completely blind sided as I was in that first year.
So to those who are pacing the hallways, & looping through their lounge rooms, walking those desperate hours with a crying, inconsolable baby, hang in there. It does get better, it's just going to take a little time. That little scrunched up, tearful face will grow, habits will change, dependence will be exchanged for independence.
Our little red-faced, inconsolable, screaming baby grew into a toddler who didn't cry every waking moment, who could fall asleep in his own bed. Now that little toddler has grown into a happy, easy going, independent nine year old who to look at, would never know or imagine the struggles he went through in that first year.
What a debut into parenthood. It may not have been an easy ride, but it was worth it