Motherhood is wonderful, beautiful, magical. Every time I look at Theo’s happy little face, I feel so overwhelmed with joy that I could cry. I am so blessed. Every day, I ask him: “How did I get so lucky to be your mummy, Theo?” But it’s irresponsible to say every second of motherhood is easy, or even enjoyable. Amongst many challenges new mums face, motherhood can be incredibly isolating – which is something nobody ever prepared me for. But in hindsight, I wish I’d embraced those early, intense, lonely days more. And if you’re a new or expectant mummy, I’m here to tell you that those overwhelmingly lonely early days will become a thing of the past in the blink of an eye.
After Theo was born, we spent four nights in hospital whilst he underwent a series of routine blood tests. I vowed to breastfeed, so the nights were long. In those early days, babies should be fed on demand, so whenever he let out a little squeak or whimper I’d latch him on and let him feed, still getting to know my little treasure and understand what each of his sweet little sounds meant. Midwives popped in throughout the night to ensure he was latched and feeding properly, so that he wasn’t going hungry and my nipples were still intact. My midwives were amazing. They brought me cups of tea and THE most delicious toast, and sat with me into the early hours. We laughed together, and with two especially wonderful midwives, I shared one of the most beautiful heart-to-hearts I have ever had. In those four days, I came to think of each and every one of them as a friend. After all, they held my hand through the biggest moments of my life. They physically MILKED me in the hours after Theo was born, and helped me to hand-express so that I could take vials of liquid gold to special care for him. They were angels and kept me going through those long night feeds. When I felt physically exhausted, they held me up. It wasn’t until we were discharged from hospital that I realised how truly isolating new-motherhood (and for me personally, breastfeeding) can be. Having constant company from the midwives gave me a false sense of security.
Shortly before Theo was born, Michael had started a new job working night shifts. So, when he wasn’t working, he was sleeping. I didn’t foresee this being an issue. I told myself I could handle anything. But my first night at home with Theo was incredibly sobering. I nursed him for an hour – thirty minutes on each breast, winded him, then rocked him until I knew he was sleeping peacefully. I swaddled him, placed him in his bedside crib, turned on Ewan the Dream Sheep and switched off the lamp, feeling like Super Mum. Exhausted, sore from both my caesarean and the early days of breastfeeding, every part of me ached for sleep. But within minutes, Theo had woken up. His nappy was clean, so I tried winding him. When this didn’t work, I tried rocking him. Although I was confident he couldn’t possibly be hungry after having such a long feed, I latched him on – and he guzzled for another three hours straight. No matter how many times I unlatched him and tried to rock him back to sleep, he cried out in protest. So, for three hours, Theo fed whilst I silently cried, alone in my bed. I remember gazing out of the window at the moonlit street and all the houses in darkness and feeling like I must be the only person in the world still awake. I could feel my eyes growing heavier by the second, but knew I had to stay awake. So I put Netflix on – I think I watched Gavin and Stacey – in the hopes it would keep me going for my little boy. I felt a thirst like I had never known before – and so hungry. I questioned whether my milk was already drying up – surely it wasn’t normal for my baby to feed for so many hours? How was it possible for him to STILL feel hungry? Was I doing it all wrong?
At that point, I’d never heard of the term ‘clusterfeeding’ and I wish, in retrospect, somebody had warned me about it. At least then I’d have been prepared, and wouldn’t have automatically assumed there was something wrong with my milk supply. After speaking to my health visitor, I was relieved to hear that clusterfeeding is incredibly common for breastfed babies in the early weeks (and sometimes months) of a baby’s life. Babies can clusterfeed for a number of reasons, but it generally indicates a growth spurt, or a baby’s attempt to boost your milk supply ahead of a growth spurt. From then on, every single night, Theo fed nonstop from midnight until 4am. He never cried, but if I dared unlatch him (when I just couldn’t hold my wee in any longer!), he would scream until I latched him back onto me. It was incredibly overwhelming.
As the weeks wore on, I got to grips with Theo’s clusterfeeding. It was no less isolating or relentless, but I stocked my bedside table with snacks and always made sure I had plenty of fluids to hand. I propped myself up in bed, flicked on a bingeworthy Netflix series, and braced myself for four hours of nursing. My wonderful Auntie, who lives in America and is five hours behind, would send me the most beautiful messages of support. She also breastfed, and could relate to every step of my journey, which was an incredible comfort and one I’ll never be able to thank her enough for. She became my angel, who supported me from across the world through a journey that mirrored her own. She provided regular, welcome reminders that I was not alone whilst the rest of the world slept, and reminded me that I could and would get through the difficult stage.
Then, as I found my feet as a new mummy, I started to love those late-night feeding sessions. As I cradled my perfect little boy, I reminded myself that he wouldn’t be so tiny forever. And I told myself that I was doing a wonderful thing for my son – I was giving him the very best start in life by perservering through such long, intense feeds. I started to wonder how on earth I had ever felt ‘alone’ when I was in the very best company. Theo was too young to offer words of encouragement when I felt so tired I could drop, and he certainly couldn’t bring me cups of tea. But none of that mattered. I knew he would soon be grown up and in his own bedroom, and the thought broke my heart.
Then, one night, I was just about to settle down for a four-hour feeding session. I placed Theo down on my bed and popped to the loo – totally expecting him to protest for his milk fix. But when I looked, he was fast asleep! I transferred him into his crib as gently as I could, and he stayed sound asleep until Michael came home from work just after 6am the following morning. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw the time. My hungry little babe had slept for six hours straight for the first time ever. I assumed it would be a fluke, but the following night he did the same, and the next night – until I finally accepted my newborn had outgrown his clusterfeeding habits. A couple of weeks later, I put Theo to bed and invited my friend over for a cup of tea. It was so nice to have a taste of freedom, knowing my little boy was safe, snug and happy in his bed.
Now, as I write, I can hear Theo snoring softly. It’s 9pm and I’m drinking a hot cup of tea. He is the most content little boy I have ever known, and it’s often commented on. He sleeps for between 10 and 12 hours every single night, which means I have ‘me’ time again. Time to shower, or have a nice soak in the bath. Time to drink as many hot cups of tea as I fancy. Time to catch up with friends. Yet, most nights, I find myself staring at my beautiful son as he sleeps, wondering what he’s dreaming about and asking myself how and when he got so big. I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness when I think about my freedom. Okay, right now things are very different. We’re living through a pandemic and ‘freedom’ means something a little bit different these days. But still, my heart aches for just how quickly my baby is growing up. Those newborn days, those all-consuming, intense, overwhelming newborn days, are gone in the blink of an eye. I wish I’d embraced the challenging moments with the same joy that I felt with every fibre of my being in all the lovely, cushy moments.
Being a new mum is tough. It’s isolating, exhausting, hard. But if I could go back and start all over again, I would. If you’re a new or expectant mummy, I really hope you’ll find some comfort in my experience. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, but it truly is the most wonderful, rewarding experience you will ever go through. Grab every second with both hands and embrace the beautiful journey in ALL its glory.