Guest Post: When a Couple Becomes a Family

There’s no doubt about it, having a baby really changes your relationship. In one day you go from being husband and wife, or partners, or girlfriend and boyfriend, to mummy and daddy. The whole concept of your relationship changes to a new paradigm.

Before my baby was born I was the most important person in my husband’s life; as he was in mine. I prioritised his needs over mine, I hope, and he did the same for me.

Now those priorities have changed, as our son has become the most important person in my life. I once heard a friend comment that he would push his wife under a bus in order to save his newborn son, and, while I wouldn’t put it in those words myself, I understand the sentiment.

It’s not that I don’t prioritise my husband anymore; rather, it’s that he can look after himself. My son is dependent on us for everything, so his needs must come first.

Writing that last sentence, I nearly wrote, “my son is dependent on me.” Therein lies the heart of the matter. In my own heart, I feel that I can provide better for my son than my husband can. This, not the broken nights, lack of a sex drive and general exhaustion, is what affects our relationship. Although, the others do play a big part.

This ability to provide is certainly partly caused by the fact that I have breastfed my son for 8 months so far. Both my husband and I were very keen for me to breastfeed, and he was a great supporter when I struggled at the beginning. Breastfeeding meant that I was the one nourishing my son. I could calm him when he was crying, with a quick feed. I could get him back to sleep at night. My husband didn’t have that option.

Don’t get me wrong, I was keen for my husband to take part in nourishing our child. I expressed, I pumped, I froze milk in those funny storage bags. I sterilised bottles. The baby would happily accept a bottle. But for some reason, my husband wasn’t keen. He didn’t seem to derive the same pleasure from feeding the baby as I did. When I suggested he gave the baby a bottle so that he remembered how to take it, my husband would make some excuse. I would end up doing it. On the occasions when I went out and the baby needed feeding, he would do it, but he didn’t get the pleasure from feeding the baby that I got. Now that I’m starting to wean the baby onto formula, I wonder if he’ll be more keen to get involved? In all honesty, I’d be surprised.

There’s also the simple fact that I spend more time with the baby than he does; I’m the one on maternity leave. I spend each day trying to think of ways to entertain and stimulate the baby, of ways to get him to exercise. I’m the one who spends time trying to work out a daily routine to suit him. My husband, to his credit, totally follows my lead in the routine, and will happily stick to nap times and work our day around our son’s needs.

Weekends are interesting. Not only is it my husband’s chance to spend a lot of time with the baby, he also sees it as his chance for a rest. It’s not unusual for my husband to assume that it’s still ok for him to take a mid-afternoon nap on a Saturday, or to watch hours of football. Those things mean he’s not spending time with the baby.

I see weekends differently now, mostly because they’re very similar to weekdays – I’m at home. But there’s more mess to clear up, there’s more washing up because there are two adults at home and not one. I have to think about when to put the laundry on because my husband doesn’t like the machine whirring away when he’s in the kitchen. In some ways, for me, weekends are more stressful.

There’s also the sense that we should do something at the weekend as a family. After being at home for the majority of the week, I want to go out, to go somewhere. My husband wants to be at home. I guess it’s about compromise. Before the baby arrived, we would usually go out on a Friday or Saturday night on a bit of a date; that’s rarely an option any more. Friday or Saturday night becomes just like any other, if you’re not careful.

Before the baby was born, we had an equal footing in our relationship: we earned roughly the same amount of money, we both drove our own cars, and shared most of the housework. With the arrival of the baby, and me taking maternity leave, this makes me much more dependant on him; we also share a car now, which adds another dimension. Our roles have become much more gender-defined, as i’m doing the cooking, cleaning and he’s going out to work and being the ‘provider.’ I admit, sometimes, I’m a bit jealous.

I think at times, he’s a bit jealous of my role too: I get to be at home with our baby, no stress, a slow, quiet pace of life. Generally, I’m very happy here. It’s just sometimes I’d like to swap places for a day. I’d like him to deal with the constant stream of nappies and clearing up. I’d like him to think about what the baby might enjoy for 12 hours a day. I’d like to have the freedom and flexibility that he has.

It’s about compromise. It’s about communication, and making an effort to understand each others’ situation. I guess it’s also about sometimes standing up for your own needs, and knowing it’s not going to be like this forever. It’s about making the effort to spend time together and have sex, even if you don’t always feel like it, and there’s a huge pile of washing to do. Because, ultimately, I chose to have a baby with this man. I desperately want my son to grow up with two loving parents who are happily married to each other. I want my son to know his father as a wonderful man. I need the love and support of my husband.

I want us to be a family.

An Almost Loss

It dawned on me recently that the birth of a baby is as much an end as it is a beginning. It’s the beginning of their life and the beginning of your motherhood but equally too is the end of your ability to care for them in the way you have been. When you are pregnant you provide every single bit of care they need. Every single thing that needs done is done by you, the mum, seamlessly. You have two hearts beating inside you, made of the same stuff. Yet you can’t get to them. You can’t hold them and see them and feel them. They are so close yet almost too close, if you understand me. You wait impatiently their arrival and when they do come you have that feeling of utter completeness, finally you are fulfilled in your ideas of what your role in life is. And you provide all their care while at the same time properly knowing them for the first time. And it is perfect and indestructible for that moment.

Looking back I think for me that phase lasted about an hour and a half. That blissful time where you get them on your chest and they try to feed for the first time and its just you and them and even though there are other people there they are like a haze of unnecessary information. Nothing can penetrate those first moments where its just you and your baby. I remember feeling so proud, they were the proudest moments of my life. But as soon as you have it its gone. Visitors came and my baby was in someone else’s arms. His bruised head lying against other people and his long limbs dangling over theirs. I could warn them about how to hold him, as I knew he was back to back, and I knew his head was sore, but for some reason I didn’t. It felt like I had had this baby not only for me, but for everyone I knew. Like it wasn’t enough that I wanted him, he had to be everyone’s boy. And it was at that instance that I started to lose him.

I feel now as though I am grieving. I am mourning the loss of my angel. After that first hour and a half he was still mine alone, at certain times, but it seems that these times were short, often interrupted, and won from me too frequently. As much as I hated being in the hospital at least we were alone a little longer, and visits restricted. I’d like to say next time that I’d restrict all visits from anyone for several days but I know it wouldn’t be allowed. Why can’t society leave things for just a bit? Why must everyone steal a bit of what an individual makes? So many people to try and not offend and I think I succeeded but at the same time I lost something far more precious than their approval.

I know it is wrong but I feel as though there are two Sandys. One my all go tiny man, expanding by the minute, exploring every facet of his life. He’s my best friend, and I am his mum. He’s a person and a character unhindered by other people’s existence, and its a blessing to watch him evolve. The other Sandy is gone. My tiny baby, my little floppy, wrinkled baby, lying on my chest, eyes closed, aware of nothing but my being there. For me, its like he died. Its like I watched a gradual fading away of him and I can’t unfeel it. I know he’s still here, my big crawling and smiling Sandy, playing or eating or chatting away. But there is still an almost loss. I can’t explain it any better than that. With every occasion where he was held by another, every feed he refused, every moment where he opened his eyes and saw something that wasn’t me, he slipped further from me. I don’t know at what exact point I felt him go but he did and I can’t get him back.

Perhaps his echo left when I stopped breast feeding him. I remember it clearly, irritated after a night of no sleep, lying down, feeding, willing him to drop off so I could rest too. Looking at his all knowing eye and seeing that he was as awake as was possible and the day had begun. It was all too much and I unlatched him, saying I couldn’t do it anymore, retreating through the house. Sitting in the coolness of the room by the window knowing that it was over. I would never do it again for him, never feel his snuffling and rooting and latching and contented feeding. Never hold his tiny hand and cuddle close in the dark. It was over before it should have been.

I would give anything to go back, just to feed him one more time and appreciate it and remember it and know it was the end but that it was okay. But I can’t. Our last feed wasn’t a happy one, and I think it will stay with me for a long, sad time. And so baby Sandy slipped away and the other Sandy watched on as his mother became sad and distraught at the loss, mourning her baby who was still there, nothing making sense. I feel a fraud for saying it but I can’t hide the truth. Poor women who truly lose their babies, or never meet them. It hurts me to think of how selfish I must be. So it is an almost loss, and insurmountable change. Because no longer is he mine in any capacity and as hard as it was to give up a tiny part of him after just an hour, so it is just as hard to finally say goodbye to all of that phase now. I remember my Dad’s speech at my wedding. He said ‘no-one can own a person, you have to set your children free’. He was right, and at the time I agreed and I still do; I just never thought it would happen so heart-breakingly soon.

Goodbye baby Sandy, helpless little entity. Squishy and frail and old looking. My Sandy starfish, my grumpy grandpa, my beach bum.

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Guest Post: “Have a baby” they said, “it’s easy” they said…

One thing I have definitely learnt from being a mum is that it is NOTHING like you read about, nothing like the films and nothing like you dreamt it would be.

Conception itself is nothing like you expect it to be. After spending most of my teen years trying NOT to get pregnant, it never occurred to me getting pregnant would be so hard, or take so long. Folic Acid, expensive vitamins, cycles, no alcohol, no tuna, cervical mucus (I mean really?!) … I drew the line at sticking a thermometer up my vagina. Sex used to be for fun, now it was timed. Didn’t fancy it? Tough! Jump on and away we go. Poor lad thought all his Christmases had come at once with sex on tap – having being previously a strict once a month, lights off under the covers kind of girl – until I started insisting on keeping my legs in the air singing “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” after each attempt. Each month brought with it a hope which died and burnt that little bit harder each time I had to reach for the Always. 36 months later, after our first initial discussion, it happened.

They tell you pregnancy will make you glow. I didn’t glow, I beamed. Bright red, sweaty with a fetching pregnancy mask. You worry; about everything and anything and all in between. That went on until, well, I’ll let you know when it stops. Waist line disappearing, huge boobs making their debut, crankiness, tiredness, burning as my pelvis split from my spine. Salt and Vinegar Walkers and beetroot on Ryvita. Stretch marks and leaking boobs.

D-day, 28th August, well it came and went. They tell you so much about how to prepare for labour, but nobody actually tells you what happens when your body and baby didn’t get the memo. A slice and dice later, finally she was born.
So there was a rush of love, birds sang, angels appeared playing the harp, just like they say, right? Well no, not exactly. There was no skin to skin, no holding her up over the screen like the lion king. Instead my “big” baby was actually a tiny 6 pounds and rushed off to be dressed before being presented to her daddy, not me. Not the one whose insides where all over the theatre, who had an 8 inch hole in her abdomen, the birth plan still in the file untouched, unread. Her dad – the one who had done nothing but drink tea and play with his phone – was the parent who got the first cuddles. I felt relief she was ok, relief I was ok and relief my spinal block had worked. No rush of anything other than that. Except disbelief.

It’s Nic. Lover of punky music, wearer of hoodies and converse, practical joker. The person who still turns off the hall light then runs up the stairs so nobody gets her… a mum? Entrusted with a thing of such beauty, so tiny, so needy? Who the hell thought I would be a good candidate for being a mum?! I killed a Cactus. They don’t even need bloody watering!

And so it began, the sleepless nights, the breastfeeding, the stream of visitors. All things you read about yet never truly digest until you’re there. Then it hits you, about day 4 and at 3am when you are soaked in your own breast milk, with a baby that is clinging on to your nipple like its chocolate covered gold. This is for real, she is mine. For good. In between the hallucinations caused by 2 hours sleep in 4 days, the toe curling pain when the latch is wrong, when you don’t know your own name anymore or when you last had a drink, this little baby is all yours. Could you ever believe you could produce something so perfect?

See, everyone spouts so many clichés when you are expecting. How your life will never be the same again, how you will never get a lie in. You listen, you nod, you believe them… but nothing prepares you for the reality.

Then there are the things nobody tells you, like that a breast fed baby feeds every 20 minutes, and then won’t take a bottle. So when you sign up to breast feed, you really sign up. Not just for a week, a month, until they are 18 years old. Ok, so maybe a slight exaggeration but when you are doing your third feed of the night (and your baby is on solids and therefore SHOULD be sleeping through, yeah right!) and its only midnight, part of you thinks “damn you breast feeding Nazi nurse, damn you” .

Before you have your own baby, a crying new born makes you shudder in a way that makes you think “give me a dog any day of the week” When it’s YOUR new born, you think “pass me my baby before I rip your head off and shit down your neck, you monster”, whilst your breasts spray liberally soaking through a breast pad made of steel in seconds. The sound of my baby crying made me want to weep with her, an instinctive but more powerful feeling than anything I have ever felt, knowing I would run through red hot embers in ballet shoes with shredded glass tips to get to her, maiming anything in my path. Nobody warns you about that. Nobody tells you when the midwife does your babies heel prick you will have to sit on your hands to prevent yourself from ripping every hair out of her head.

Everybody tells you how you should do it; how they should sleep, how they should eat, how they should play. Everyone tells you that you will want a rest. Nobody tells you that whilst you will want this rest – strike that, need this rest -you will never be able to let your baby out your sight in order to get the rest you so need. Nobody tells you that your baby is more addictive than crack. That you will wake up hourly, no matter how sleep deprived, just to check she is still there, to smell her or to just listen to her snuffly breathing. And nobody tells you that you will still be doing that when she is 6 months old. Nobody tells you about the overwhelming urge you will get to bite (softly) their bare bum, or even lick them. I regularly have to fight temptation to lick her face, like a dog. I don’t know why this is, and I don’t think it’s in the 0-5 book provided by the midwife. They grow, they tell you that, but they don’t tell you how quickly. The outfit you delicately picked out and wondered if it would be too big, fits her, she looks lovely, you wash it, you put it in a drawer and next week it goes in the eBay pile.

Then it’s how it changes you. Everyone talks about how a baby changes your life, but don’t say how it changes you, how it changes the very person you thought you were. I was proud, feisty (apparently) but shy, crippled with embarrassment for even daring to walk this earth, focused on my work, house proud, cold and practical. Now I know I would fight to the death for her. My house is a mess, my body is ruined, yet I am happy and have purpose for the first time in my life. The cold hearted, emotionally stunted woman (thanks darling!) has changed into a person who fought tears through the three minutes she caught of comic relief, aghast at the cruelty of the world. She tears up at the sight of her baby holding her arms up for a hug. She no longer cares for work; all ambition has gone, along with dignity and sanity. All I want to do for the rest of my life is hold my baby, play with her and do my very best not to screw her up too badly. Nobody tells you that you, and everything you knew about you, changes. But most of all, nobody tells you that you will become one of those sad b*stards who upload photos of their delightful child to facebook on a daily basis, because why wouldn’t the rest of the world be as hooked on your child as you are?

Guest post by Nic

Weaning Depression; or ‘why do I seem to be going insane’?

Its 4am on a Sunday morning and I’m crouched over myself on the floor in my flat. I’m at the furthest end of the property wedged between the wall and the sofa and I’m crying. No, I’m wailing, and sobbing and screaming and delightfully emitting most of the water content of my body through my face. I’m saying things I don’t mean and I’m shouting even worse and I can’t think straight and my head is vibrating in a very disconcerting way while I try harder to burrow myself into the carpet. Just another early morning in paradise then?

It’s sad that it’s true that this sort of dramatic scene was becoming increasingly common in our home. I mean, it was happening up to three times weekly by the time Sandy was seven and a half months old. And my husband would look at me like I wasn’t even me, that he’d lost me and I was a shell and I could see the hurt in his face but to be honest I didn’t even care. At that moment all I cared about was how to get OUT. I wanted out of my house, out of my life, out of my skin. If only there was a way to do that.  That’s the thing about motherhood, there is no way out.

Of course, for the most part you don’t want out, you are quite happy being in. I was and I certainly am. I love being a mother! But in those awful times when I’d lose the plot, all I could think of was how even if I did somehow leave, or get away from everything, it still wouldn’t be ok, because I would no longer have my baby. And it truly did feel like if I didn’t have him I would just shrivel up and die.

Most people feel very strongly for their children. But this was taking things to new extremes. These episodes of wakings or insomnia sparking upset and frustration then red hot anger followed inevitably by shuddering panic and deep and hollow weeping… These weren’t normal. These were not the normal reactions of a mother at the edge, of someone so tired and exasperated that they just can’t handle it anymore. No, these were not normal. Therefore I was not normal.

Just let me tell you now its ok. I am normal, I was normal, everything’s normal. And everything turned out ok. And if you feel the same, don’t worry, it WILL be ok. I first started feeling like this around the time Sandy was four months old. Up until then I’d been tired – my goodness yes, as any new mother will be able to confirm – and I’d been at my wits end. Yes I had cried and yes I had been irritated. I remember one night very early on sitting on the floor of my bedroom, topless (for shame, but anyone who was breastfeed a weeks old baby will know where I’m coming from) crying, with my husband on the bed with a baby who was crying, and he too was crying. But I picked myself up and fed my baby again and we huddled together on the bed and I recited “as long as the three of us are together, everything will be okay”. We were a team.

Anyway so like I said it was around the four month mark when things started to get a bit different. Suddenly I found that the three of us being together wasn’t quite enough. And I kept on kicking Sandy off the team. The metaphor engulfed me and I’d say to Stuart “he’s off the team, he’s not pulling his weight” and he’d joke back “maybe we will bench him, so he’s still on the team but he’s sitting it out for a bit”. Soon I couldn’t even joke about it though. This was in early December and Christmas came and went and we got through and people asked how his first Christmas was and I’d say “busy”. And I had that godawful norovirus and the health visitor – who had finally decided, not having seen me since September, to call me in – asked the tell tale post natal depression indicator questions and decided I was feeling a bit strained because I’d been ill. I felt it to be undignified for my mental well being to be a tick in a box.

Then things were stable for a while and we went on holiday for a week and sandy started to sleep better and I started to feel better but once we got home and he was six months old things headed downhill again. His sleep was poor again and I started being unable to sleep. I blamed the city. I blamed the lights. I blamed the noise. I verbally attacked neighbours at 3am, a small pyjama wearing woman with hair like she’d been though the old backwards hedge, deriding her neighbours for their music. It did seem weird at the time that we had lived in this flat for seven years yet it was only now that the city was impossible to get along with. As I stopped sleeping I started to feel the pressure always. I’d be on my knees so often, begging for help. We visited the doctor and spoke to the health visitor. Babies don’t sleep was the answer, deal with it. Such tough love. I gave up looking for help. When it wasn’t so bad I insisted things were great, and they were. I loved my baby, I enjoyed and played with him. Sandy with his bright eyes and alertness that everyone marvelled at. The first to do anything and I was so proud, so unimaginably proud. I floated on highs until a slight snag brought me spiralling back down and it was beginning to take longer and longer to crawl back out of the pit. I suppose we should have seen the warning signs a long time ago but that’s hindsight for you. No one knows what’s normal six months into their first baby’s life.

By seven months the term “postnatal depression” was being banded about and I resisted that so hard. No, it couldn’t be me. I knew what it was like to be depressed, I insisted. “I know how to judge it, I’m safe” I’d say “if I still look forward to the day, if getting up in the morning is good, I know I’m ok”. And they believed this for a while and my family tried to give me time in the day taking Sandy out for 2, 3, 4 hours. But soon I was breaking so  often the term came back and I thought to myself ‘you know what? F*** it. Sure, I’m postnatally depressed. Why the hell not’. I ceased to care. What did it matter if I was broken? I had been saying to Start for months that what we had just been though – whatever the latest trial was – that had been our rock bottom. But there was always another hidden level below waiting to swallow us up. And Sandy and Stuart floated along with me, helpless passengers on a voyage of insanity that I could no longer control.

So it was when Sandy was seven and a half months old when I found myself a shuddering, sticky mess on the floor. That night Stuart took over from night wakings and I decided to stop breastfeeding because he wouldn’t take a bottle if he knew waiting it out would finally result in a breastfeed. In the peace of a room to myself I managed two nights of decent sleep but on the third I couldn’t sleep again. I took piriton to make myself drowsy. Stuart was away that night and my parents looking after Sandy. I was so ashamed. Sitting in a room alone while my parents looked after my baby. And I didn’t sleep. I wrestled a horrible exhausted jittery awakeness. I waited, I tossed, I started the anger and I called Stuart and he tried to reason with me but I shouted at him down the phone. Poor understanding and patient man. He said ‘you probably are finding it hard to sleep as you are no longer breastfeeding’ and I hung up, so irritated that he couldn’t help me. So I sat on the bed in the dark, trapped once more by the inability to wake sandy or my parents and suddenly it dawned on me. No longer breastfeeding. I picked up my iPad and googled the key to my salvation: “stopping breastfeeding depression”. Feel free to google that yourself, or even better, “weaning depression”. A wealth of information suddenly appeared in front of me and I realised that I was not broken! It wasn’t me, it was my hormones.

Thinking back on it it makes so much sense. Of course it does! When did I start to feel down and weepy? When Sandy was four months. When did it begin to get worse? Six months. And when did things get so bad that I felt it was easier to accept the title of postnatal depression than fight against what I knew was wrong anymore? Seven and a half months.
At four months I started to wean Sandy. When he was six months I upped his amounts of solids significantly, expanding into different types of food. At seven and a half months he dropped his first breastfeed, the lunchtime one.
I grabbed the phone and called Stuart and told him. Then I told my dad and my mum and I revelled in the reality that it was all normal. I’m not going to say the rest of that night wasn’t hell. And I’m not going to say it didn’t take a good while to get to where I am now. Further to that I won’t lie and tell you I’m all better even yet. But he’s not yet eight months, so there is still plenty time to heal.
It turns out that it is all hormonal. You know that fuzzy feeling you get from breastfeeding? The thirst and then the relaxation and the warm glowiness across the eyes? That’s a release of oxytocin. Oxytocin makes you feel both happy and tired. Its all too obvious that taking away what was a 2-3 hourly dose of tired happiness would make a temporary depressive and insomniac out of me. Turns out I was addicted to this hormone and struggling through a prolonged withdrawal process. I always remember when things were awful just wishing and hoping Sandy would need fed and cuddled because that was what would save me. But it wasn’t just Sandy that I was craving, it was the release of oxytocin following his latching on.
So I am Helen and I’m an oxytocinaholic. Its been 11 days since my last let down  and I’m staying strong. There’s a lot you can read about this online but very little warning given. You would think with it being such a straight forward explanation that more would be known. I think of it as pretty negligent that doctors and health visitors and books and classes know nothing of this. I am sure not everyone gets it but if enough people do to generate the amount of literature on it on the Internet surely it warrants some mention. So I will mention it. It’s horrible to have to go into breastfeeding with your eyes wide open. Knowing you may end up confusing yourself for the clinically depressed just because of some hormone and your baby growing up. And I don’t think this is postnatal depression. I don’t wake up each day and not want to see my baby or play with him. And I do look forward to things, and I don’t want to harm myself. Perhaps those are stereotypical assertions of what it is to be depressed but for me they are the deciding factor. The best way to tackle a trial such as this is support and a decent self awareness, and hopefully knowing that it is normal, you are not broken, and that it will pass.

It makes me a bit fearful to breastfeed again. That the same might happen. But I look at the bond I have with Sandy and think of the good we’ve done together. And I think of those quiet moments just me and him, feeding to sleep, the starry light show and quiet music pulsing away, holding his tiny hand in the dark; and I know it was worth it. And I know it would be so much easier next time, with the knowledge that there is a way out and that nothing is forever.

If you have experienced anything similar I’d love to hear from you and if you would like to contribute to this blog (and you can do so named or anonymously) please email me at