I’m a breastmilk fembot with mother’s guilt.

Tom is now 5 weeks old. That’s how long it’s taken for me to feel semi-normal since our little one entered the world (and I stress the “semi.”) There is so much about those first couple of weeks at home with a newborn that is so messed up. The lack of sleep. The lack of food intake. The lack of basic personal hygiene. Those first days and weeks are a blur, blocked out due to intense emotional trauma. (Seriously, if you ever want to deeply examine every facet and failure of yourself as a human being, have a baby.) Here are snippets of what I can remember.

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As with most new parents, Mick and I fumbled our way through those first few days. Tom is a “good baby,” he rarely cries, feeds well, has a whole myriad of wonderfully alert facial expressions and blue eyes you could drown in. He is beautiful. But that first night and morning at home… Well let’s just say he didn’t necessarily exhibit all his best qualities. He fed ALL NIGHT. Newborns can feed every 90 minutes-2 hours. And they count that from the start of the feed. Take into account that it can take up to an hour for one feed (especially in the beginning) there is little time for slumber. Example: Feed at midnight, finish feed at 1am, baby demands next feed at 1:30am. MY NIPPLES WERE ON FIRE. I am literally a walking milk machine. It felt like hot pokers were shoved right through the… milk hole? The bit where it squirts out, whatever that’s called. It was fucking awful. Luckily as time has gone on he has become a more efficient eater, but now I have an oversupply problem where milk literally just squirts out of them all day. Like 2 hoses. I’m often reminded of the fembots from Austin Powers… But I digress. Onto the next trauma.

There’s no dancing around it: There’s no such thing as sleep when you have a newborn. And a massive eff you to those people who get a baby that sleeps through the night from day one. You suck and I hate you. And if you’re so lucky to be getting upwards of 4 hours sleep a night, keep that shit to yourself. I will punch you in the throat.

Yeah you yawn, but you don't sleep? What's with that?

Tom would fall asleep while feeding quite often in the first 2 weeks. During the day he would stir the minute I tried to move, so I would just hold him for 2 hours at a time, bursting to pee and dying for a coffee, but relishing the moments my boobs got a break. At night I would attempt to transfer him to his bassinet carefully, gently, so as to not wake him… He’d last MAYBE 10 minutes if we were lucky before he woke up again and the only thing that would settle him would be for him to latch back on and munch away. And if he didn’t wake up, I just lay there waiting for him to – despite every fibre of my being telling me to just go to sleep. I’d start to drift off and just as I would ease into that lovely place between sleep and awake, I would be jolted back to the present by Tom stirring, grunting or farting. He farts a lot. And if he did sleep quietly, I would suddenly be convinced he’d stopped breathing and would have to get up and check on him. On average 30 times a night.

Eventually I uneasily settled on the idea of “co-sleeping” in an effort to keep Tom asleep for more than 30 minutes, which I didn’t want to do and absolutely hated. Having a baby, a husband and an incredibly persistent German Shepherd join you in bed is not my idea of sound sleeping. In a previous life I was a bit of a starfish sleeper… Gimme a bed and I’ll dominate that whole mattress. Not anymore. I was so worried I would squash Tom, accidentally roll on him, push him off the bed or lose him in the sheets, I hardly dared to move. And if sleep ever eventuated, I woke up in a legitimate panic; sweating, shaking, searching the bed – totally convinced I’d killed him before I realised that he was in his bassinet and I’d literally only just put him there 30 seconds ago.

The only way I could lie down would be on my side with my arm awkwardly stuck under my head while sandwiched between my snoring husband, who frequently attempted to suffocate me by throwing his arm across my face, and my son who seemed to be trying to fuse himself to my chest. And not to be outdone, there was Otis who would lollop his 35kg body across my legs rendering me virtually immobile. I would have screamed in frustration if I’d had the energy. Co-sleeping lasted about a week before I packed it in and persisted with settling him in his bassinet, which of course we eventually mastered. Eventually.

They were dark days. Anyway, next.

Physically, for those first few days I felt like absolute shit. Lack of appetite and exhaustion was causing me to vomit and the aftereffects of the lactulose given to me in hospital caused me to have bouts of diarrhoea (NOTHING WRONG WITH MY BOWELS NOW, HEY DOCTOR?) And then there’s all the other physical changes that come post childbirth. (I’m sorry, but the grossness must continue in the interest of remaining transparent. Though this is probably the last time that I talk about my vagina for awhile. Hurray!)

So. You bleed. A lot. Clots the size of golf balls. Freaked the hell out of me until I was told it was normal – after the fact of course. There’s no fun in being well-informed prior to the event. They don’t make any secret of the fact that you’ll bleed after giving birth, but they should probably mention that giant chunks of your uterine lining will literally just fall out of your vagina. (Luckily you get to wear giant surfboard maternity pads for a number of weeks afterwards, hey?) And then there were my stitches – keeping them clean is a job all on its own. Sitting down wasn’t exactly fun for the first week either, I’m sure you can imagine things were rather tender. Everything was  bruised, swollen and disfigured – unsurprisingly, since I pushed a fucking watermelon out of it and TORE IT WIDE OPEN (I’m still not over it, okay?) Word to any newbie mums – DON’T LOOK AT YOUR VAGINA WITH A MIRROR RIGHT AFTER YOU GIVE BIRTH, UNLESS YOU WANT TO HAVE A HEART ATTACK. I’m scarred for life. (And before you get all judgey, I had to check my stitches okay? I don’t make a habit of inspecting my bits with mirrors.) You’ll be happy to know however that it all goes back to normal after a few weeks. I’m guessing. I’m too scared to look again. My 6 week check up will be happening soon, so I’ll let you know for sure, I’m sure you’re all dying to know. End vagina talk. For now.

Baby attempting to fuse himself to my chest.

My milk came in on day 3 and HOLY, did it come. All that cluster feeding did it’s job because I suddenly had a massive rack, kindly referred to as “crazy porno tits” by my sister-in-law. They were SORE. The let-down reflex (when your breasts fill up with milk) feels kind of like pins and needles on steroids. It’s hot, tingly and painful and then BAM! Tight, rock-hard melons that sit somewhere just below your chin. Dreams of lying on my belly were shot to hell after it felt like someone knifed me in the chest the first time I tried. Also, they leak. All the fucking time. I remember when my midwife came to visit the day after we went home. I looked a sight. Dark circles under my eyes, paler than pale skin, unwashed hair and lying like a beached whale in the middle of the bed wearing a vomit-stained shirt, complete with 2 lovely wet patches indicating exactly where my leaking nipples were situated. Nursing pads became an absolute necessity and remain so 5 weeks later. I have lots of ranting to do regarding my boobs, so stay tuned.

Lastly, and by far the worst in my opinion, is the heightened emotions. Talking to some other mummy friends we all agree, THERE ARE SO MANY FEELINGS. I cried at everything. Because I was tired, because Tom cried, because Otis appeared pissed off with me and I was convinced he had abandonment issues. Because there was no chocolate left. Because I loved my family so fucking much.

And also because… and I am reluctant to admit this next point for fear of being judged, but I’ve been honest all the way through this blog project and figured I shouldn’t stop now. I cried because I missed my old life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anything to change. Tom is the best thing I’ve ever done and I love my little boy more than I will ever be able to convey in words. But when you’re exhausted, feeling sick, have a sore vagina and leaky boobs, and there’s no chocolate left? A small part of you yearns for a time when you could sleep 10 hours, be in good physical shape and have an ample supply of confectionary in the freezer.

Now that I’ve said that, cue the overwhelming Mother’s Guilt – a legit condition that royally fucks you up and literally makes you feel like the worst person in the world. Because who could complain when you have a child who is so perfect and precious, whose face is so beautiful it breaks your heart? What kind of person are you to have wishful errant thoughts about a life when this child didn’t exist?

A FUCKING NORMAL ONE. There’s no way anyone goes through the experience of becoming a parent with a smile on their face the whole time. It is fucking hard. But also the best job in the world.

Go give your mum a hug. She deserves it.

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That time my bowels held me hostage.

So far I’ve mostly told stories about what people don’t tell you about having a baby. And then there are the things that people do tell you and you’re still completely unprepared for. Example: Having a newborn baby is a complete and utter mindfuck. Fact.

As a brand new mum, I feel like I’m not supposed to say that. It’s not really acceptable to say “some of this parenting stuff is crap” only a few days into being a mother. There’s this massive pressure to convey how much you love your little bundle of joy, that everything is sunshine and unicorns and how you’re completely overwhelmed with happiness. And of course I am – really. I have never loved another person more fiercely than my son and I would quite literally do anything to ensure he is safe, happy and healthy. But with that comes other feelings including a shitload of anxiety, guilt, panic, resentment and exhaustion – and that was just in the first 2 days. So many people told me how difficult it is to be a first time mum and yet I still feel like I was blindsided.

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Tom’s face every time I say vagina.

In the first couple of days after Tom arrived I was forced to stay in hospital due to the ear-muffed watermelon incident. This was not in my initial plan. I know myself, I know that I am a shitty patient (I think most nurses probably are) and all I wanted was to go home and be in my own space and try to figure this whole baby thing out, but the medical team refused to let me go until I “opened my bowels.” (I hate that phrase. It reminds me of nursing homes.) I argued with them, saying “I know perfectly well how to poo thank you, I can do that at home.” But they wanted me to do it in hospital, I assume to make sure I was stitched up properly and didn’t have poo coming out of the wrong holes. So, no pressure or anything. It’s obviously super easy to go to the toilet when the WHOLE DAMN WARD IS ON POO WATCH. They even gave me instructions on how to poo. “Lean forward, don’t push or strain, just let it flow out or you risk breaking those stitches. But don’t try to NOT poo because you’re scared, because then you’ll be constipated and we REALLY don’t want that. So just poo when you feel the urge.” Yeah, no pressure at all.

I met numerous different midwives, nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, hearing specialists and child & family health representatives that would all choose to visit me and Tom when I was either breastfeeding (which is all the time. WHY MUST YOU ALWAYS EAT TINY HUMAN?) or when I was trying to do something for myself that made me feel vaguely normal, like eat or shower. Everyone wanted to know if I’d “opened my bowels” (to which the answer was always no, because believe me when it happened I’d be fucking shouting it aloud and dancing down the hallways outta there. Ripped va-jay-jay permitting.) And if it wasn’t that, they wanted to feel my belly to make sure my uterus was contracting back properly or inspect my lady garden to see how I was healing. (That happened so often I considered charging people for the honour, but I had a niggling thought that it might be misconstrued.)

I’d have a baby hanging off my boob and half a sandwich in my mouth (if I was lucky), while they lowered the back of my bed so that it was flat, lifted up the covers and had another look and a prod at my not-so-mysterious vagina, because by now I’m certain every health professional in that hospital has seen it. Nobody knows your name, you’re reduced to being called “the tear in bed 26” and half the time they don’t know what you’re even in there for. I had one nurse attempt to tackle me back on the bed because I stood up without “supporting my stitches.”

Me: “What?”

Nurse: “What are you doing?! You need to hold a pillow over your stitches when you get up, you’ve only just come out of major surgery! You need to support the area to reduce the risk of your stitches coming apart.”

Me: “Huh? You want me to go round holding a pillow between my legs? How the hell do I hold my baby if I’m too busy supporting my vagina?”

It took a couple more minutes of confused discussion to realise that she thought I’d had a cesarean and appeared mortified when I explained that no actually, it was my lady parts that had been ripped open beyond recognition, not my abdomen – though I’m quietly considering that as an option for next time (Ha! Next time.) She left the room in a flurry of embarrassment and excuses.

Nailing this mum gig.
Poker face. Totally nailing it.

Obviously in conjunction with my physical recovery, I also had to learn how to look after a whole other completely dependent human being. I was flattered by remarks from the hospital staff who were surprised that Tom was my first child and that I was a “natural” at being a mum, I was just so “relaxed.” But I wasn’t fucking relaxed, I was fucking panicked. I had NO idea what I was doing, I just have a good poker face. I work in an acute mental health setting. I have practice appearing calm in tense situations and as a result probably hid my terror better than most first time mums.

So, time to look after the new tiny person. From the get go I was immediately introduced to the concept of “cluster feeding.” Cluster feeding is basically when your baby just feeds and feeds and feeds. FOR HOURS.  Babies do this because they’re hungry, they’re about to have a growth spurt or they’re trying to increase milk supply. And lets face it for a newborn, all of those things are kind of crucial. I had no idea that cluster feeding was a thing. (It’s since occurred to me that maybe instead of shoving evening primrose oil into my hoo-ha to bring on labour, maybe I should have read a book about raising babies?) And even though breastfeeding thankfully came fairly naturally to both of us, it still wasn’t comfortable. I didn’t have the cracked, bleeding nipples that you hear about from a poor attachment, but I wasn’t exactly used to having a mini human sucking my boobs dry every hour of the day either. That first feed is sort of magical, because you’re still in that “holy crap, I just had a baby” moment but when you’re tired and in pain, it’s weird and uncomfortable. You kind of have to fight the urge to pull away and I was increasingly frustrated by how often and long it would take. I half expected my boobs to look like shrivelled up raisins when Tom finally finished feeding, but luckily this part of my female anatomy remains in working order. (I currently have quite the ample bosom.)

People always say “all babies do in the beginning is eat and sleep.” I had firmly established that yes, babies do like to eat. But sleep? Bollocks. They don’t sleep.

Lies. It's all lies.
Lies. It’s all lies.

Blissfully, on the first night in hospital the midwives took Tom out for 4 hours so I could catch up on some rest after being awake for 36 hours straight. (They were also able to feed him the colostrum I’d expressed before he was born so they didn’t have to wake me for feeds. Mothers-to-be, MILK YOURSELVES! You won’t care about the whole weirdness factor when you’re delirious from exhaustion. Promise.) But the second night I had no such luxury. For the brief moments that Tom did sleep, I marvelled at his little face not quite believing that I had made this perfect boy. And then I would try to sleep. Except that I couldn’t because I heard every noise he made. And babies are NOISY. Full of snorts, sniffles, moans. Every time I was just about drift off, he’d make another noise and I was paranoid he was in pain or choking or want to feed again. The worst was when he vomited everywhere and I literally jumped out of the bed to pick him up to make sure he wasn’t dying. I’ve never moved so fast. And I definitely put my stitches at risk. I was in this pretend sleep-feeding cycle until about 4am before I cracked and begged a midwife to take him out for an hour so I could sleep. Right when my baby blues set in like clockwork, right on day 3.

Ah the blues. It completely takes you over, there’s no stopping it. I was an emotional wreck. Uncontrollable crying. Sobbing, snot pouring from both nostrils, hiccuping instead of speaking type crying. I felt so GUILTY for asking someone to take my baby away. Hell I’m crying now even remembering it, it was so awful. A part of my brain warned me that I knew the blues were going to happen, that it was hormonal and a normal part of having a baby. The other, much louder part of my brain screamed YOU ARE A SHIT MOTHER! HOW COULD YOU SEND YOUR POOR DEFENCELESS BOY AWAY? YOU DON’T DESERVE THAT CHILD! AND YOU HAVE SNOT POURING INTO YOUR MOUTH, YOU LOOK RIDICULOUS!

I pathetically cried myself through a shower, teeth brushing and eventually to sleep, only to be woken an hour later by the midwife with my very hungry baby who had eaten his way through our colostrum stores and was demanding boobs again. I had to fight my very irrational urge to scream in frustration. Sigh. This was so much harder than I thought it would be.

Just as Tom finally fell asleep (when most people are starting their day), Mick arrived with coffee and muffins. I of course started crying again, though tried to stop because I didn’t want to freak him out. I shouldn’t have worried, he didn’t even ask me what was wrong. He just gave me a big hug, handed me my coffee and stroked my hair as I quietly ate breakfast. That right there is the reason I married him. He gets it.

The parade of health professionals continued that afternoon, most notably the medical team who decided my primary concern now that my baby had arrived, was what I was going to use for contraception… For fuck’s sake.

I LITERALLY JUST HAD A BABY! A BABY THAT TORE MY VAGINA WIDE OPEN. The last thing I feel like doing is having another one and I was certainly in no condition to practice making any. Regardless, the doctor stated she’d seen heaps of women have unwanted pregnancies very soon after they give birth. She recommended I go on the mini-pill and began writing out a script immediately. I politely informed her that while I’m sure she was just being helpful, Tom was planned and our next one (ha!) would also be planned and my husband and I were perfectly capable of preventing any unwanted events occurring ourselves. She said I needed to think about it and that she would have her registrar review me later on with my decision. I told her to fuck off. (OK not really, I just sighed and nodded, too tired to argue with a pushy doctor. But I screamed it in my head.) She reminded me that I wouldn’t be discharged until I’d “opened my bowels” and wished me a pleasant afternoon. Smug bitch.

After that I made it my mission to poo (a process that would have undoubtedly been easier in my own home – an argument the doctor wasn’t interested in hearing and who then gave me a very serious talk about “going against medical advice” if I discharged myself. Eye roll.) I’d had enough of this hospital malarky. No longer were my bowels going to hold me hostage! The nurses gave me some meds to help the process along and I spent most of the afternoon pushing Tom around the ward in his bassinet, hoping that gravity and exercise would get things moving, which it eventually did. Finally, success! (Though it was totally terrifying when it came time to actually go to the toilet. I sat there for a good 20 mins before anything happened because I had visions of ripping my vagina open all over again. Plus the sensation of “opening my bowels” was an alarming reminder of childbirth and the whole experience was still rather emotionally raw, as you can imagine. But don’t worry. Me and my vagina are good.)

Canine equally enamoured with tiny person as parents are.
Canine equally enamoured with tiny person as parents.

Finally we were able to go home. Mick packed up all our stuff in record time and we waltzed out of there. And then suddenly we were in our house, with our beautiful son. Otis met him and didn’t try to eat him (definite win), I had a decent cup of tea and felt warm with love looking at my happy little family.

Momentary bliss, before reality set in. And boy did it set in. Like a punch in the face.

3 weeks in and nailing it. Sort of.

Now I know I need to write a part 2 to my whole birth experience story, but the stay in hospital and the days after giving birth were as emotionally traumatic as giving birth was physically, so again it’s taking some time. Fear not however, for I have a collection of musings I have gathered over the last 3 weeks in between changing nappies, feeding and “sleeping” to appease you until I get it done.

1. Some people say that when you have a newborn, if you get time to have a shower it’s a good day. Now I don’t want to be smug but I have managed to shower every day since Tom was born. Sometimes twice. #Winning. (Though sometimes it’s not until 4pm and it only lasts for about 2 minutes. And I haven’t shaved my legs in literally MONTHS and sometimes I forget to rinse the shampoo out of my hair.) However, you should always assume that regardless of said shower, by the end of the day you will end up smelling like someone else’s bodily fluids. No amount of perfume/deodorant/soap will mask it. Eau de Milk Spew is now your new scent. Own it. Also, don’t ask me what I’ve got on my dress/shirt/face. It’s vomit. Or poo. Let’s all avoid an awkward social situation and just ignore the stains and stench.

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“Really, mum? You’re going out like that?”

2. It’s perfectly okay to leave the house with bed hair. I don’t know where my hairbrush is and I don’t care. Judge someone who gives a damn. Ditto make-up. Yes, I really am this pale. No, I’m not part vampire. Leaving the house with a baby is a full-scale operation that can take AGES, particularly when you’re on your own. So the fact that I remembered to even put a shirt on is a feat that should be marvelled.

3. Breastmilk cures all evils. Baby crying? Just chuck some breastmilk at it. Nipples sore? Breastmilk is your wonder ointment. Baby acne? The breastmilk takes the redness away – what???  Hell, it got rid of one of my pimples! (And yeah. I rubbed breastmilk on my face. What of it? Call it experimentation for blogging purposes. And it’s like the least weird thing I’ve written about, I don’t even feel like I have to explain myself.) Why someone isn’t bottling this shit and selling it, I don’t know. Just shut up and take my money.

4. I’ve discovered the secret to how breastfeeding mothers lose all their baby weight so quickly. Newborns have a sixth sense. They know when their mother is about to eat and become outraged that they aren’t also enjoying their 27th meal of the day – cue crying, mother either abandoning her meal to feed baby or alternatively attempting to eat it one handed (nearly always with your non-dominant hand) which results in major spillage and/or ruined meal. The kilos just fall off. Mystery solved.

5. Despite popular belief, hot cups of tea and coffee can be enjoyed as long as you plan them with military precision. Being ambidextrous is beneficial here – left handed tea doesn’t taste as good as right handed tea. Better still just get your husband to make them, especially seeing as you broke your vagina to bring his heir into the world – he can damn well bring you hot beverages. And chocolate.

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Pretending to sleep.

6. You CAN function on less than 4 hours sleep a night. Reasonably well. (The baby is still alive isn’t he?) Though I’m not actually convinced I’ve slept at all since he was born. MOTHERS OF NEWBORNS ARE AWAKE ALL THE TIME. I thought shift work would have prepared me for the sleep deprivation, but no. I actually miss night shift, because at least I got a solid 6-7 hour sleep afterwards. And you get to pee and eat whenever you want. Now, I survive on snacks and dashes to the toilet when there’s time. For example, today I’ve managed a cup of coffee, 2 biscuits, a blueberry muffin and I’ve peed twice. Virtual high fives.

7. Googling newborn behaviours is just as damaging as googling pregnancy symptoms. Those forums suck you in again and suddenly you’re up to speed on cluster feeding, swaddling techniques, expressing, breast pumps, when to have sex again and the odd picture of someone’s stitches (both vaginal and c-section) querying whether it’s infected and should they go to the doctor? (Sidebar: If you’re posting pictures of your vagina on the internet asking if things are infected, then the answer is almost always going to be yes. Also the pus and redness kind of gives it away. GO TO A DOCTOR AND STOP ASKING THE INTERNET. Because moronic. I fear for the child you’ve just brought into the world if you don’t know the right time to seek medical advice.)

This is how we Quilty's blog.
This is how we Quilty’s blog. And he’s just pretending to sleep again.

8. Driving with a newborn is the SCARIEST FUCKING THING IN THE WORLD. Do you know how many crazy drivers there are on the streets of Townsville?! Suddenly you’re driving 10km under the limit, hyper vigilant of other vehicles on the road and cursing under your breath at every dickhead who doesn’t use their indicator/is on their mobile phone/is picking their nose (your hands should be at 10 and 2 on the wheel! None of this one-handed shit!) You feel compelled to write to your local council, asking why the fuck these people aren’t locked up as they are clearly a danger to society. Aren’t they aware you’ve just brought an angel into this world? Do they need me to spell out the explicit pain that will come to them if they put my child in danger in any way? Everyone pull your fucking heads in. Tom Quilty is now on the road and his mother is a vengeful demon. Watch your backs.

9. Breastfeeding in public is terrifying. I never had an issue seeing other women breastfeed, I’ve always considered it kind of a non-issue. And yet when it comes time to exposing my own boobs in public, suddenly the whole situation becomes very uncomfortable (ironic really, when you consider the number of people who have seen and read about my vagina.) You become suspicious of everyone trying to cop a look and imagine you’ll be one of those people you read about in online articles who get asked to leave a cafe because some cretin decides they can’t tolerate breastfeeding in public and complain to management. I figure this will change with time, I don’t normally give a toss what other people think and I assume this attitude will return once I’ve had more than 2 hours sleep in a row and don’t feel like I’m in a glass case of emotion.

Actually reading that back, it makes me really angry that I’m worried about feeding my child in public. Fuck those judgemental bogans. I’m going to have coffee on The Strand tomorrow and I will expose my boobs and feed my child and I dare anyone to have a go at me. I’m fucking ready for your shit. Read above: Tom Quilty’s mother is a vengeful demon. Attack at your own peril.

10. Babies look like old men and it is HILARIOUS.

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Benjamin Button version of Heston Blumenthal.

11. If you’re lucky enough to have an amazing husband and wonderfully supportive friends and family, there’s no way on Earth you can fail. It takes a village to raise a child and luckily I live in a utopia of kindness, generosity and love. Now enough mushy stuff, I smell something unfavourable coming from the tiny human.