A couple of years ago I was asked to write for another blog - part of a great campaign called No Flaws, Only Human - dispelling shame, encouraging dialogue and raising awareness for postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders in the babywearing community.
Unfortunately the blog that it was originally shared on is no longer running, so I wanted to share the blog post with you all on here, as I know it helped a lot of people when it was first published.
My eldest son had his 8th birthday a couple of weeks ago. Every year - as pictures ping up in various social media feeds from that time - I'm reminded of how my early days with him were, and how babywearing helped me with my journey as a new parent.
Baby-Carrying Consultant and Founder of South East Slings, based in Petersfield, UK
(formerly East Sussex Slings inc. Eastbourne Sling Library)
Written 27th January 2015 by Roamy Hunt
MY POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION JOURNEY
I’m a very happy Mummy of two beautiful little boys; W now aged 5½ and T who is very-nearly-4. We live in a gorgeous area of the UK, right by the beach on the South Coast. I love my boys so much and I love being their Mummy. However, my introduction to Motherhood wasn’t the easiest and I only realised quite how bad it had been once I’d had my second son, when the experience was so totally different.
My pregnancy was wonderful, aside from a few months of feeling nauseous, I loved every minute of it. I kept my shape (other than my bump!) and had none of the aches, pains or other issues I’d heard that others were experiencing. My husband and I were incredibly excited about becoming parents. We attended hypnobirth and antenatal classes together. We did lots of research about nappies, buggies, carriers and various other baby products. We looked at our birthing options; opting for a home birth, as we felt this was in keeping with our feelings on how we wanted our baby to start its life. We were ready, prepared and super-excited!
Our home birth didn’t quite go to plan as I ended up transferring at the last minute due to an un-diagnosed breech. All was fine though and both baby and I stayed calm on the short transfer to hospital for a caesarean section. My husband was amazingly supportive, staying super-calm throughout.
THE START OF PPD
I can now tell you the exact moment my PPD started. After the operation my baby was put on my chest. Well, not quite on my chest, more like on my neck. He was so close my eyes couldn’t focus on him. I felt nothing. Nothing at all. All this Oxytocin - the ‘love hormones’ I’d read about - well, they seemed to have passed me by.
My husband then held W for the first time and he instantly fell in love. You could see it in his eyes. He was totally smitten.
I just felt in shock. I looked across at this tiny thing in my husband’s arms. He might as well have been holding an alien, for the amount of connection I felt. I felt sick. Running around my head was this phrase our antenatal teacher had said “But as soon as you hold your baby in your arms it will all feel worthwhile”. It didn’t feel worthwhile. At all. If I could have put the baby back in my tummy and kept it there I would have.
They finished stitching me up and lay W next to me for his first feed, while they wheeled me out of theatre and into a room. He attached straight away and fed fine. I looked at this small person next to me. I could properly see him now. I didn’t recognise him. I know this might sound strange but he looked just like every other baby I’d ever seen. I knew, if you lined him up with a load of other babies, I would have no idea which one was ‘mine’.
I didn’t tell anyone – I hoped that maybe it was just a delayed thing. I was tired, I’d had an operation, I wasn’t at home liked I’d expected. Maybe it would all be better once I got home. I did everything I could to tick all the boxes and get out of Hospital as soon as possible. I was discharged 24 hours later.
THE FIRST WEEK AT HOME
I got home. Nothing changed. I didn’t tell anyone. I felt so guilty and ashamed. I didn’t want this baby. I felt it had destroyed my life and taken my husband away from me. I was in bed, unable to get out of bed without assistance. The baby needed a nappy, I needed to use the bathroom, my husband went to the baby. I felt totally and utterly trapped.
After the longest five days of my life, I eventually told my husband. I said I didn’t want the baby – I wanted someone to take him away. Despite the fact I was bawling my eyes out, I felt a massive weight had lifted. I wasn’t containing this awful secret any more. My husband is amazingly supportive but, understandably, he was shocked and hurt by my admission – especially given he was so head over heels in love with his son. But it helped to get it out in the open and he was then able to support me and – most importantly – to understand what was happening in my head.
Despite having told my husband about it, I still didn’t really realise I had Postpartum Depression (PPD). Health Visitors did their usual visits and got me to do their Edinburgh Score (which is the test for PPD). However I knew that’s what they were testing for and didn’t want ‘help’ so I answered the questions in a way I knew would seem ‘normal’ and, to be fair, on that day, I was feeling semi-ok.
NEXT FEW MONTHS
I still didn’t bond though. And I didn’t ‘enjoy’ any of those first weeks and months of my baby’s life. I gotthrough it, one day at a time. I struggled with feeding which didn’t help (from a PPD or a bonding point of view). I also found it incredibly difficult to leave the house. Everything felt like such a massive effort – getting his nappy changed, him fed, dressed appropriately, me ready. It all just seemed insurmountable. Because of my feeding issues, the concept of feeding him away from the house just wasn’t an option, so I’d have to race home – often with him screaming and screaming in his pram – if he needed a feed. I have to admit I was pretty scared of this baby and felt like he controlled my entire life. It was terrifying. I was scared to have a shower in case he cried. I dreaded him waking up once he’d finally fallen asleep as I’d have to look after him and I didn’t feel I was capable of it. I couldn’t pick him up properly – for the first week or so I used to pick him up horizontally, carrying him at arms length. I didn’t want him close to me or to cuddle him.
We had no family locally, and no friends with babies or children, so were very much ‘on our own’ as we learnt about how to look after our baby. I went to stay with my parents (who then lived 4+ hours away) for a week or so when W was around 5 weeks old, with my husband joining us at the weekends. It helped to have the monotony lifted and to be distracted from him during the daytime. My Mum and I spent a lot of time playing Scrabble in the garden when he slept in his pram.
I had so much anxiety though. We found it really difficult to get him to sleep, having read somewhere that you needed to put your baby down to sleep, not hold them. It felt like he cried ALL the time. The only way we managed to get him to nap in the day was with hours and hours of walks in the pram on the seafront, when he’d eventually fall asleep after 1+ hours of walking! I walked that pram up and down in snow, torrential rain – everything!
Over the first 4 months the feeding got better and we started to settle into more of a routine. It got easier but I still didn’t feel ‘right’. I didn’t feel any real connection to my baby, I just had got used to the routine of it all. I didn’t miss him if I nipped out for half an hour while he was with my husband, but even so I felt total panic the entire time that he’d need feeding/need me while I was out. I’m not sure what I thought would happen that was so awful, but I felt guilty about being away (and also so relieved to be able to be away and be ‘me’ – even if just for a few minutes).
THE START OF MY RECOVERY
When W was around 5 months old I started to look at framed backpacks, to give us an option other than the pram (mainly for my husband to use). We’d had a carrier when he was born which I’d tried a couple of times but both of us had cried. It was so complicated to put on. Once on, his feet kicked at my scar, it hurt my back and he got hot and sweaty and just looked uncomfortable. So I didn’t use it again. I just figured he was ‘too heavy to be carried’ (he was 9lb 4oz at birth so I thought he was too heavy for me).
Anyway, I was researching framed carriers online and stumbled across soft structured carriers and tie-on carriers called Meh Dai's. It was a total revelation to me. I couldn’t believe, in all my extensive research while pregnant, this entire world of slings hadn’t appeared.
I discovered there was a local natural parenting group which had a small selection of slings you could try. I e-mailed them about it and found out when it was on. Despite not having been to any groups since my son was born, I summoned all my courage together and went along. They were so lovely to me, showing me how to use a Meh Dai that belonged to one of the ladies that ran the group. They didn’t hire out carriers but I went away feeling elated.
I found a lovely UK Meh Dai manufacturer (Joey Slings Mei Tai, now sadly no longer producing carriers) who offered a 2-week trial of her carriers, with the hire fee discounted if you went on to buy one. We hired one, tried it, and almost instantly ordered one. I was hooked! I couldn’t believe how light my ‘heavy’ 5 month old felt. Even more importantly, it gave me freedom. I could go out so much more easily! I didn’t have to manoeuvre a heavy pram, negotiate steps, worry about what I’d do if my baby cried and needed to be carried while pushing the pram. I could get on a bus if it poured with rain, without worrying if there was a space.
Another amazing thing it did was allowed my baby to sleep. On me. Which I realise now is what he’d wanted all along, and we’d fought against for 5 long months. He would sleep without me having to ‘do’ anything. It was awesome!
I started going out a bit more; the more I went out, the more my confidence grew and the more I felt able to go out again. It was a spiral of positivity – everything I did gave me a bit more confidence. I slowly started to feel that I could actually manage! And with this positivity I stopped resenting my baby and started to feel positive about him as well. I was no longer trapped by him – I could be my old self again.
I also found an amazing online forum called ‘Natural Mamas’. It was full of other ‘babywearers’ but wasn’t restricted to that. Everyone was so welcoming and supportive and I found like I’d found a ‘virtual’ set of friends.
Within a month of buying my first Meh Dai I’d bought a woven wrap and was learning to wrap my baby to me. It was fun, I had support from a lovely online community, and I was able to get out and about and do the things that made me happy – without feeling I was having to compromise my baby.
I can’t tell you that I woke up one morning thinking ‘I’m better’ but I know for sure that trying that Meh Dai on was the first day of my recovery.
I hardly touched my pram after that. All I needed was my slings!
I carried on going along to the group that had introduced me to slings for the next couple of months, until we moved to a new town. I was pretty nervous about that; having just started to feel like ‘myself’ again, to suddenly move to a new place (even though it had been planned since before when W was born, and was only 30 minutes along the coast) scared me. I decided to be proactive. I found there was another babywearer on Natural Mamas who was local to where I was moving. I got in touch with her and arranged to meet up. I was quite prepared for us to have nothing in common and for it to be super-awkward. Luckily it was quite the opposite. We got on, our children (6 months apart) got on too, and we became friends.
I knew I wanted to help others to learn about slings and carriers. I couldn’t change my start with W, but if I could help others not struggle in the same way, well, maybe my difficulties may have some sort of a purpose to them. Helping others helped to make sense of it all.
Shortly after moving my new friend and I set up a Sling Meet. W had just turned 1. We advertised it on Natural Mamas, not knowing how many people (if any!) would come along. We met up in a local park; the sun shone, people came from miles away to support us and we had a great time!
We carried on meeting up monthly, changing venues, times etc as the group grew and our childrens’ needs changed. It felt great to be able to help other parents and show them some of the options available – and to meet other like-minded people! But I still felt I wasn’t helping enough – I wanted to do more to support other parents.
BABY NUMBER TWO UNTIL NOW
Our second son, T, was born 9 months after the first sling meet was held. It was only then that I truly realised the extend of my PPD. I had a home birth with him (supported by an amazing independent midwife) and it was true – the minute I held him I totally fell in love. It was an overwhelming feeling – especially never having experienced it before. I carried him from day one and even having to manage two children under 2 felt manageable. My baby could sleep on me while I played with his older brother. I felt like I could manage anything!
I also felt sad though. Sad that I’d not had any of this bond or emotion with W. I felt guilty that he’d missed out and – I know all Mums feel this at times– but I felt like a bad Mother for failing him by not being the loving Mum when he was a baby that I now was with his little brother.
I made sure I was very open about my PPD and not having bonded with W. I felt – by sharing – anyone else who was feeling ‘not quite right’ about their new baby, would know it didn’t make them a bad parent and they weren’t alone. I’ve consequently had numerous Facebook messages and e-mails from people (many of whom I haven’t seen in 20 years) thanking me for my honesty and saying that, they too, felt they were suffering. Like any mental illness, the more open people are about it, the less taboo it becomes, and the more people feel able to seek help.
When T was 3 months old I decided to set up a Sling Library to accompany the Sling Meets. I was then able to not only tell parents about their different options but also allow them to take a carrier away to try for a couple of weeks, to see if it was the ‘right one’ for them. It started really small (Sling Libraries were relatively unheard of at this time) with just my own carriers and a few donations from kind manufacturers and retailers. Slowly, it grew.
I saw more and more people and the Library stock grew and grew. I completed Babywearing Consultancy training to increase my skills base and enable me to feel ‘qualified’ to give one-to-one Consultations. Over 3½ years on and I’ve helped over 1,000 parents by hiring them carriers (and many more with help and advice with their existing carriers). Every single person I help to carry their baby (and especially those ones who I can see are finding it as hard as I found it) helps to heal the wounds I from W’s early days.
The cards and e-mails of thanks and gratitude, the Facebook posts and comments, the repeat customers coming back for their next babies, are all a wonderful reminder of the difference I can make to other people’s lives. If I am able to help, in some small way, make other people’s early days in parenting that little bit easier, it makes even the blackest of days all seem worthwhile.
Written 27th January 2015 by Roamy Hunt, Baby-Carrying Consultant and Founder of South East Slings (formerly East Sussex Slings inc. Eastbourne Sling Library)
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