Every morning at 8am my son has breakfast. At the moment he has a weetabix and a bottle of whole milk. Weetabix definitely isn’t his favourite thing in the world and I can’t blame him. It’s bland mush that I wouldn’t eat myself, but full of goodness and keeps him full until lunch. Lately he’s been starting to get fussy about it and demanding a banana mixed in, which certainly improves it tenfold. At 15 months, he doesn’t understand the words no, or wait, or it’s coming. Patience just isn’t there. He also has no way to express frustration. He’s not speaking yet, other than one word – Nana – which he uses indiscriminately for mum, dad and grandma at different pitches depending on what he wants. He expresses frustration by crying, screaming and yelling.
This morning we’re out of bananas. We always go shopping on the same day each week and that’s this morning, so unfortunately there is a distinct lack of yellow fruit in the household. Apple and pear have been offered and tossed off the highchair to plop on the floor, where our three legged cat runs over to examine it. Not ham, very disappointing.
As I rummage in the fridge for something to satisfy the weetabix monster, he starts to scream and blubber. I have to take a deep breath and remind myself nothing is wrong, he’s just impatient but the longer I take, the louder the sobs. Big tear-filled sobs. The world is ending, food is not here. Take a deep breath. In. Hold. Exhale. My hands shake and I can feel tears pricking at my own eyes. The thing is, he genuinely sounds like he’s in distress – and he is, in his own way, but as parents, we can’t give in to every tiny little thing. He’s not starving. He’s not in pain. He’s just tired of waiting and wants a banana. The rational part of my mind knows that, yet deep down his cry pulls at something inside me and sets off the panic button. The longer I stop and try to calm myself, to breathe deeply and do my relaxation exercises, to run my rational thoughts slowly, the harder the crying gets.
Finally I grab a strawberry yoghurt and with fumbling fingers rip off the lid and start spooning it into him, even though really, he can hold a spoon himself now. The cries immediately stop, the tears stop rolling and within 10 seconds he’s gone from apocalpyse now to happy little boy. I stare at him in wonder, part of me wondering how we do this every day. Ten times a day. And when will it stop. Tomorrow my husband will give him breakfast.
I’ve talked before about how my anxiety is worse at night. He’s teething at the moment. That’s a bit of a silly statement as it seems to me that babies are always teething. One comes through and then another one starts. At the moment he has 2 front teeth and 3 bottom front teeth and then 2 rear molars. This is completely the wrong way teeth are supposed to come in, but apparently it doesn’t really matter as long as they all get there in the end. The last few weeks he’s gained both molars. These are massive, chunky teeth and he’s obviously in considerable pain and discomfort with them. Unlike the threat of waiting 30 seconds longer for a banana, the threat of pain is genuine. No one likes being in pain and babies in pain will express themselves the only way know they can – screaming cries designed to elicit aid from adults.
He goes to bed at 8pm. His teeth hurt at 11pm and he wakes screaming. His teeth hurt at 2am. 4am. 5am. Armed with teething gel, calpol, milk, cuddles and tears we battle. And then he wakes, refreshed, for a brand new day at 6am.
My husband and I are not feeling quite so refreshed.
For me, being woken up in the night is horrific. Started suddenly from sleep with a panicked cry rings all my internal alarm bells. Shocked, my system goes into high alert as I try to process what’s wrong. I know what’s wrong. His teeth hurt, it’s fine, it’s nothing to worry about. We’ve done this before and we’ll do it again, but that’s the thing with post natal anxiety. It just doesn’t stop to consider all the sensible options. So I wake up and I go into panic mode – my heart is thudding, I’m sweating, my chest feels tight, I can’t breathe, but breathe I must. Once again, I do my breathing exercises, but sometimes the cries get worse and worse and honestly, it sounds like someone is murdering my son. Sometimes I find myself crying with him, big ugly sobs.
My husband, bless him, is a rock. He’s a grumpy, sleep deprived rock, but nonetheless he doesn’t shirk from what needs to be done. Even if I’m crumpled up sobbing because I simply cannot seem to function like a proper human being, he gets out of bed, reassures me nothing is wrong and takes the baby to the other room. He checks the time and sees if he needs any medication. He checks and changes his nappy. He heats up a bottle of milk and then carry’s him back into the bedroom. It doesn’t help that our son is a big baby – 30lbs and on the 99th percentile right now, so that’s a lot of heavy lifting. He hugs him and rocks him back to sleep and then he gets up in the morning and goes to a long, hard day at work.
Last night at 4am in the morning with the baby nestled in the bed in the crook of his arms after a particularly bad crying bout, I watched him kiss him on the head and whisper such a sweetie. It brought home how lucky I am – we both are. I might cry when my baby cries. I might get lost in panic attacks and anxiety but my son will never know that, because his daddy is always there for him.
I write about my honest experiences with post natal anxiety because I know I’m not alone, and I want other people to know they’re not alone too. People don’t talk about it. I’m trying my best, but I still have this feeling of failure – that it should be me getting up in the night, me cuddling my baby to sleep, me soothing his cries, but I can’t always do it. Post natal mental health affects the whole family and we need to talk about that and acknowledge it.
One day my son will stop crying. I hope that I will too.