And there we were with our brand new baby. That first night might have been the hardest of all. Louis was breathing very heavily and his little noises were preventing me from sleeping next to him. Because we were a bit worried after having to sign off responsibility to be able to take him home, neither Leonard nor I got much sleep that night. In the end Leonard slept on the sofa with Louis in his crib right next to him. My mum had proposed to come and help when the baby was born, but I had asked her to wait 2 weeks. I had been worried that she would come, swoop in and take over, and that Leonard and I would not be able to find our own way of doing things. Needless to say that after a week of severe sleep deprivation and cracked nipples I regretted that decision deeply! When she finally came, Leonard and I were incredibly relieved and grateful. She even took a few shifts during the night, which is really above and beyond what you could expect of a grandmother. But we were desperate.
None of the things I consciously worried about during pregnancy proved to be a big problem. This was possibly because I did the work of worrying and preparing for it beforehand. But there were many unforeseen troubles. The biggest challenge was that Louis apparently had reflux and therefore needed constant attention every hour of the day and night. I knew beforehand that I was going to have to wake up in the middle of the night to take care of my baby, but not even in my scariest dreams had I imagined that I would not be able to sleep for longer than one hour at a time. Leonard and I would take turns in the night: 3-hour shifts. I would be able to calm Louis down and breastfeed him to sleep, but as soon as I tried putting him down somewhere, he would wake up and start screaming again. We had to wait about half an hour until his sleep was deep enough to move him. Sadly, he would wake up again after only half an hour. The situation was simply untenable until I took him in my bed when he was six weeks old and breastfed him while lying down next to him so I didn’t have to move him once he fell asleep. I also didn’t have to get up to feed him when he woke up an hour later. That saved us.
In addition he threw up all the time, and not just a little bit. Often he would throw up and then reach back for my breast to continue drinking. Sometimes I had to change his clothes (and mine) three times in the time span of half an hour because they were soaked with throw up. Day and night I was walking around with a muslin square tied around my neck to catch the worst of his vomit, but it often wasn’t enough. As it turns out, our situation was quite extreme. What was even worse and really got me down was the fact that Louis never seemed happy or content, no matter what I did. He was either screaming in discomfort, or slightly less unhappy when I held, rocked and breastfed him. Despite all my love, comforting and constant attention, I couldn’t make him happy. This was particularly hard on me, and whenever I was alone with my baby, I felt lonely, desperate, and somehow like I had failed at being a mother.
During a visit from a more mature midwife I started crying because I couldn’t make Louis happy and I worried about his stress levels and our bonding and attachment. She replied that she could see that I was doing a wonderful job holding and consoling him, even if he was still crying. She said that his digestive system would eventually mature and then he would remember who had been there for him, soothing him while he was in such distress. The attachment and bonding would be very strong. Her words meant a lot to me. Remembering that conversation still brings tears to my eyes, every single time. It was truly hard to see my child so unhappy and to feel so powerless. The midwife turned out to be right. Four months after he was born, Louis finally stopped vomiting so excessively and became a happier and less fussy baby. Our bond at that time was very strong. We continued to co-sleep (safely!) and breastfeed until he was fifteen months old, after which I moved him to his own bedroom and limited breastfeeding to one morning and one evening feed until he was 2 years old and I felt ready to stop. I am happy to report that at the age of five years Louis is still very close to me (as well as to Leonard and Lars) without being overly clingy or needy. He also seems to easily form relationships with other people (like our extended family and close friends, and his own friends). When he has to miss them, he is able to express his sadness in words, but gets over it rather quickly, presumably because he has confidence that he still has the most important relationships in his life and the knowledge that there will be other friends. All in all he is a confident and securely attached little boy who comes running to us for comfort when he is upset but quickly goes off to explore again after telling us all about it, and obtaining the required cuddles and pep talk. I couldn’t be happier with how he turned out, and I couldn’t be more proud.
This was the epilogue of my book on pregnancy and childbirth. Click here to read more excerpts of:
Making informed decisions on childbirth
One scientist’s international perspective
by Sofie Vantiers, Ph.D.