My daughter was 4 hours old when I was told I was holding her too much. But before we get to that point in the story, I feel I need to give you all some background information on Lulla’s entrance into the world.
Lulla wasn’t planned. Me and her daddy had only been together around a month before I fell pregnant. And though she wasn’t planned, in no way shape or form does this mean she wasn’t wanted. In fact, I have never wanted something so much as I did Lulla the second I discovered I was pregnant. After a five-year battle with mental health, Lulla felt to me like a beautiful reward at the end of a long, painful journey.
As a sufferer of anxiety, I tend to overthink and have OCD tendencies. Alone, these traits can be hard to deal with, but combine them together and they were like a red rag to a bull when I acknowledged just how much I wanted this baby, my baby. My whole pregnancy was plagued with conflicting emotions. Happiness and excitement were always outweighed by the fear that something would happen and I’d lose my baby. I was a nervous wreck before each and every antenatal visit, fearful that this would be the day that my midwife Anne would tell me she couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat. At every scan I was nervous that the sonographer would deliver the news that my baby had died. Every day when I didn’t feel my baby move or kick I would tell myself that something was wrong. There wasn’t one day that went by where I didn’t convince myself that something had, or would happen to the baby growing inside of me. You can imagine that, by the end of my pregnancy, I was on edge. Feelings that were only increased when I went 8 days over my due date and it felt to me like a ticking time tomb.
I was in labour with Lulla for 22 hours. The whole time I was worried that the longer my labour went on, the more chance there was that something would happen to her, even though the midwives kept telling me how happy she was in my belly. ‘She’s so happy, she doesn’t want to come out!’ one midwife said, and she was right. 22 hours in, I still hadn’t dilated past 2cm and talks of a c-section begun echoing around the hospital room. By this point, I was ready for it to be over with. I wanted to hold my baby! When the Doctor did one final check and I still wasn’t dilating, I signed the forms for the section and within the hour I was holding my baby girl. Yet even as I was lying on the hospital table as a team of skilled people worked to bring my child into the world, I was still scared. Scared that they’d slice me open and then one of them would have to break it to me that my baby wasn’t alive. That the midwives had been wrong and that my baby girl hadn’t been as happy in my belly as they thought, and that I’d have to lose her before I even got to meet her.
I get that this may sound like irrational thinking to some, yet many women will identify with the same fears when they were pregnant. Either way, I give you this backstory so that you understand that the very second I heard Lulla’s husky cries echoing around the hospital theatre, I breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in 9 months. I didn’t have to monitor my every move wondering how it impacted my baby. She was in the world, in my arms and I couldn’t get enough of her.
Fast forward two hours and I was being wheeled onto the maternity ward. I was exhausted; by this point I’d been awake for almost 24 hours. I wasn’t wearing any knickers and was aware that I was bleeding. My boobs were hanging out as I breastfed Lulla. I’d never felt more exposed, and yet I couldn’t have been happier. I had Lulla in my arms and felt euphoric as they settled me in. And then one midwife came along, took out a gigantic pin and popped my bubble of happiness.
Even though I felt on a high, as a new mum, everything felt overwhelming. I was trying to decipher what each cry meant. Trying to successfully establish breastfeeding and knowing when my baby needed feeding and whether she was getting enough milk. All whilst trying to find a moment to take her all in. Which I did. She wouldn’t settle and so I scooped her up into my arms and she fell asleep against my chest. It was a moment of pure magic and I remember breathing in her newborn scent feeling overwhelmingly happy.
That’s when a midwife poked her head round the curtain and seeing me asked, ‘Do you want me to put her back for you?’ I shook my head, smiled and said, ‘No thank you. I’m just enjoying her.’ Expecting that we’d perhaps share a moment of bonding – she’d mentioned earlier that she had two children – I smiled at her knowingly but she just nodded and left. Half hour later she came back with another nurse to check my dressings and help me get washed and changed. (This is where your granny pants are needed, girls!)
‘Here, I’ll put her back for you.’ The same midwife reached out, took Lulla from me and placed her back into that plastic hospital cot. Lulla started to cry and the midwife turned to me and said, ‘That’s because you’ve held her too much. She’ll cry to be picked up every time now.’
The first emotion I remember feeling was guilt; I’d only been a mum for a few hours and yet I’d already done something wrong.
The second feeling I felt was shame, and it had nothing to do with the hideous granny pants they were helping me into; I felt like I didn’t know what was best for my baby.
And that’s when anger hit me. Call it motherly instinct but I felt furious. I DID know what was best for my baby, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d felt on edge and anxious for the last 9 months. Now my baby was here I wasn’t going to miss these precious first moments by leaving her to lay for hours in the sterile hospital cot. One thing I told myself over and over was, ‘No baby has ever died from too much love.’
The rest of my hospital experience wasn’t the best. As a new mum, I still felt I didn’t have a voice and that these midwives knew best. Even when they all told me different things, and I didn’t always agree with their guidance, I still followed what they told me. Even when I was told to strip Lulla down and get her cold every time she needed feeding, something I hated doing. Just seeing her cry when I’d stir her from sleep to take off her onesie, the cold air hitting her tiny body and shocking her, was enough to have me balling
I couldn’t wait to get home, and once home I dreaded the community midwife visiting the next day. I expected more advice I didn’t agree with, and to be told everything I wanted to do and what felt natural to me as her mother, was wrong. So, when a lady called Teresa stepped through the door, meeting her left me with a similar feeling to what I imagine the Banks family felt when Mary Poppins arrived.
When asked how I was feeling, hot angry tears plopped down my cheeks as I relayed everything that had happened during my stay in hospital, anger making my voice shake. I expected Teresa to tell me that the midwives were right and the advice they’d given me was what had been best for Lulla. What I was not expecting was for Teresa to cry along with me and to apologise for the way I’d been made to feel.
When I explained to her how one midwife had told me I’d held my baby too much, my voice broke and I couldn’t stop the sob escaping. I don’t think I acknowledged at the time how much those words had cut me. For me, the anxiety I’d felt throughout my pregnancy had been suffocating. Waking up on edge every day for 9 whole months is draining and it didn’t just impact me; my mum saw how anxious I was. She also saw how much I already loved Lulla, and so she silently carried the burden of worrying that something would happen to her. After seeing me suffer with my mental health previously, she didn’t think I could survive losing my baby. So for Lulla to be alive and well, it was like we both could breathe again.
Teresa told me that she’d heard the same thing from a few women and that every time it broke her heart. She then echoed the very words I told myself in hospital: no baby has ever died from too much love.
Teresa was exactly the person I needed in that moment. She picked me back up and helped me to trust in my instincts as Lulla’s mother. And I held Lulla a lot during those first weeks. I still hold her a lot now. And do I have a needy baby who cries all the time to be held? No, I really don’t. Lulla is a content baby who is happy when left by herself for short intervals if I need to do something like pee or make a coffee (getting the time to finish it is another matter entirely). She never cries to be held. The only time she’s ever cried when put down is when she has been teething and is a little needy – and rightly so. She’s happy to sit in her bouncer and play with her toys and when she’s worn out she’ll drift off to sleep without needing me to soothe her to sleep. She’s happy and cheeky and above all else, she is so loved.
Sometimes in life we wish we had a rewind button, and whilst I wouldn’t really change a single thing that’s happened in my life (y’know, the butterfly effect and all that) I do wish that I could go back to that time after Lulla was born and have had the strength to tell that midwife this:
I’ve carried this baby inside of my belly for 9 whole months. For 9 months, all she’s known is me. Me talking, me singing, me laughing. She’s been cocooned safely inside of me and suddenly she’s left all that she’s known for the last 9 months and has suddenly been born into a world of bright lights and voices she doesn’t know and everything around her feels new and scary. And you’re telling me that I’m holding my baby too much? I’ll hold my baby as much as I damn well like. If she cries, I’ll hold her. If she doesn’t cry, I’ll still hold her. All she’s known for 9 months is the warmth of my womb, I’m not about to leave her lying on her own when I could be holding her in my arms, making her feel both protected and loved.
I understand that some believe you can create a needy baby by picking them up too much, I also get that being a parent is HARD without being able to snatch a spare 5 minutes to yourself, but my baby isn’t even a day old and you’ve made me feel like I can’t hold her. Every time you walk by, I mentally find myself making excuses as to why I’m holding her again. You’ve tainted my first moments as a mother with my daughter, and those aren’t moments I can’t get back.
I’ve spent the last 9 months secretly convinced that I wouldn’t get to meet my daughter. I’ve also spent 9 months planning to give birth one way only for it to all change last minute and have my baby be delivered in a way I had not been prepared for. By the time I got wheeled round to be left in your care, though I was happy, I also felt vulnerable, overwhelmed and exposed.
So, before you tell another mother that they’re holding their baby too much, take a moment to remember that pregnancy isn’t a breeze for most women. Complications arise, fears plague some, and by the time our babies are born, we’re so relieved and happy, ALL we want to do is hold them. And let’s not forget about the women who actually don’t get to hold their baby. The women who DO suffer miscarriages and stillbirths. Women should be encouraged more to trust their maternal instincts, and all mine were telling me was to pick my baby up and shower her in love. As much and as many times as I wanted.