There’s no getting away from it, the first three months of my son’s life were utterly miserable for all concerned. What I’d expected and hoped to be a magical and special time turned out to be heart wrenching and soul destroying. Why? Because my son had lactose intolerance. Except we didn't know it; we just knew that he was in a lot of pain.
He cried all the time. All the time! Not just an hour or so here or there, or even for three hours a day at least three days a week for three weeks - the randomly plucked definition of colic. ALL THE TIME! It was just awful. He was clearly in so much pain and discomfort, squirming and shrieking as he tried to pass wind, pulling his little legs up to his chest. I carried him in the sling, pacing up and down the corridor of our small flat for hours on end. I made up at least six different songs to sing as I paced, the process of which kept me sane during those long, lonely afternoons, although I’ll concede that I must have looked anything but.
I’d go out and meet other mums, at coffee shops, post natal pilates classes, baby sensory groups, you know, the standard newborn meets. And more often than not their kids would be chilling out as we did our stretching or coffee slurping. Not Brendan. And I felt envy and resentment. And failure.
The only thing that seemed to soothe him was to breastfeed, so when he wasn't crying he was hanging off my boob. And of course I was dutifully drinking and eating lots of dairy, completely unaware that I was exacerbating the issue.
And he just didn’t sleep. He woke up every 45 minutes at night and I resorted to sleeping with him in a sling, propped up on a mound of strategically placed pillows, all too aware of the cot death warnings: DO NOT SLEEP WITH YOUR CHILD IN YOUR BED! And so I didn't really ever sleep. I just dozed fitfully. My husband and I were broken, communicating in angry monosyllables, competing about which of us was the most tired, or had it the hardest. We even threw bread at each other one morning… our lowest point, now known in family lore as “bread-gate”.
I lost count of how many times I sought help from healthcare professionals. To a man (and woman) the doctors would start their consultations with the question “are you a first time mum?” and when I answered with a yes, they would stop listening, dismissing me as an over anxious mother. “It’s just a bit of colic” they would say, ignoring my protestations. One doctor even asked me to lie Brendan down on the bed. He immediately started crying. “Now pick him up” she said. I did and the crying stopped. “He just wants a cuddle, that’s all” and she shooed me out of her office. Diagnostics at its best?! All the more depressing as I’d specifically asked to see a practice partner.
The health visitor was no better. She stopped listening after I’d told her we’d been topping up with formula, looking at me like I’d kicked a puppy. Had she not been so intent on judging she might have made a link between the cow’s milk that the formula is derived from and his gastric discomfort. But no, I was dismissed again, like a delinquent teenager who didn’t know what was best for her who only had herself to blame.
Day to day life felt like a hideous car crash. We were on the edge of reason. I went to the doctors to ask about post natal depression and even then I wasn't really listened to. “Go and get a night in the spare room. If you wake up feeling a bit better tomorrow, you’re probably just tired.” And I WAS tired, too tired to protest that of course I was fucking tired, that the tiredness was killing me, that I felt like an utter failure because I couldn't get my baby to stop crying and everyone was telling me that there was nothing wrong with him.
Eventually we were summoned to my son’s eight week check-up (which was four weeks late). By luck a newly qualified GP was being trained up by a senior partner. After they’d done all they needed to, they asked me if I’d had any issues or questions. “Well he cries all the time. He’s in pain and no one can tell me why. It hasn't stopped, it hasn't got any better. If anything it is getting worse.”
I expected to be dismissed again but perhaps she heard the desperation in my voice. Or the defeat. Or maybe she was just a really good doctor. She asked me if I had eczema. Yes I did. Hay fever? Yes, that too. Asthma? Yep. She prescribed a hypoallergenic formula and told me to give it a couple of days and see if anything improved.
And it did. Completely. Unbelievably. Enormously.
A doctor that really listened, three questions that I’d never been asked before, and a box of magical powder that changed all our lives. Why that took three months, I don’t know. (Although each one of those boxes of powder costs the GP between £30 and £50 and if I was cynical I might think that had something to do with it.)
So my fundamental message is this: if you are a first time parent, or a second time or third time parent, and you think there is something wrong with your baby, trust your instincts. Don’t stop asking. Don’t be fobbed off. Don’t be dismissed or undermined. Stick to your guns. You are almost certainly right!
And remember... what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!