It’s 7.55pm and my 14 week old baby is asleep on my shoulder. I should really put her in her crib and go to bed myself, but after a rough day it is too nice that she is relaxed and warm (yes I use my child as a hot water bottle because it is freezing!) and smells so good. I so rarely get to cuddle her. I hold her a lot, constantly in fact, but mostly she is crying so it doesn’t count. She was diagnosed with reflux at 6 weeks (and much improved on medication), but today is the first time I felt like the GP actually acknowledged that there is a problem. She said, I quote, “So she doesn’t just latch on, close her eyes, and settle into a feed [like a normal baby]?”
I think I have been waiting about 3 years for a doctor to say this.
My older daughter (now 3 years old) cried non stop from birth for 12 weeks straight. I will never forget my 3rd/4th/5th(?) visit to the GP who patted me patronisingly on the shoulder and said “I can see you are a bit tired. Babies do cry” before sending me off home feeling like an inept idiot with a still crying baby. I couldn’t understand how I had failed to communicate how bad it was. I knew that babies cry, I had 18 nieces and nephews, not to mention 3 god children. I also knew that this frequency, volume and duration of crying was not normal. There was a running joke with my antenatal pals as to how mine was the baby who always cried through every baby massage class, coffee shop meet up and bounce and rhyme session. My ears were ringing constantly. Yet I could not get a response from my doctor on how to improve things, what might be the problem, was I going mad?
At 12 weeks old I finally took my daughter to a private paediatrician up in London (my mother had nagged and nagged and then offered to pay). Within minutes of entering his office he reeled off all the symptoms my baby had, I said “yes”, he said, “reflux” and wrote a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor. Weirdly, I felt really put out by the speed in which he diagnosed her problem, I had spent so long fighting/begging the doctors at my surgery for help, that I just couldn’t register being listened to. I had convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with her and I was just a bad mother, I thought his diagnosis was an expensive fob off. (I think I really was going mad by this point from self doubt). I stayed with a friend that night and the next day when she went to work I went to visit the wife of another friend with a baby one month older than mine. She helped me mix up the prescription and administer the medicine (which was pretty bloody tricky, involving crushing up slow release beads from a capsule, then sucking the ensuing undisolved solution into a syringe and trying to force a huge volume of bitter liquid down a tiny baby’s throat without drowning it). But whatever hell it was to give her the drugs, she suddenly stopped crying. And she fed. The first feed in her entire life where she latched on, closed her eyes and just fed. No wriggling, writhing or screaming. Now at this moment, you would expect me to jump with joy, I expected me to jump with joy, but instead I started to cry. And I couldn’t stop. I felt guilty for not going to see the private paediatrician before, I felt stupid for not pushing harder with my own GP, I felt my ears ringing from the lack of screaming, and I felt myself collapsing under the weight of the stress I no longer had to hold up. I was a total mess. I felt like an empty broken shell, wide eyed in disbelief. My friend’s amazing wife managed to put me back together that morning before I drove back to Gloucestershire, and I will forever be indebted to her. It takes a certain kind of lady to handle the nervous breakdown of someone you barely know with such compassion and gumption. Serious respect. I did however just cry for the next month. My poor husband, having swapped a crying baby for a weeping wife. Got to hand it to him too (and remember how lucky I am for such amazing support all round). I have no idea if this was post natal depression, I think it was closer to post natal demoralisation or possible post traumatic stress, but after a month I was fine, and after a month we started to wean our baby off the meds. And slowly the horror was forgotten.
“That must make it tough for bonding and be quite stressful”. And I thought, yes it was, three years ago, when I really needed you. Now I can handle it, and now you decide to listen.
GPs do a great job, with barely any time and limited resources. And here is the big BUT – I am sure you would agree that first time mothers should not have to beg their GPs for help, I think the policy of sending them away empty handed (of advice, not necessarily a prescription) is wrong, it made me doubt myself to the point of madness and feel like an overreacting novice, and it made me act like one too, when actually my instinct was right. I think it is getting better, health visitors seem to be more proactive in referring problems discussed at home back to the GPs (was th your permission) and even offering their own expertise where the GP may be unfamiliar e.g. On observation of allergy symptoms. What do you think? Is it pot luck, has policy changed for the better, or just second time around we don’t take no for an answer?