Apart from the obvious anxiety and frustration parents feel when they can’t resolve a baby’s health issues or take them on themselves, there are some very subtle undercurrents that can impact on a family coping with a baby suffering with reflux.
From my own personal experiences with our third child Willow, I felt guilty that I couldn’t spend more time with my other children. At first with a newborn, it was expected that I was busy feeding, washing, sleeping alongside our new daughter, mirroring her random moments of sleep and my husband spent a lot of time making sure that our two other children received his attention when I was in this early routine. It seemed to be endless though and I found myself feeling more ‘split’ between my children as time moved on and Willow didn’t improve.
To me it seemed like too much to ask them to grow up fast and just deal with the fact that their little sister was ill. They were just as scared as us when Willow would scream from tea time and into the late evening, but we had to show that we; as parents; were in control. Bedtime was tough because we’d be holding Willow aswell as trying to get our other two girls off to bed. Most of the time we weren’t in control and I definitely developed symptoms of depression during this period.
We had to educate all our family members in the art of holding Willow so that she wouldn’t bring up as much of her food. The tendency is to bounce, jog on a knee or tickle a baby – but we had to put a stop to that from the first few weeks. After some time it became natural. But took some doing telling a mum and mother in law, or a grandparent how to hold their grandchild!
The number of times I heard the saying “babies cry, that’s what they do!” or ‘babies are sicky’… it drove me mad and I started to really take offense to it. Partly because I felt as if the person saying it was judging me for being a bad mother letting my baby cry and also that I felt I should be able to comfort our daughter to stop the crying, but in many cases I couldn’t because her cry wasn’t for hunger, comfort or nappy change! My baby was screaming in pain! There is a difference and I actually avoided going out, unless I was with others who could support me.
When you are sleep deprived and on edge you often see things in a different way and I found I often made decisions that were directly linked to Willow’s reflux, when in hindsight they shouldn’t have been. For example I would often think about Willow first before agreeing to activities for my other children. If I had to drop off or pick up a child, it had to fit around Willow’s feed times which were very long sessions that almost ran into each other. We didn’t do many playdates or days out.
I regret a few things. I have fewer photographs of Willow as she was always in a sicky bib or plain sleep suit as nice clothes lasted a matter of minutes – the last thing on our minds was to take photos! I didn’t have any professional photos taken (as I had with my other two). We never resolved to have Willow christened in her first year (as we had with the other two). We didn’t show her off to family as the journey was difficult for us all. So many relatives only got to meet Willow when she was older.
I felt as if everything was on hold. But after 12 months, things began to improve for Willow and I was more relaxed and able to be a little more spontaneous with my children and family. The guilt I felt in those early days stayed with me for a long time as I felt I owed my older children the lost time and contact. Thankfully, they don’t remember it that way as they were too young to remember!