A few weeks ago, I read something online that really got to me. It was on one of those Facebook mum forums that we’re all a part of. I usually just have a quick skim of these groups and continue my online shopping habit or go back to the pretty Instagram world. But in this instance, I couldn’t. I had to not only read the entire thread, but also respond. Why? Because this lady was me in my entire first year of motherhood.
This lovely mum had written in asking for some advice and support about her baby. She revealed that she was struggling, feeling overwhelmed and at her wits end. She asked the group if anyone had any experience with a “difficult or high needs baby”. At first, she was flooded with support and advice from those who’d also been in the same position. But then, in came the comments telling her it was all in her head and all new babies could be classified as “high needs or difficult”. And this was where I couldn’t be silent anymore and had to say something. Because there IS a difference. There is a MASSIVE difference between a “sometimes cranky normal baby” and a “can never be pleased high needs/difficult baby”. And I know this, first hand, because my entire first year of motherhood was spent trying to work this out.
Before my baby was born I was totally prepared. I am an organiser, planner, researcher and maybe if we’re being honest, a little bit of a control freak. I had my birth plan, the car seat was in, baby books had all been read. I was ready to go. I knew there would be bad days where I’d stay in my pyjamas and let the dishes pile up, but then I also had visions of sitting in the sunshine sipping a coffee whilst my tiny baby slept peacefully in the pram. But then my girl came along who we had fought long and hard to conceive and all my visions and ideas of the parent I’d be and how we’d spend our days were thrown out the window. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Why? Because my friends, we had a textbook “high needs/difficult baby” and that vision of sipping coffee whilst she slept in the pram, never, ever, happened, not once.
At first, I did just think it was the normal behaviour of a newborn. And to us it was normal, it was our first baby and our first experience having a newborn. But soon, into week 12 of the endless crying, the fussing and the sleep fighting it all got too much and I hit a wall. We would spend from 6pm to 12pm every single night trying to get our newborn baby to sleep. Some days I’d be up for 23 hours straight, and it was four days in a row of this that I knew I couldn’t do it anymore, and we enlisted the help of a sleep consultant. This helped and changed things dramatically and I thought her general demeanour would change. It didn’t, and my “cranky most of the time” baby stayed around.
So, just what is a high needs baby? Basically, I sum it up as always needing MORE. More attention, more time, more entertainment and so it goes on. They’re intense, unsatisfied, hyperactive, draining, demanding, they wake frequently and are totally and utterly unpredictable. They don’t behave like a “normal” baby and you can’t do the “normal” things other mums can do like a quick grocery shop, prep the dinner, a walk in the sunshine, and heaven forbid you even try to have them sleep in their pram whilst you eat a meal out. Your standard daily tasks are just harder than they should be.
At the five months mark I basically fell apart. I felt completely and totally alone. Like no one else really understood. Everyone else’s babies were happy, laughing and smiling. Mine wasn’t. Mine whinged and cried 70% of the day. Day in and day out. It had to be me. Something I was or wasn’t doing. I had tried every single piece of advice that my friends had given me, nothing worked. We’d have a few good days in a row and I’d think to myself that this was it, we were through the worst, only to go back to our “normal” which was generally 5 really bad days and 2 good ones in the week.
At this point my partner and I went off to see our GP to investigate if maybe there was something medically wrong with her. And in a horrible way, you kind of want there to be. You know what I mean, right? Like maybe it would be just some minor thing and we’d treat it with a few tablets and it’d all be fixed. This was when we were told that our baby was just a “text book high needs / difficult baby”. We talked through this and came up with some strategies to get by.
We started ordering our groceries online, had a fortnightly cleaner. Just a few small things that really in the end made a world of difference. And guess what? I survived that entire first year of motherhood. Was it what I thought it would be? Definitely not. I often feel like we missed out on that whole sleepy newborn phase. But the experience made me change into a much stronger person that I was before.
Okay so going back, what was my response on the Facebook group to the mums that thought “high needs / difficult” babies didn’t exist? It was this;
When you’re the mum of a “high needs or difficult” baby you know there is something just different from your friend’s experiences of motherhood to yours. Why? Because you’re the mum furiously pushing the pram back and forth whilst she screams 24/7 and all the other babies around you are quietly asleep in their prams. You’re the mum who can’t go to the social activities with your mothers group as your baby’s constant cries disturbs the class and everyone around you. You’re the mum who friends swap their babies with for an hour to give you a break and let you hold a relatively calm baby for a moment. You’re the mum whose baby doesn’t sleep much, no matter what you try. You’re the mum whose baby cries and whinges a whole lot more than she laughs or smiles. But mostly, you’re the mum who is trying. Trying so damn hard to please this baby and wondering what on earth it is that you’re doing wrong. Questioning absolutely every single thing you do. Because it must be you right? So please, please don’t make that mum feel any smaller, any more like a failure than she already does.
So, to all the parents of high needs babies, my message to you is this. Hang in there, it does get better I promise you that. Find a way to cope, to get through it. For me, this was getting out of the house twice a day. This was how I got through it. Looking back, I also think just accepting it and trying to go with the flow more has helped. Easier said than done sometimes though, right? And what is she like now? Now I have the most beautiful, smart, independent, funny, crazy little girl that still doesn’t sleep much and keeps us on our toes constantly but our life is never, ever dull. Now, she smiles daily and does that huge belly laugh that makes you grin from ear to ear, the one that you longed for her to do for so long. And I look back now and think yes, it was all worth it.