Natalie has barely any of her children's milestones written down.
I’ve never kept a baby journal. No record of a ‘birth story’, no celebratory painted signs saying “Today I am six months!” that I might have lovingly placed beside my child, and no diary highlighting first words. My kids are still quite little – they’re five and three, but I have almost no record of their existence.
I know I will probably regret this. I already feel guilty. I have hundreds of photos of them, but I know I won’t remember the thousands of tiny, beautiful things they did in their first year or two of life.
I had panic attacks, and eventual psychosis
Oh, I have the Blue Book, in which I faithfully recorded their milestones for the first month or so. And I have a couple of emails that I wrote to myself about how beautiful they were when I first saw them, and brought them home and marvelled at their tiny pink faces. But I don’t have detailed baby books because, to be honest, there was a lot going on.
When my son was born, almost six years ago, I was in the thick of depression, although at the time, I had no idea. The illness, which included daily panic attacks, and eventual psychosis, began in my first trimester.
Know when to toilet train. Look for these two signs that your child is ready to use the potty: He senses the urge to pee and poop (this is different from knowing that he's already gone), and he asks for a diaper change.
From the day he was born, my son did not sleep well. It took around three hours to settle him every night. He also did not take to breast-feeding well. I remember going to a breast-feeding clinic in that first week because he had lost so much weight, and listening as a stern old Irish nurse told me my son was being “fussy and stubborn”. If she told me that today, I could probably laugh. But as a first-time mother, smack in the middle of as yet undiagnosed postnatal depression, holding a week old baby who had dropped half his body weight, I simply cried. From that day on, I pumped, and between the hours it took to pump and the hours it took to settle, I really only had time to sleep before another day would dawn, and overwhelm me all over again.
Deep down I knew something wasn't right with my son
I’m not sure when it was exactly, because of course, I never wrote it down, but I think it was at the three month mark I noticed my son wasn’t meeting all his milestones. He was early to crawl, early to walk, but late with almost everything else.
Of course I googled, and of course I read all those reassurances about babies developing at different rates, but deep down I knew something wasn’t right. So I stopped writing about him. I was not in any state to record more potential bad news.
Eat at least one meal as a family each day. Sitting down at the table together is a relaxed way for everyone to connect - a time to share happy news, talk about the day, or tell a silly joke. It also helps your kids develop healthy eating habits.
It would be another two and half years before my son would be diagnosed with autism. My daughter was only 2 months old at the time. I suffered no depression or anxiety with her, but the pregnancy had sapped me, leaving me so weak, I could barely walk. I would later find out I had developed Hashimotos, a result of an under-active thyroid, and all too common in older women after they give birth.
But at the time, all I knew was that my bones ached, my eyes felt like sandpaper, and I could not even pick up my phone without feeling as if I had run a marathon.
First denial, then grief
Again, it would be months before I sought help, because the autism diagnosis had knocked me sideways. I went through a period of deep denial, trying everything to prove this was a temporary state. Grief followed soon after, and it was almost as dark as the postnatal depression.
I’m pleased to report that autism is part of our everyday lives now, and we view my son’s differences as just one aspect of the magical little person he is. Every day he shocks me with his progress, his kindness, and his humour. Likewise, my daughter is a hilarious and charming creature, wilful like me, and sweeter than a gelato bar.
Try to avoid thinking that you can save your children from getting hurt (emotionally or physically). Instead, prepare them to cope.
But the first two years of both their lives were undeniably difficult. I can tell myself I had neither the energy nor the time to record their fleeting beauty. I can say that a mere page was devoted to my own development as a baby and I turned out OK. I tell myself these things all the time.
But the truth is those years were probably the worst of my life. And although I didn’t know it consciously, I now understand that my real motivation for not writing anything down, was an attempt to forget, to erase the past so I never have to relive the unrelenting pain of those early years.
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If you are struggling with postnatal depression or anxiety, there are organisations that can help. You don't have to suffer alone. The following helplines and websites might be of use:
PANDA - 1300 726 306
The Gidget Foundation - 1300 851 758
Lifeline - 13 11 14