View from the ground by Dr Rhian Stanbrook

stanbrook rhian

For the third time this night I am awoken by cries. Dawn is still many hours away and the peace and isolation of the night is broken again by loud shrieks and moans. He calls me indiscriminately every 2–3 hours. He is reliant on me for survival. He cannot communicate his wishes in words, but grunts or cries out whether in pain, hunger, wet, soiled, or in need of comfort. He is entirely absorbed in his own distress.

I am by now automatic in my responses, blunted by the repetitive nature of the care I need to give, numbed by the cold hour of the morning. Comfort, rock, feed, change. Silently tiptoe back to my sanctuary.

I close my eyes but sleep evades me with the anxiety of when the next call will come, the next cry of distress, the next need of my services, the next bout of care.

He is my newborn baby boy.

These first few weeks have been a challenge of relearning how to be a mother–feeding, changing, juggling, prioritising, health and safety planning, entertaining, soothing, and surviving. My junior doctor training prepared me well for sleeping in short bouts whenever the opportunity arises, but less so for the tedium of hours of feeding and the challenges associated with leaving the house.

With these daily challenges comes a degree of isolation. There is no substitute for my role, even for a few hours. Meetings with friends are firstly cancelled and then not made as I seek a calm existence. Leaving the house is a logistical nightmare. I make compromises to care for my two sons, the housework being the first thing to suffer.

I think to the new mums who I regularly see in my surgery. I understand some of their anxieties, their frustrations, and the challenges they face. I will certainly remember the difficulty in leaving the house, and give a little more lee way for the mother who is late for her appointment. My fears during this time are not always rational—even with years of training I worry about the rashes and the temperatures—and I seek calm reassurance from those around me.

I also think of all the carers that I see on a daily basis at work, the elderly couple who come in every few weeks and the mother with the disabled son, and reflect on the daily difficulties they face. Their challenge is much greater than mine, giving care to another, day in, day out. Physically demanding, emotionally draining. There are some 6.5 million carers in the UK, often working unpaid and largely unrecognised. Unlike my role this is not a temporary diversion that will ease with each passing week, but a daily commitment to someone they love. Some people can give this gift of caring with ease and satisfaction, some may feel regret and even resentment. They all deserve our support, respect, and care.

My role as a carer will all too soon come to an end. I will look back with nostalgia at the sunrises my son and I saw in together, at the power of love that kept me going day by day with minimal sleep. I will try to hold in my memory the joy and wonder of these early days, as well as the challenge and struggle. I know my reprieve as a carer for a young baby will come to an end too soon, and I will miss it.