I am a mama. Take one pandemic, a lost job, a flat move, buckets of isolation, several months of heartbreak when the little blue line just didn’t appear and the big red bleed did, complete and utter ignorance, two bottles of Sauvignon blanc, one headstand and tada! Baby. But what next?
Wow. At point of writing, I am two years into this parenting thing and finding the joy and chaos that comes with it. In contrast, the first year brought me post-natal depression (PND), severely limiting anxiety, hair loss, identify loss, and some absolutely wonderful friends. During this second year I have started to slowly gather the pieces of me again and settle into this new life, as a trio, as a mama.
Becoming a new parent is the crazy journey everyone ‘sort of’ says it is. I say ‘sort of’ because people are truth withholding, rose tinted fibbers. PND is passed off as the ‘baby blues’, no one mentioned intrusive thoughts, grieving your past life or feeling like a failure. I was not prepared for these little gems. Just a little warning would have gone a long way. Instead, I spent far too long feeling unable and ill-equipped.
What have I learned?
Parenting is messy, it messes with our heads, bodies and relationships. It’s really hard. What is even harder, is not feeling able to share that mess. More than 1 in 10 women will suffer with PND. Looking around my local café that could easily be three mums, just sat that quietly struggling whilst they cajole, feed, clean up a little one, or two, or three…
So, I wrote a very honest book. Which I shared with some people who I thought needed it. They were comforted and kind. They encouraged me to be here, to keep writing.
Down with the conspiracy squad
It’s a tough one, do we terrify new parents with the raw reality of sleep deprivation torture and the debilitating impact of intrusive thoughts? What about the financial worry? Global warming? How about the sheer loneliness of being a tiny creature’s entire world, whilst you lose yours?
I am regularly told; ‘if we knew what was to come, we wouldn’t have babies’. Total codswallop in my book. People will still have babies, proof? People often have more than one. But in a world where consent is so important, should we have more information? I do wonder, if mamas knew a little of what to expect would PND rates go up, or down? Would we have more support in readiness of mental wellbeing collapse?
I propose that normalising mental health challenges in pregnancy and with a newborn would raise happier mums as well as babies. In line with this I aim to be as honest as I can.
I left the conspiracy squad of; ‘it’s beautiful, wonderful, the baby bubble is amazing’ and started an honesty squad where I would ask ‘what are you struggling with?’. It’s ok, because I’m with you.
You can have post-natal depression and anxiety and still be a BRILLIANT mother
There is a great deal of shame around poor mental health in motherhood. There is also a huge dollop of fear. Fear of being judged, fear of failing. I felt I had failed at the first hurdle. A sick and painful pregnancy resulting in a pre-term baby. What a rubbish mum I was already, couldn’t even get pregnancy right?!?!? Fail. A difficult birth on a ward, an early discharge, a baby that wasn’t feeding. Fail. No happy hormones, no milk, no recovery, no hope. Rubbish mother.
I couldn’t see that I was succeeding in giving my baby everything she needs; feeds with bottle or breast – whatever worked in the moment, endless soft singing, baby carrying until my legs had no more to give. Soft baths, non-stop nappy changes with overpriced balms. Agonising pumping to increase supply, agonising walks to health centres with no public transport. Never giving up or giving back to myself despite the suffering. Amazing Mother.
On a coffee date with another new mama she said it perfectly: ‘I feel like I am breaking myself, literally breaking myself for this baby and I’m getting so little back right now’.
Mothers have this incredible ability to set aside their struggles and did deep to allow their baby to thrive. They can be breaking but brilliant.
You’ll never know which moment is the last
Stick with me here. In the newborn phase of round the clock worry, feeds, burping, changing, repeat. When the evening screamathon seems endless no matter what you do. It can be so easy to want to hurl the breast pump at the face of anyone saying the following:
‘It gets easier’
‘You’ll miss it when they are grown’
‘Make the most of it, they are tiny so fleetingly’
These phrases do not make it any easier in the moment. If anything, I found them to be patronising and made me feel even worse. Over time, the essence of these things are true, all life is fleeting and too fast. But being in survival mode with a baby is long and torturous. I eventually realised that those hard moments, once passed would not return. Every day I got through a difficult day, was a day down. But…it might be the last breastfeed, chest nap, giggle in her baby sleep, walk in the carrier…These moments suddenly just stop. Just like those irritating unsolicited advice givers, I found myself missing them, wanting to go back in time and do them again but with the benefit of experience.
You cannot have your firstborn experience again, however difficult it might be. It’s once and then it’s done, and you never know which little moment will be the last. I can’t go back, but I can go forward remembering that every time my little one wants one more cuddle before bedtime, she might not want one tomorrow.