Today marks the start of Maternal Mental Health Week.
With a family history of postnatal depression, it’s a topic close to my heart. As with mental health in general, it’s something that still isn’t always openly discussed and hopefully awareness weeks like this will help break the stigma.
I found when I had my first baby I had a completely unrealistic, romantic notion to what motherhood would be like. I had worked with babies, I was comfortable that I knew what I was doing. I naively assumed that our little bundle would seamlessly slot into our lives and we would find ourselves locked in our little bubble of love as a family of three.
I had always wanted to be a mum. I felt it was something I was always destined to be. I still feel like that, I adore my kids, but motherhood has been a constant challenge to me since day one. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard.
There’s a pressure, almost an expectation, for new parents to be instantly swept away by love and to be besotted with their baby. I had a difficult labour that resulted in an emergency caesarean, and when he finally arrived I did feel that immediate rush of love. It was the days and weeks to follow that I started to struggle.
The complete exhaustion, the anxiety, the worry – it all took me by surprise. I was overwhelmed. I quickly realised looking after babies for a few hours during the day was completely different to seeing to my demanding baby 24/7. I remember thinking “what have we done? This is awful!” I remember looking around at the other mums in Mothercare when J was tiny and wondering if they felt as mentally drained as I did.
I discussed it with my husband earlier today and he seemed surprised that I had felt like that. He knows me better than anyone in the world and even he didn’t realise how I felt. We would both complain about tiredness and just get on with it. He’s a great hands on dad, for which I’m extremely grateful. I don’t think I could survive having three kids without him by my side.
I think the fact I never made any secret about my desire to be a mum led me to want to appear like everything was wonderful. I was a relatively young mum and I was determined to show I could do it. That I was coping just fine thank you very much. When in reality breastfeeding wasn’t turning out as I hoped, I had a baby who wouldn’t sleep, a painful caesarean scar and I started to wonder at what point things would start to feel better.
I was conscious that there were women out there who would love to have a baby. Those who were struggling to conceive or who had suffered a loss (something I went on to experience myself). How selfish was I?
I don’t claim to have ever suffered from PND. I never reached the feelings of absolute despair or detachment that I know some mums do. The feelings I have described could even be described as “normal”. If that is the case why is more not done to reassure new mums? If we have all felt like this at one point or another, surely the best thing we can do is to speak out about it?
When I had my other two babies I knew what to expect. I didn’t allow external pressures or expectations have an impact on my mental wellbeing. I was doing my best, and that would have to do. I still have feelings of guilt, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself.
Surely it’s time we started to support not only ourselves but each other. Motherhood isn’t a competition; we all have our own unique circumstances and battles to deal with. I’ve already written a post about judgemental mothers, and I strongly believe that we should be raising our fellow mums up, not trying to tear them down.
We need to let go of the pressure to be the perfect mum. There’s no such thing! We need to remember it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, or exhausted, or just plain miserable sometimes. We all have bad days.
As time has gone on I have found that it does get better. That overwhelming feeling of doubt lessens and you start to have more confidence in your abilities. When I hear my children laugh, or chat excitedly about something, I’m reminded how much it’s all worth it.
I find the best thing to do when I’m struggling is to talk about it. I’m always surprised how many of my friends with kids are nodding along and agreeing when I’m explaining how I feel. It’s therapeutic and it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. Having experienced miscarriage, it’s easy to feel guilty for complaining. I’m all too aware of the mothers who have lost their babies, but whatever journey we have been on to become mothers, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel overwhelmed.
We are human.