“When I look back on my experiences as a new mother – I don’t especially remember the extreme tiredness, or the shock I felt as I tried to adapt to my new role in life. I don’t look back with awe at how amazingly I coped with bringing a new human into the word and keeping it alive. I don’t look back with fondness at the ‘beautiful’ moments I shared with my newborn son.
When I look back to those first 6 months, I have one overriding thought – I think I lost the plot for a little while! I don’t think I had postnatal depression. I was just bloody mad! (in the non-medical way that a person can be a bit nuts… but not officially.) When I mention this to other mothers, they look at me with an intense and surprising look of recognition! ‘YES!!,’ they exclaim, ‘I went a bit mad too!’
Post Natal Depression is now so widely recognized that thankfully people now do not need to suffer alone. The stigma is fading and women are more happy to share their stories of PND and how it affected them and their families and how they overcame it.
But it seems that people do not talk much about being sub-clinically bonkers after having a baby! For me, a combination of sleepless nights, being in a completely novel and alien situation, coping with hormone highs and lows, losing control over the amount of sleep/food/downtime I was getting and not being enamored with my new role in life, or indeed the small human who came with the job, led to numerous irrational feelings.
Extreme jealousy of (and a bit of hatred for) my husband whose life seemed to carry on as normal. Every morning when he left for work I would cringe inside with envy as I imagined him sauntering down the road towards the subway station, enjoying his 40 minutes squashed into a subway car underground on his commute, and then finally sipping his hot cup of tea at his desk and participating in adult chat that did not center around the color of poo, the consistency of vomit or the amount of milk consumed!!!
Anger at his lack of comprehension of how tough it was to have to look after HIS non-sleeping baby that I could not seem to feed properly, that crapped and puked from dawn till dusk and all the hours in between.
My husband was an absolute legend as soon as he was home from work and got up for so many night feeds and nappy changes, but no matter how much sympathy he claimed to have, he still did not seem to appreciate the relentlessness of it all. How could he? A wild sense of determination to try and do everything I was doing before, plus pump 8 times a day and look after a baby that slept 6 hours out of every 24 and threw up most feeds. I would look at those mothers that did not leave their bed or house for the first week or 10 days after the birth with complete distaste and incomprehension.
The mothers who didn’t make plans because they were just happy to hang out with their beautiful babies all day were just plain weird to me! What were those lazy women up to? Sitting around in bed or on the sofa all day singing lullabies? I would have plans for every day of the week, months in advance! I would be out of the house by 8 a.m., having done two loads of washing and cleaned the bathroom, and would walk the 4.5 miles to the department store to buy some form of baby paraphernalia, and then walk back again – via the supermarket to buy ingredients for the gala dinner I wanted to cook every night.
When my son was 3 weeks old I had to go to work as I was self-employed. I set up my stand at a Trade Show alone as I refused to ask for help! I commuted every day for a week with my 3-week old baby strapped to my chest. Surely I was the normal one? Not those lazy ones lounging around at home with their babies? Many new mums suffer from social anxiety which is not really surprising when faced with a new role and a new peer group, perhaps formed of people you may have previously turned your nose up at! You might be used to being a high-flying businesswoman and now you find yourself sitting on the floor of a church hall with a load of people who all seem to know the words to ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep!’
It can feel like starting school again, and people who have worked hard on moving past feeling socially awkward are left feeling like they are 13 and the least popular kid in the class. Magazines and advertising paint a very different picture of reality. Some women think it is all going to be smiles and giggles with their gorgeous baby, but it can be a very emotionally challenging time. This can bring out or exaggerate pre-existing emotional concerns, worries and stresses. New parents often have personal expectations of what it means to be a good mother or father. Like being constantly available to their child, stimulating them in the best possible way, being able to breastfeed or always thinking loving thoughts about their child. These expectations originate from peer modeling, imitating behavior of their own parents or reading baby books or articles online.
Being unable to achieve some of these goals can leave a new mother feeling like a failure, which she may or may not be able to articulate to her partner, family or peer group. Believing that you really can DO IT ALL can be a damaging thought! I was talking to one of my greatest friends yesterday who is trying to juggle a baby and her own new business and she told me she felt angry! Her all-girls private school education convinced her that she could do it all…but, in fact, she is finding out she can’t! It just is not possible to be the best mother, best wife, best colleague, best business owner, best friend, best sister and get enough sleep. Something has got to give!
Thinking back to those early days, perhaps if I had gone to the doctor and tried to articulate how I was feeling, I may have ended up with some happy pills, but I didn’t go, and sub-clinical issues, by their very definition, fly under the radar of professional help! That doesn’t mean they should go ignored. I still haven’t learned to slow down, delegate or ask for help and I still live in a semi-permanent anxious state but I don’t feel as mad as before. I guard my ‘alone time’ fiercely and I am lucky my husband understands I need this.
I’m also a huge advocate of talking A LOT and laughing with other mothers, whether they are old friends or some randoms in the nappy aisle in the supermarket, it helps! Adele recently admitted she struggled after her son Angelo was born. ‘Eventually, I just said, ‘I’m going to give myself an afternoon a week, just to do whatever the f*** I want without my baby.’ A friend of mine said, ‘Really? Don’t you feel bad?’ I said, ‘I do, but not as bad as I’d feel if I didn’t do it.’ Her words really struck me. It is ok to be annoyed or frustrated – it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to feel happy or #blessed about your situation all the time. Ignore the people who say stuff like ‘enjoy every second, it’s so special, they grow up to fast blah blah blah’ because that kind of chat is not helpful and is mostly spouted by older mothers with false memory syndrome.
Becoming a mother and being a mother can be tough. But with the right support, the right role models and right level of honesty amongst old and new mothers, we should be able to help each other through.
Things to try that helped me:
Structure your day, but stay flexible enough to cope with unexpected things. Prepare for life to become slower and you may not achieve as much as before.
Try to carve out 5 minutes of genuine quiet time every day. Try sitting and doing nothing. No phone, No TV, No housework or admin…just sitting there and giving yourself a break!
Don’t be ashamed to accept help. If friends and family don’t offer – don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Most people are happy to do something to help others, but they often need to be prompted. Get someone to push the buggy around the block while you have a nap, blow dry your hair or have a run. Whatever makes you feel better!
Try and keep up a hobby like swimming, book club (wine club?), pub quiz, or whatever floats your boat – this will help you to feel connected to the world you used to know.
Being part of a community like A Mother Place is invaluable. Come join us and have a chat and get some great advice on how to get through this tough time! It’s so good to talk.”
This story was written by Rebecca Maberly of London England, U.K. You can follow her on Instagram here. You can also visit her website, A Mother Place, here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free newsletter for our best stories.
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