Just after my daughter, Kitty, was born (she’s now nearly three), I talked a lot about what life was really like to people. To anyone who’d listen.
It’s hell, I would say. It’s just so boring. The days are so long. I don’t know what she wants half the time. I feel trapped. I am a prisoner of a strict routine. I can’t see a time when I’ll ever feel free again. I can’t read anything. I can’t concentrate. I think I’m going mad.
I banged on to everyone, being really – I thought – honest and brave and brilliant about the whole thing. People would ask me how it was and I would tell them the truth. Then separately two people “took me aside” and asked me if I was “alright”. Was I, maybe, suffering from a bit of post natal depression?
My first instinct was to laugh. It struck me as hilarious that I was talking fully consciously about the difficulties of new motherhood in an, I thought, totally self-aware and solid, non-mad way and these people took me to be nuts.
So I felt like laughing and laughing and then vomiting and bit and crying for a few seconds from sheer mania. Then my second instinct was to yell “Of COURSE I’ve got post natal depression. Having a baby can be a bit DEPRESSING.” And my third and final instinct was to say “I’m just telling the truth! This is how it is! You think I’m a sad basket case because you haven’t got any kids and don’t know what it’s like!” In the end I think I just said “No honestly I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
Any idle chatter about post natal depression enrages me, as it is to diminish actual sufferers (I understand what hell it must be) and to belittle the, I don’t know, the… noble suffering of motherhood. It can be terrible and Godamnit, I can take it. (But not without a lot of moaning.) So it irritates me that absolutely any even slightly negative emotion related to having a small baby and suddenly you’ve got PND. It’s the equivalent of liking to wash your hands before you cook dinner and suddenly you’re an obsessive lunatic with a germ phobia.
People also talk about post-natal depression in a slightly hushed way, as if rather than just feeling a bit tired and claustrophobic you were Bertha flipping Mason charging round your attic in your nightie gibbering and clawing at your eyes with long dirty fingernails.
I wish this sort of caper was referred to as post-natal stress or post-natal trauma or post-natal anxiety – or even drop the post-natal, thanks. Can we all just assume, please, that anyone who’s just had a baby – first or second or third or eighth, is not going to find life and the world a constant bellylaugh for a bit? Maybe for quite a long time!
It doesn’t need to be fixed or solved. Nobody needs to go and see a bloody doctor (unless you really are charging round the attic in your dirty nightie). All you want, when you’ve just had a baby, is a bit of discreet sympathy. “Mmm yes it’s so hard,” is what you want to hear. “It’s the same for everyone. It’ll get better.”
A strange side-effect of post-natal gloom is of course that you are absolutely delightful to your children to compensate. Kitty knows I’m a bit down in the dumps because she gets showered with attention, smiles and an unusual enthusiasm for Play-Doh and drawing. (“Mummy Mummy look at my picture!” “Kitty I love that picture.”I usually do, after all.) Sam, the new baby, who is 4 months, cannot believe how many weird noises I am capable of making and for how long I can play Where Is Sam? There Is Sam! (Where Is Mummy? She’s In the Dark Teatime Of The Soul!)
Anyway here is my very handy guide to Post-Natal Trauma.
It sounds, in abbreviation, like PMT. But then so does PND. My message is: it’s all different sides of the same coin. Your schedule, if you have just had a baby, ought to go something like this.
For the first year you will be suddenly, randomly hormonal and cry at strange things and shout at your husband for no reason (or sometimes for perfectly good reasons). If it is your first child you cannot believe how tired you are. You feel like you have been expertly beaten up by secret police. You live on coffee. You cannot remember anything.
On top of this you will experience:
First Weekend as Mother depression when you realise Oh My God there are no days off.
First Fight with Husband over child/childcare/child’s routine etc. He says you’re uptight and tense about everything. You say Fuck You you’ve got no idea what this is like. You realise Oh My God we’re not a sexy carefree couple anymore. We’re not this, like, perfect soul matey match that nothing can tear asunder. We’re just a couple of idiots who barely know each other with a child to look after.
Three Months In depression when you realise Oh My God this is going to go on forEVER. If it is your second child, round about now it hits you how little of the way through the first year you are, and how much longer you have to go before Child 1 and Child 2 can interact in any useful way (even if this means fighting). You also suddenly remember: teething!
First Winter depression when you realise Oh My God winters used to be fun! With log fires and spending entire days in bed reading spicy novels! Long red wine lunches with friends! Now winter is about Noro – who’s got it? Who’s had it? – indoor play, one streaming cold after another and endless, dark afternoons.
Going on Holiday depression when you realise Oh My God going anywhere with a baby is a flipping hassle and they don’t want to sit about all day on a sun lounger reading Life After Life. They want to eat sand and wake up at 0500 due to flimsy holiday rental window treatments. This is combined with First Flight depression where you do 5 hours with a 13 month old and vow never to leave England by air again.
Childcare Depression where you realise Oh My God I cannot buy my way out of trouble. “I’ll just get a nanny/send it to daycare if it’s annoying,” you said breezily when you were pregnant. Then you have the little weasel and realise that nothing is ever that simple. You realise that no bastard can look after this baby properly except you. They will upset it, they will get it wrong, it will feel abandoned. You’d rather do it all yourself. Which leads to…
…Self-Image Depression where you realise Oh My God how did my feet get so disgusting? I cannot remember the last time I got my hair cut. Why is my wardrobe full of clothes from 2007? Why do I only ever wear grey skinny jeans with Converse and a Breton top? Where did it all go? Who am I?
If you don’t experience any of the above with your child or children then I salute you and congratulate you and envy you. But, hear this: you are the freak, not me.
Bad Cook by Esther Walker is published as an e-book by HarperCollins