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.
For those first 6 months, I have one over-riding thought – I think I lost the plot for the while. I don’t think it was postnatal depression. I was just a bit bloody mad (in the non-medical way that a person can be a bit nuts..but not officially insane..does that make sense?)
When I mention this to other mothers, they look at me with an intense and surprised look of recognition! “YES!!” they exclaim, “I was mad too!”
So why do people not talk about this? Post Natal Depression is now so widely recognised that thankfully people now do not need to suffer alone. The stigma is fading and women are happier to share their stories of PND and how it affected them and their families. 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/down time I was getting and not being enamoured 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 tube station, enjoying his 40 minutes in someone’s armpit on the Northern line, and then finally sipping his hot cup of tea at his desk and participating in adult chat that did not centre around the colour of poo, the consistency of sick or the mls 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 shat and puked from dawn till dusk and all the hours in between. He 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 ten 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 8am, having done two loads of washing and cleaned the bathroom, and would walk the 4.5 miles to Sloane Square to buy some form of baby paraphernalia from Peter Jones, and then walk back again- via Sainsbury’s to buy ingredients for the gala dinner I wanted to cook every night. When my son was 3 weeks old I had to go back to work as I was self-employed. I set up my stand in Olympia alone as I refused to ask for help! I commuted everyday 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?
Things came to a head when I was charging up towards Clapham Common, pushing the buggy at high speed (I was always in a hurry, I couldn’t bear to be that mum who was always late). I had already done half a days work, pureed various organic root vegetables, done 3 loads of washing, done the shopping, been to the post office and weighed my baby. I wanted to take my jacket off as I had worked up quite a sweat on my missions. I didn’t entertain the thought of stopping walking in order to carry out this task, so I continued marching, pushing the buggy with one hand, taking my jacket off, trying to multi-task to the extreme and …I yanked my lower arm out of its elbow socket! My lower arm literally bent backwards and swung in a very unnatural direction. The pain was SO hideous I nearly threw up! Luckily, it popped back in as quickly as it came out and I was left standing there, deep breathing and trying not to puke with the pain and wondering what had just happened! My elbow joint was excruciating for weeks!
At the time, I recognised a small glimpse of the “crazy lady” I had become, but I charged on up towards the common and life carried on as before! It was not until a while later that I realised how tragic that little episode was!
When I decided to write about this, I chatted to some local Mental Health Experts to get some insight. “Anxiety obviously increases with your new role as a mother” says Counsellor, Kate Haigh. http://katehaigh.wixsite.com/counselling-2 “It would be odd not to be at all anxious- but extreme examples include not wanting other people to hold your baby, strict hand washing/sanitising protocols, not allowing your partner or anyone else to help with bottle/nappies in case they don’t do it right.”
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 business woman 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 “Wind The Bobbin Up!”
“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” explains Kate.
“Magazines and advertising paint a very different picture to reality” – says Dr Jade Redfern of the Fernwood Clinic. http://www.fernwoodclinic.co.uk/ 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 modelling, imitating behaviour 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 that she felt angry! Her all-girls private school education convinced her that she could do it all…but infact she is finding out that 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.
Aleks Srbinoski, from the Fernwood Clinic offers some advice –
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 and carve out 2-5 minutes of genuine quiet time everyday. 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 round the block whilst you have a nap or blow dry your hair or have a run- whatever makes you feel better!
Try and keep up a hobby- even if only 20-30 minutes a week. A quick swim, book club (wine club?), pub quiz, train spotting or whatever floats your boat- this will help you to feel connected to the world you used to know!
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’.”
It is ok to be annoyed or frustrated – its 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!
I still haven’t learnt to slow down, or to delegate or ask for help and I MAY be still border-line nuts and I think I now 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 that my husband understands that I need this! I’m also a huge advocate talking A LOT!! Laughing with other mothers, whether they are old friends or some randoms in Sainsburys, definitely helps!
Becoming a mother and being a mother is 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.
The Doctor and Daughter’s Guide to Pregnancy are really proud to be launching a series of Postnatal Support Workshops with our lovely friend and Counsellor Kate Haigh.
Come and have a chat or a bitch about all things postnatal and get some great advice on how to get through this tough time! If you are suffering from PND, anxiety, stress, or just not feeling great about anything we can help. If you are feeling out of sorts, your partner is pissing you off or you’re frustrated with your postnatal body or mind, then please come along, it’s so good to talk!
Becca Maberly is a co-founder of A Mother Place who offer FREE Online Antenatal Classes to everyone! http://amotherplace.com/
Published originally in January 2017