Feeling unsettled about your completely transformed life with your newborn? Wishing that you could wave a magic wand and just go back to the way things were? You could be suffering from WHID Syndrome.
Which of course, is a completely fictional, unrecognised condition – but as everyone seems way more comfortable if a new mum’s feelings can be labelled as something, then let’s call it WHID or What Have I Done Syndrome for now.
Throughout pregnancy I was told countless times about this overwhelming rush of love that I would feel upon meeting my new baby. By the time my due date was approaching, I’d imagined what this amazing rush would be like. I suspected that if it didn’t arrive the second he was born, then it would catch me up later. I’d be doing something fairly mundane like hanging out washing, or perusing varieties of digestive biscuits in Tesco when all of a sudden this luminescent, ethereal figure would descend from the sky, sprinkle me with magical dust and I’d get this amazing glowing feeling that would leave me tingling from head to toe. Once I’d been sprinkled, I’d know I’d felt “it” for sure and I would never see, hear or feel things in the same way ever again. I would then spend the next few years floating around in this loved up, post-partum haze of joy.
And then he arrived. Ta-daaaa! And all I felt was knackered, emotionally hollow, and like someone had punched me in the fanny whilst wearing a knuckle-duster.
But I wasn’t too concerned about the absence of the love dust at first. It’ll all come after you’ve had a bit of sleep, they assured me. So I slept….nope, still nothing. Sore fanny – check. Knackered – check. Emotionally hollow – check. And that was it.
For the next few days I just stared with bewilderment at this tiny human who I suddenly found myself sharing my life and my boobs with, feeling a steadily growing, rather uncomfortable mixture of resentment, regret and…well, just nothing much else really. Where was this massive thunderbolt that was supposed to happen? Wasn’t this thunderbolt/magic dust/rush of love the only thing that would help me get through the trauma and the sleep deprivation and all the crying? Why had Mother Nature fucked up my order?
I turned to my trusted pal Google for some answers, creating a browsing history that would surely have seen me on Trafford Social Services watch list had it fallen into the wrong hands;
Not bonding with newborn
Don’t feel love for new baby
Hate new baby
Missing old life post-baby
Regretting having baby
British Airways flights to New York (yes really – at 3 am one morning, I contemplated a flit to another country as an actual feasible solution to all of this!)
A trusty internet search engine can normally solve most modern day problems, from what the fuck “on fleek” actually means, to how to cook the perfect Beef Wellington. However on this occasion it just wasn’t coming up with the goods. Nobody else seemed to be in the same place as me, feeling vast amounts of nothingness, mourning a life left behind and just generally feeling, well, a bit sad.
Everybody else on the internet was either having very serious feelings on a clinical scale, or else they were more loved up than Hacienda-goers circa 1992. Why was there no middle ground?
Let’s start first with those happy, loved up baby-bearers. Social media was full of friends, acquaintances and celebrities who’d had babies around the same time as me, but nobody seemed to be finding it that hard to adjust. In stark contrast, the rest of the childbearing world seemed to be cracking on very nicely with new parenthood thank you very much. I trawled through all the Instagram pics of smiling mums in fresh pyjamas, clutching their new additions with grins as wide as their c-section scars. Every hashtag compounded the fact that I was clearly just crap. Each #blessed felt like a smack in the face. My hashtag would’ve said #thisisfuckingshit
Then there were the people who were at the other end of the spectrum. I read article after article about that condition that I might’ve had but dare not speak its name in case it came true. It was like Candyman – if I said Post Natal Depression out loud then it might just appear. Did I have PND? I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t deliriously happy about the arrival of my baby, so surely I fell into this category? Did I have to pick which side I was on? After a week of going through symptom checklists I eventually came to the conclusion that I probably didn’t have it for a variety of reasons. And so I continued, and just got up each day, cared for my baby in a functional way, but felt no connection whatsoever with him because I just wanted my old life back.
I was one of the lucky ones, I was reminded. I’d had a textbook birth, which resulted in a beautiful healthy baby boy, I should be happy. I should be grateful. Didn’t I know about all the people who longed to have what I’m so nonchalant about? Of course, I knew this was true, but it still left me unable to explain why I felt so empty about everything.
The only answers I could find lay in chat room discussions at ridiculous hours of the morning, because let’s face it – 4am is the witching hour of the new parent! I discovered a myriad of mummies (and a few dads as well) who were speaking out about how they felt about the arrival of their new baby and – just like me – they weren’t particularly over the moon about the disruption, the chaos or the sleep deprivation that had been thrust upon them. One mum wrote something like “We planned our baby, she is well cared for and loved but I wasn’t prepared for how much she would dominate our lives. I continually find myself missing how things used to be and feeling I’ve made a huge mistake that can’t be undone now.” Another lady described it as all the pieces of her life being thrown up in the air and falling back down in a random mess that she just didn’t recognise.
Yes, I thought! This is me, and exactly how I feel! As I read further, more and more people were saying the same thing. Once someone started off sharing, it gave courage to all the others that were previously afraid to speak. Here we all were at 4am – Selfish Arseholes Anonymous. One mum of a three week old baby owned up to having a packed suitcase full of essentials in her car boot, ready for the day when it all got too much.
But just like my unbooked flight to New York, she never quite made it either. Once the murky mists of sleep deprivation had passed, and once the 4am outpourings had been shared we all had one thing in common; we all got up in the morning and carried on. We fed, we changed nappies, and we tried to do our best to keep our new hatchlings alive and well for another day. And whilst we did it we probably cried a bit, or shouted at our partners, or possibly even both because deep down we were wishing we could just go out for a spontaneous run, or nip to the pub, or sit down and watch TV for half an hour completely uninterrupted, and have a brew that we actually manage to drink before it goes cold.
I’m fairly sure that nobody ever stares at a shitty nappy thinking they’ve totally won at life. No, we actually feel a bit pissed off and a bit sad that this is our life now for the next few years at least. And actually – what I wish someone had told me is this: It’s OK to feel a bit sad because sometimes, being a parent IS a bit crap and life pre-baby WAS probably much easier!
So if you’re reading this at 4am, staring at your baby and feeling shit that you’re not in the New Mummy Delight Club, and worrying that you might have PND because of this then relax – embrace the (again – completely fictional) diagnosis of WHID Syndrome and be assured that there are some easy ways to treat it:-
1. Firstly, accept that it’s pretty normal and that you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. It doesn’t make you ungrateful or a bad person for lamenting over your old life. Your old life was probably a pretty great one involving gin, a disposable income and being able to go for a shit in peace. Well who wouldn’t miss that?!
2. Keep the channels of communication open with your midwife, your health visitor and your partner/friends/family. Contrary to popular belief, health professionals don’t have social services on speed dial, on standby to whip your baby off you the minute you admit you’re not loving life. They actually recognise that this upheaval is pretty normal. If they (or you) spot anything that just might be PND then they will be able to support you. Similarly your partner or friends might actually be relieved to hear you say “Christ this is grim” and then everyone can drop the façade that becoming a new parent is all just snuggling your baby and eating lemon drizzle cake all day, because it’s actually fucking hard!
3. Disregard all social media posts that depict the perfect life and the wonders of being a parent. It’s not reality and serves only to make you feel as though you’re doing it all wrong. In the same way that nobody’s Facebook profile picture is ever a photo of them hungover, vomiting into the cat litter tray with their Disney pyjamas on, nobody is going to show the gritty, shitty side of new motherhood which usually involve eye bags you could use for your entire Aldi shop, and the toilet bowl looking like a scene from Hostel every time you attempt a poo. It’s all bollocks, and in the words of Public Enemy “Don’t Believe the Hype”
4. Do what makes YOU feel normal and ignore the Should Sharks. You know the ones who say things like “Oh, you should go to Baby Massage and get out the house because you need fresh air really” or “Going back to the gym so soon? You really should rest you know, because new mums shouldn’t exercise so soon…blah blah fucking blah!” So go to baby massage, or don’t. Go to the gym, or don’t. Abseil from a building dressed as Batman, or don’t. Stay holed up at home, or go out and paint the town – just find your normal, whatever that happens to be.
I got through the worst of my WHID Syndrome by having frank and open chats with my Health Visitor, staying off Instagram for a bit, and establishing a near-sexual relationship with white chocolate Magnums that lasted most of summer. I’ll never be completely cured though, as WHID is recognised as a chronic condition that will probably stay with you until the day you wave your baby off to Uni and turn his room into a walk-in wardrobe. I’m afraid to say that symptoms can only be managed and not completely eradicated. Things that are known to cause the odd flare up are:
- Those rare English sunny hot days, which result in the temptation to sit in beer gardens and drink Corona all day rather than breastfeed/be responsible for a child
- Indie bands from your youth getting their act together for a comeback gig that’s not in your hometown but technically still near enough for you to attend. If you could stay away for the whole night, obviously. Or get really pissed on Red Stripe. Or were able to do Britpop-style bouncing up and down without your uterus falling out in the middle of Leeds Academy.
- Awareness of purchases that would have once been doable. Admittedly extravagant purchases that would’ve meant beans on toast for dinner until the next payday, but still doable. Sort of. But on maternity pay? Massive LOLZ!!
So when an attack of WHID strikes, allow yourself a bit of wallowing time (anything from an hour to a day is OK, any more than that and you might want to have a chat with your Health Visitor ) and then I’m afraid you’ll just have to suck it up buttercup. That Corona isn’t going to be sipped in the sunshine, that designer bag isn’t coming to live with you, and you might just have to download the band’s latest album on iTunes. Your time will come again, but those things aren’t gonna happen for you right at this moment. You have a far greater and more important task to focus on, and you’re the centre of that little person’s universe. And that feeling has got to taste better than warm Red Stripe!