Well, you certainly learn something new every day! Or at the very least, read about something different on the internet most days. I just read that today is Maternal Mental Health Awareness day, which reminded me about just how important this subject is.
Making babies is rollercoaster stuff. Emotionally and physically it’s tough going and all change. Family, friend and relationship dynamics change and that feeling of tiredness can be chronic. There’s lots of feeding, washing and soothing to be done – and that’s before you go anywhere near the nurturing and bonding part of the job. It’s overwhelming and scary – it can be very lonely. And if it’s your first baby, it’s a very steep learning curve.
I feel the need to state the fact that I know there are thousands and thousands of positive items to be added to the list in support of having a baby – I’ve had more than one, so be assured, I know that. But for this particular piece, can I put those many positives to one side? Can I assure you I know how lucky I am to have a baby, I get how wonderful it is and I appreciate the fact that I am a Mum? Thanks. Because, much like in the case of the awful affliction that is depression, there can be nothing worse than being honest about how low you can, on occasion, feel, without being reminded of how blessed you are or how lucky you are to be in that position at all. Take it that I get that. But everyone, for the sake of their mental health, needs to feel they can get things off their chest.
I am not an expert – I’m not a psychologist, I never suffered from post-natal depression, which must be the depths of awfulness – and so I can only talk from personal experience. I just know it’s bloody tough and we need to be saying that a little bit more.
I recently told a friend about my experience of, what I term ‘the rage’. After my first was born, my poor husband was subject to what I term ‘the rage’ on several occasions. I would long for him to get home from work so that we could hug and I could tell him about my day, but often that much-anticipated moment went as follows:
I sit on the couch with baby, pining for him to come home.
He clicks open the door; ‘I’m home’
I am immediately annoyed (internal monologue): Why is he so irritating? Why did we get married at all?? What has happened to my life???
Him, peeking around the sitting room door: ‘How was ye’r day?’
Me, even after a perfectly lovely, calm day (he was a good baby); ‘Arrggggghhhhhhhhhh’ (or grunts to that effect – with/without tears).
Didn’t seem to frighten him off, thank God, but I had these immense feelings of frustration and I was tired & cranky and I definitely felt I needed to justify my day at home and I was probably a little jealous of his freedom and ‘outside’ life. I just couldn’t quite see that at the time – because, really, all you have the ability to see is this new baby you’re in charge of.
A few weeks ago I was telling a friend about ‘the rage’ and turns out she had it too! Just on her third pregnancy. Just aimed at her husband. He’d offer to put on the kettle, she’d wonder why the hell he was so annoying. Then she gave birth and PING. It was gone. Phew!
My precious, precious first born. The best of times, the hardest of times
You see, we hear about the dreaded ‘day 3’ baby blues and the not feeling bonded with baby – but sometimes you’re perfectly bonded and pretty balanced most of the time, yet things still aren’t right. And that’s normal. Sometimes you’ve no-one to share your experiences with or you’re afraid you’ll be judged or you’re told ‘you’ll get over it’. You might even think that what you’re going through is insignificant, but it’s not. Because on the tightrope of birth and early motherhood, insignificant can sink the ship.
According to the HSE (Ireland’s Health Service Executive) 15% of women experience post natal depression. That’s more than 1 in 7. On top of that, a whole bunch of other women experience feelings somewhere lower on the scale.
I listen to a great podcast – The High Low – and several weeks ago they talked about feeling down in the dumps in pregnancy, which is not spoken about enough. Often, when you’re at your roughest during the first three months, you can’t talk to anyone about it. I certainly felt relatively deflated in the first four months of my pregnancies. Mix together not feeling well with a plunge in energy and top with a generous sprinkling of anxiety and you have a recipe for disquiet. The physical changes are also a lot to take on – particularly in a society which loves women to be slim. At a steady rate you’re growing in several directions, feeling bumbly and awkward while trying to look in some way presentable in jeans that don’t zip up and tops that won’t stay down. Strangers telling you you’re ‘blooming’ is not a help, thank you very much, as you waddle around the supermarket trying to pretend you’re not already scoffing that ‘sharing’ size packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Women already find it quite hard to love their bodies, so of course some of us will find it super-hard to accept and live with a whole new and larger one. Pregnancy body dysmorphia anyone? Can we officially make that a thing? Research in the UK shows that 27% of pregnant women suffer from mental health problems – we can safely assume that Irish levels are similar.
Being told you are lucky and blessed and it will pass – however well intentioned – doesn’t really help. Believe me, mothers feel lucky every hour of every day (underneath the exhaustion and mild confusion). Instead, can you please just nod, acknowledge that it’s not always easy and maybe squeeze my hand?
Some of us Mums will need a lot of help and that’s OK. It’s OK not to feel OK. Some of us Mums will need just a little bit of empathy – and maybe the odd hot dinner. Whatever it is we’re feeling, we should be talking about it – I think we’d all soon see we’re not alone.
You’ll get the High Low Podcast which looks at the Myth of the Pregnancy Glow by clicking here: The Pregnancy Glow Myth
Cura offers help, support and advice for mums who are feeling alone, anxious or exhausted – find out more here: Cura Services
Aware offer help for people experiencing depression – find out more here: Aware Services