It’s Maternal Mental Health Week this week (1st – 7th May 2017) and I wanted to try to spread a really simple message to mums based on my experiences of post-natal mental health.
When I became a mum for the first time, I felt SO grateful, and I was SO IN LOVE, but I really struggled to adjust to life with a child…
I so desperately wanted to be super mum. You know, the confident mums that you see on Facebook, with happy families and a perfect, happy life. Their babies sleep through the night and they had a really great routine that affords them some alone time to do what they want to do. They got back to their pre-baby weight within a few weeks, and they look well-rested and healthy. Their children never misbehaved and they’re still as loving to their partners as they’ve always been.
Why did I feel so different?
– I was beating myself up for opting for an epidural. (I’d wanted a ‘natural’ birth.)
– I was wildly disappointed that I couldn’t breastfeed. (I’d wanted to breastfeed.)
– I was rejecting offers of help. (I didn’t want anyone thinking I couldn’t cope.)
I missed my sleep.
I missed my social life.
I missed my date nights with hubby.
I missed my work.
I missed my pre-pregnancy body.
I missed my energy.
I missed my freedom.
I missed me.
I didn’t want to go out.
I didn’t want to see anyone.
I was emotional.
I was sensitive.
I was grumpy.
I was jealous of happy mums.
I wasn’t enjoying my new life.
I wasn’t enjoying maternity leave.
I wasn’t enjoying being a parent.
I felt lonely.
I felt trapped.
I felt weak.
I felt overwhelmed.
I felt judged.
I felt unhappy.
I felt guilty.
I felt like a failure.
I felt like my baby was better off without me as their mum.
It wasn’t until I reached out to a couple of my friends about how I was feeling, that I realised that I really was NOT ALONE. I realised that those pictures of happy families are not always as they seem, and all that guilt, loneliness and fear I was feeling, was totally NORMAL. I was comforted by the fact that I wasn’t the only one feeling like that.
I was so grateful to those two friends who seem to make my doubts and fears feel less heavy on my shoulders with just a few words of reassurance.
It took me 5 months to feel even marginally like me again, and when I did it was like a switch had been pressed in my brain. In the same week that I plucked up the courage to make a GP appointment, everything seemed a little bit less overwhelming.
Nearly 5 years later, and a couple of days after we added another baby to the mix, another one of my good friends advised me to “be kind to yourself.” Feeling a little scared that I might feel a little down again, these four little words really resonated with me, and I decided that that would be my mantra to get me through this period of sleepless nights and processing of the overwhelming emotions.
For me, being kind to myself meant:
- Buying healthy pre-prepared food so I made sure I nourished myself and didn’t get hungry.
- Buying myself a few nursing clothes so I felt more confident feeding in public.
- Getting up a bit earlier and putting make up on even though I didn’t plan on leaving the house.
- Getting hair extensions to cover my diminishing head of hair.
- Allowing myself to ignore the to do list sometimes and watch films all day instead.
- Going to Buggyfit classes to help me get stronger and to get me out of the house.
- Saying yes to help so I could get some sleep.
For you, being kind to yourself may be a completely different list of things, but it ultimately means the same. Do something nice for you. A happy mum, a happy baby.
Of course I still have bad days – everyone does. I experience moments where I just want to stay in bed all day and shut the world out, I sometimes want to scream so loud that the whole neighbourhood can hear it, and there are days where I just want to run away from everything and escape life.
I have learned now, that rather than looking back on that period of stress as a dark time, to look back on my first baby’s emergency forcep birth as a triumph. I’ve learned to stop worrying so much about what other people think, and to cherish my little family every day for what it is (frantic school runs, messy rooms, huge mountains of dirty washing, night feeds, take aways, lots of fun and love) rather than over-think and second-guess everything.
If like I was, you’re feeling a little down about parenthood, try to be kind to yourself. Think about opening up to a friend or get advice from a health visitor or doctor. You’ve completed an awesome feat of nature by birthing your child, and your life will feel a little crazy for while. But, no matter how you birthed your baby, and however you are choosing to nourish them, you can pat yourself firmly on the back for what you have achieved. You are doing an amazing job at bringing up your child/ren, and they think you are no less than perfect.
Be kind to yourself.