I have created a whole world of doodles laughing about the fact that I (er...I mean Beta Mummy...not based on reality at all...ahem) can't really cope with my kids, that my life has been turned entirely on its head by family life, and that basically I am one big mess. I write and doodle to make people laugh - and people do! They identify with me, they laugh at (with?!) me - and let's face it, a huge proportion of the issues that affect parents every day are funny. Or at least have a funny side, even if it's several days/weeks/months/years later that you manage to find it!
But what about when life is not fun? What about when you look around you, and everyone else seems to be coping with the ups and downs of the everyday, but you find yourself feeling alone and struggling to manage?
She is the mum that everyone aspires to be. She looks great, having lost that baby weight within minutes of giving birth (naturally and with no drugs or collateral damage). Her baby is perfect and contented and feeds/sleeps/shits like clockwork. She glides into Baby Sensory class, skinny latte in the cup holder of her designer pram, a beatific smile upon her perfectly made-up face, and has a kind or helpful word for everyone in the room. You know the type.
She is only at Baby Sensory because somebody gave a voucher for a free trial, and she thought she should force herself to go because otherwise Feral Baby would surely grow up to be a complete moron having been subjected to far too much daytime TV in his formative weeks. Also there might be biscuits. She arrives at the class late, because... baby, and has her top on back to front over her milk-stained maternity leggings. Her hair is an embarrassment and she can't quite remember when she last had a shower... You know the type.
I am Beta Mummy, as regular readers will well know - and I am in total awe of Alpha Mummy. That woman sure has her shit together. When I had my first baby, I would look at the Alpha mums out and about and wonder how does she do it? Why can't I be like her? How has she managed to get her nails and roots done, whilst I'm lucky to go to the loo and clean my teeth in the mornings? Where am I going wrong? She is such a natural mother. I'm a terrible mother - I don't even LIKE my baby very much (oh my god did I think that out loud?). I'm a truly bad person. I don't deserve to have this beautiful little baby. Other people would give anything to have a child and I don't even want mine. I wish someone would come and take him away. But if I tell anyone that I'm feeling like this - Social Services WILL take him away! That can't happen. I won't tell anyone. Pull yourself together love, you got yourself into this mess.
What you don't know, when you look at Alpha Mummy, is that she probably doesn't have all her shit together. Sure, she might look great on the surface, but that smile can hide all sorts of anxieties and insecurities. Like you, she probably feels like her body will never be the same again. Like you, she worries that she is not enough. Like you, she wants to be a good mum but now she is faced with an ever-hungry, red-faced, puking shit-machine (because I guarantee that little snoozing angel you always see is not like that all the time), she wonders whether she is really up to the job.
Out and about, online, in coffee shops or at groups, talk. Drink tea, eat cake, and talk. Reach out, connect. If you're struggling, please, please tell somebody. When asked if you're ok, take a deep breath and say "I'm not sure". I know it's hard, but believe me, life will seem easier if you share that load. You are not alone.
Don't be intimidated by the Alpha Mummy you meet - she might really need somebody right now. If you know someone who you suspect might not be 100% fine, talk to them. Gently. Don't just ask if they're feeling ok - the automatic response will be "yes thanks". Tell them that it's ok not to be ok. Tell them again. Be their friend.
Life is full of spectrums (grammar note: spectra or spectrums can be used interchangeably as the plural of spectrum). I love a spectrum. Mental health is a spectrum - not everyone who is feeling low after having a baby has PND, and not everyone with PND feels low all of the time. Some people with PND will recover, in time, with perseverance and courage and love and support. Others will need professional help of one form or another. I like to think of the Alpha - Beta Mummy spectrum to describe how there is no true Alpha Mummy and no true Beta Mummy, but we all lie somewhere in between. And this is very important:
Alpha Mummy does not equal perfect mother.
Beta Mummy does not equal terrible mother.
We are enough. We are all enough.
I strongly believe that breaking down the taboo of PND is something that we can all help with. Did you know that 10% of all women suffer from pre- or post-natal depression at some point?! If you're one of them, you're not alone.
The PANDAS Foundation supports women and families affected by perinatal mental illnesses.
They have a phone line open 9am - 8pm manned by trained volunteers (0843 28 98 401), an email helpline, and various online and social media communities to help sufferers of PND and their partners and loved ones.
All images Beta Mummy