We all know that when someone asks us how we are, they don't really want to hear the answer.
Unless they're a really close friend, then the standard answer is that you're fine. Or we might go a step further and say that we're great. What we probably won't say is that the baby kept us awake all night or we're worrying we might not be cut out for this parenting lark or our bank balance (or lack of) is keeping us awake at night.
This practice of putting a positive spin on things on it is so ingrained, sometimes you can even find yourself doing it to people who really do want to know how you're doing, warts and all. The Everything's Fine conspiracy starts in childhood. Think back to French lessons in school. You were immediately taught to bat off any enquiries of 'Ça va?' with 'Ça va bien merci' even if what you were really thinking was how much you were hating every moment of your French oral.
My own tendency to put a positive spin on things comes from university. I vividly remember overhearing two close friends (trusted confidantes I thought I could tell anything to) talking about how I was always negative and they were sick of my moaning. I'm sure they have completely forgotten that conversation but that brief eavesdropped snippet has lived with me ever since. From that day on, I tried to only tell them the good stuff because I reasoned that they obviously weren't that interested in the bad.
Social media makes putting a brave face on it even easier. Sunny picture of your kids playing in the park? Whack it on Facebook.... Feel like you're drowning under your never-ending to-do list? Better keep that quiet unless you want to be seen as an attention seeker.
The Everything's Fine conspiracy is all very well (and let's face it, it's very British to keep a stiff upper lip in a crisis) until things are REALLY NOT FINE and you don't tell anyone. And with new parents, it can be downright dangerous.
Statistics vary but in the UK anything from one in 10 to one in three new mums will suffer from postnatal depression. I consider myself extremely lucky that after having three children, I managed to get away with nothing more serious than a few spells of the baby blues but many of my friends weren't so fortunate.
The problem with the Everything's Fine conspiracy is that it makes it really hard to speak out about how you're really feeling. The midwife or health visitor who pops over to check you and baby are okay in the days after the birth, she really wants to know how you're feeling but it's so easy to just keep putting on a brave face because that is what we feel is expected of us. When everyone is queuing up to congratulate you and telling you how lucky you are to have such a gorgeous baby, it can feel almost impossible to tell them that actually you're not enjoying parenthood, that you're worried you don't love your baby or you're consumed by a crippling anxiety that something bad is going to happen to them.
One of the best things that ever happened to me when I became a parent was finding a tribe of women I could tell the truth to. I could admit my shortcomings and they didn't judge me. We could admit over a cup of coffee that life wasn't all Pinterest-worthy parenting ideas and gorgeous photos but sometimes it was more about cleaning up after an exploding nappy incident, secretly stuffing our faces with biscuits in the kitchen and knuckling down until bedtime.
The early days of having a baby are pretty much about basic survival. If you've managed to get out of bed and keep the baby alive, then you're doing okay. And if you've had a shower, got dressed and left the house, then you're a superstar.
If you want to help a new mum, the best thing you can do is be honest. Let her tell you the bad stuff without batting her off with cliches and platitudes about how amazing motherhood is. Admit to her that time your baby rolled off the sofa or the time you were stranded in a car park with a poo-nami, no baby wipes and nothing but your cunning and a pair of socks to sort it out.
Of course, being honest won't stop women suffering from PND. But perhaps if we were all a little bit more truthful, people might find it easier to admit when they're struggling so they can get the help they need.
You can read more of Catherine Ball's posts on her personal blog