I never thought I would ever have to consider my mental health. I’ve always been chipper, always coped with whatever life has thrown at me, albeit it with a few curve balls, but I muddled through and my resilience grew with the years.
Then I had The Babe. And I’ve questioned myself, and my mental health, each and everyday since her arrival. So I wanted to throw my ten pence into the jar in anticipation of World Maternal Mental Health Day on Wednesday 2nd May.
This isn’t an inspirational post about suffering with Postnatal Depression (PND) and getting through it, this is simply me being honest about my mental state in general after we were blown up by The Babe bomb. Because as resilient as you think you are, and however much you think you’re ‘coping’, a lack of sleep will always affect one’s judgement.
I remember a week or two post-capture going for a walk with The Husband and Babe and him saying to me: “you need to let me take her for an hour (she would only sleep on us then) so you can get a few hours to yourself”, and I cried. Not out of gratitude because the man who was equally responsible for getting us into this sleep-deprived situation should offer to watch the tiny terrorist for a few hours, but out of desperation because I didn’t think he would be able to cope with such responsibility, I firmly believed I was the only one capable of keeping her alive, and happy. Insane right?
My new Mama brain kicked in from the word go - my primordial instincts had me on edge over everything: driving in the car, letting anyone hold her, grabbing her back the instant she showed any signs of distress or discomfort. I physically ached if she started crying and I wasn’t the one comforting her.
I felt like I’d started the new-parent journey with one arm tied behind my back; the rational part of my brain went on holiday around the time I got pregnant. Add into the fray a new baby (which in itself turns your world upside down) and I soon found myself suspended in a viscous cloud of uncertainty and self-doubt, all of which I deemed ‘normal’ given the current situation. In fact even now I would be concerned if anyone doesn’t feel a little odd during those first few months.
Five months in and I love being Mama. I am truly besotted with my daughter, verging on the edge of obsession. I love everything about her, from her bizarre throaty chuckle when she spies my boobs, to her straining, animalistic grunts when she’s having a bowel movement, and all that entails ‘having a baby’: the sick, the drought of ‘me time’, the inability to shower or poop alone, the frantic cries when (even after she’s been surrounded by toys and entertainment) I deign to duck out of the room momentarily. And it’s non-stop.
Once you get passed the newborn phase you’re straight into phase two (and so on I assume until they leave home). You have to be on 24/7 (whether you want to or not). It’s the mother’s curse to not be able to switch off, even when someone else takes over. I find myself when I’m not with The Babe, when I’ve acquired five minutes of much coveted free time constantly thinking about her. She’s exquisitely addictive, and it’s exhausting.
I don’t have depression, I don’t have PND, but I have down days. Dear god do I have down days. We are all actively encouraged to talk about diagnosable mental health issues, (NCT is brilliant at raising awareness around PND, especially the signs and symptoms to look out for) yet I get the impression that it’s frowned upon to discuss the banal side of parenting: the loneliness, the boredom, the constant self-doubt, the seemingly endless groundhog days and the dreaded hours between 4-7pm when you wait, with bated breath, for the relief to stroll in the door and take over baby-care.
This has a profound effect on one’s mental health, it has to. It does on mine for sure. Yet every time a parent blogger raises their head above the parapet and makes light of this banality, (black humour is such a wonderful coping mechanism) the haters are quick to jump all over them, accusing them of being bad parents, of encouraging sloppy parenting and not appreciating what they have because they aren’t grateful EACH AND EVERY SECOND. And it instills a sense of fear, a belief that you must be doing something wrong if you aren’t enjoying every moment of it.
Being a new parent is tough, so incredibly tough, and admitting that doesn’t mean that we are ungrateful for the wonderful gift we have been given/monster we have created/acquired, because we feel and experience negativity from time to time, that isn’t the case at all. It simply isn’t humanly possible to be positive and grateful and love EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF EVERY SINGLE DAY, I’d think you mad if you did.
So don’t feed the beast of unobtainable parenting goals. Be honest with yourself and those around you, admit some days are great and some days are awful; some days you wish you had thousands of little beings and some days you question why you have any at all. And understand that this is normal. Perfectly normal. And help raise awareness for those who might think otherwise.