I'd like to start by saying that this isn't about questioning the love, devotion and care you give your children. It's not really about the children at all, it's about you. As a mother and as a person. It might even be about your friend who had a baby a week ago or the one who is due in a few weeks.
It might even be about me.
I was at a conference day recently were Sally Hogg, lead for pregnancy and babies at the NSPCC and Vice Chair of Maternal Mental Health Alliance talked about perinatal mental health. It covered the spectrum though, it didn't slap the term 'PND' on everything. It looked at the differences, the signs and even some of the statistical causes or influences. The talk was brilliant and insightful, but there was one thing, one sentence that struck me, and after a few conversations with other mothers we all were a bit saddened and surprised that we were just as much to blame.
Something that is heavily promoted to us as mothers is happiness and enjoyment. We never really see that there can be anything else. We are never confronted with the other emotions until we read the newspaper and read about another new mother and baby falling to their death. We dodge that other reality as if we might catch it by uttering - I feel sad sometimes too.
The adverts are laden with beaming smiling mothers, looking down adoringly at their perfect pink, smiling, plump babies who certainly sleep from 7-7. That is supposed to be you, right?
Well meaning friends, family, strangers and health care professionals say things like:
Aren't they just lovely?
Such a blessing!
They can't help but make you smile!
I bet you are just so happy!
Are you enjoying it?
Are you loving being a mother?
Are you enjoying motherhood?
Notice a theme? The typical response to all of these is 'Yes'. We feel like that should be our response, that should be how we feel.
It is an emotionally overwhelming time and yes there are periods of deep joy but it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Yet that is exactly what we can't and don't say. We never say 'Actually I cried for 3 hours because my biscuit fell into my cold tea'.
We don't allow ourselves the freedom and safety to say 'I haven't slept in 900 hours, my nipples are red raw and I'm not enjoying this right now. Not today'.
We never utter the words 'I don't know if I love my baby yet'.
What makes it worse is parents, just like me, begin to perpetuate this. We ask the same questions we loathed ourselves, we begin to reinforce the notion that motherhood and enjoyment are bed fellows.
Is it because we are too scared to admit the truth?
Is there now such a stigma attached to mental health post birth that any mum who might need someone to talk to, who needs some help cannot step forward. Can we not admit we are struggling for fear of someone pointing fingers, calling out PND and therefore telling the world you are not the mother you thought you might be? You are in fact a terrible mother because you are not smiling 100% of your day? Is the stigma and fear stronger than a mothers needs to feel as if she is protecting herself and her babies? Even at the detriment of her own health?
Yes. Yes the stigma is that strong.
There already has been, and will be countless more mothers who smile for the camera, nod for the passersby, make tea for the endless streams of visitors, while just under the surface they are contemplating something drastic. Just under the surface they hold on to the secret that motherhood is not what they thought it might be. Just beneath the smile there is the knowledge that she isn't enjoying this, but she should be, right?
Next time we bump in to a new mum, how about we all stop pushing the need to enjoy motherhood forward. Maybe try something a little more real. Try something that doesn't help perpetuate that awful suggestion. Let's try to accept the truth, it's not like we all don't know about the days that seem harder than most.
Be empathetic, listen - really listen. If you are a parent you know how you really felt. Did you enjoy it every minute? Probably not. Yes there is enjoyment in each day, but not all day every day. It is about time that we were a little more honest and maybe that honesty can save a life. Maybe that honesty can help someone. Maybe that honesty can begin to change things for the mothers that follow in our foot steps.
It is exhausting, it it hard, it can be long, it can be thankless, it can be emotional, it can make you cry in the shower. It can make you frustrated, angry, happy, sad, it can make you feel lost and alone.
It can be incredible and enjoyable too, but it's not all happiness, joy and elation.
So, I am asking you, I am imploring you, next time you see a mum out with her new baby don't just straight to the enjoyment of it all. You never know what is going on underneath.