This statement has been said and shared a lot recently to get people talking about mental health and to reduce its stigma. As a healthcare professional, I am definitely an advocate of doing this, and now as a new mother, I am able to relate to it. I haven’t personally suffered with post natal depression but I have found my post natal journey tough. I have definitely struggled at times and although I am generally quite an open and honest person, certainly the ‘problem shared is a problem halved’ type. However, it hasn’t necessarily always been easy for me to talk about how I was feeling. Writing down my experience and feelings in this blog has helped me make sense of it all.
As new mothers, all our thoughts, time and energy is focused on the new baby, so it can be hard to recognise when you are not ok yourself. It can be difficult to even know where to start to explain how you’re feeling, let alone have the confidence to open up about it. It may just be easier to play it down, I certainly felt like this at times. I also think that as new mothers, what you feel and what you think you should feel can be two very different things. But keeping all of those emotions to yourself and trying to be that ‘perfect mum’ can be draining and the reality may be very different.
For all the highs and the lows, the last 9 months really have been amazing. I’m so lucky to have such a healthy, beautiful, thriving daughter and the support of my husband, family and friends. Becoming a mother I have learnt so much about myself and now definitely have a different perspective on life. I know that by no means has my post natal journey been the hardest, and that there are so many other women and families out there who have had much worse experiences, but I have still found motherhood hard. I have always wanted to be the best version of myself for Evelyn. Now I can appreciate that sometimes just being honest with how you are feeling is being the best version of yourself. During those tough days when I felt alone in how I was feeling, other women sharing how they had felt gave me great comfort and helped me feel less lonely. In fact, by sharing how I have felt, I hope to do the same.
“Baby baby baby!” is what I said over and over again immediately after Evelyn was born. I can joke about this now, but it actually took me a while to discuss it. I obviously knew that a baby was coming, the massive belly and constant kicking in the bladder was a bit of a give away! But when she arrived, I hadn’t expected to feel so stunned. I felt somewhat in a state of shock. I’m not sure whether it was the trauma of labour, the lack of sleep or the fact that we were in the middle of a snowstorm, but it was all a bit of a surreal blur! In fact the biggest thing that sticks out in my mind from when Evelyn was first born, is Rob wanting to get a hat on her ASAP. I thought that something was wrong with her head at the time but it transpired that Rob just wanted to keep her warm! I experienced a kind of numbness to everything. When I would think back to these feelings, I felt guilty for them. But now I have realised that ultimately, you can’t control how you are going to react and feel after your body and mind has been pushed to it’s ultimate limit. Personally, I needed to acknowledge, accept and appreciate this in order to recover and move on.
“What if I do it wrong?”, “Am I doing it right?”, “Is something bad going to happen?”. These 3 questions probably sum up the motherhood fears that I’ve had. Especially in those first 24 hours, I was worried that I would do things wrong. Even holding Evelyn made me feel nervous. Everything is new and scary and when your partner goes home you’re left to figure it all out. I remember not knowing whether I should even leave for a minute to go to the toilet or whether I should try and sleep in case something happened to her. In the whirlwind of ‘surviving’, everything seemed like rocket science. All the weird but normal things that newborns do, all of the crying (both her and me), the breastfeeding, the nappies, the bathing, the dressing, the swaddling, the room temperature…its confusing and overwhelming. The amount of questions that I have asked google about it is pretty embarrassing!
In the steep learning curve of parenthood, personally, learning to deal with fears that you didn’t know existed is probably pretty high up. With the overwhelming love, comes the overbearing fear of whether something truly awful may happen. But as people say, you never stop worrying as a parent, so I’m going to have to learn to live with it! Looking back sometimes my fears may have been a bit irrational…when Evelyn was a few days old, despite being 5 minutes away from home, I felt that we had no other option but to pull over because I was worried Evelyn had been in her car seat for too long and as a result would stop breathing. Although Rob had thought that may be a bit drastic, I’m glad that he just pulled over without hesitation!
At the end of the day we are all just finding our feet and doing our best. And for every exciting new stage comes more questions and worries. But ultimately, all you can do is trust your instincts, as mum really does know best!
Not just feeling tired, but feeling so overwhelmingly and completely fatigued to the point of tears, delirium and maybe even being physically unwell! I had thought I knew tiredness. You’d think that years of shift working and nights on junior doctor rotas would have prepared me. But no, everything else is pale in comparison to the tiredness of being a mum. You just never seem to be able to recover. First running on adrenaline but then slowly running on empty. For me, my first response to stress is difficulty sleeping. Even at my most exhausted, my anxiety can keep me wide awake. This was especially noticed after childbirth. I would lay half way down the bed so that I was in line with Evelyn in her Moses basket, on my side looking at her all night, probably only briefly sleeping. I can laugh now, but I remember being annoyed at Rob for not doing the same when Evelyn ‘slept on his side’. He reminded me that he couldn’t see her when he was asleep so did it matter if he was in line and facing her?! Then even when I managed to drop off to sleep, Evelyn would soon wake me whether to breastfeeding or due to all her strange noises! But even when she was quiet and sleeping, I would be worried that she was sleeping too much (especially because of the jaundice) and that she was still breathing!
For me, the lack of sleep has been what I have struggled with the most. I now understand why they use sleep deprivation as a torture tool! At times the lack of sleep would tip my fine balance of just about managing, to not coping. Everything is so much harder when you are completely exhausted. Reasoning, rationale and happiness can go right out the window. During those times, accepting a break was the only way that I could get through it. Nevertheless, what I also found so frustrating was that even when her sleep would improve I still felt exhausted. I’d still wake multiple times to express or because my body clock was used to it. I think that you are so depleted of sleep as a new mother, that a good night here and there isn’t enough to make up for the long term sleep deprivation. I’ll talk about our sleep journey in a lot more detail in a separate blog, as it’s such a huge part, but to summarise – the amount of sleep I get is definitely proportional to my mood!
As expected, during those first 2 weeks there still wasn’t much of a difference between day and night and the breastfeeding was draining. It is difficult to know what is a normal recovery and what’s not, especially with regards to pain. The back to back labour left me feeling as though my back and pelvis had been broken! Which I know sounds ridiculous, but since I’ve had spinal surgery before, I feel a little less dramatic for saying it. It took some time for me to realise that I wasn’t recovering, but getting worse. The pain was worse and I now had fevers. You can imagine how hot and sweaty Evelyn and I both got whilst I tried to breastfeed her with a temperature of 39 degrees! In spite of 2 courses of oral antibiotics from the GP and GP Out Of Hours for a presumed episiotomy infection, I realised that I needed intravenous antibiotics in hospital as I had become septic from a womb infection (endometritis). Though I got better, returning to hospital during your partner’s precious paternity leave felt like a step backwards. You want to move forward with your new little family and new life. Though I know that it could have been so much worse, and I’m really lucky for that. I was so glad that it was me who was unwell and not Evelyn. But still, it was pretty rubbish spending my first Mother’s Day in hospital. However, we did manage to get the Bounty Newborn Photoshoot done during my readmission, as we’d missed out on it previously because of the snowstorm! And at least Rob didn’t put up much of a fight when I wanted to buy the prints!
As a mum you are always ‘on-call’ – “instantly interruptible, responsive and responsible”. Evelyn and I had no routine, I had no time to do anything and somehow she would always know and wake up crying just as I started to eat my food or get in the shower! I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get it right. There’s not many things in life where this is the case, generally if you work hard enough you’ll figure it out. We got there eventually and we have definitely come along way from those relentless days. But there are still days where nothing seems to go right. Evelyn doesn’t sleep, I don’t have a minute to stop and my husband is in work for 12 hours. But I remind myself that as with everything, those days do pass.
In the beginning the house is full with visitors, your partner is home for paternity leave, the midwife and health visitor are coming to see you regularly. But as your partner returns to work and less people visit, it’s just you and the baby all day. Often because the partner is working, it’s down to the mum to do the night shift alone aswell, especially if you are breastfeeding. The phrase “the days are long but the nights are longer” couldn’t be more true for how some of the 24 hours could feel. Initially I was so consumed by just getting by that I don’t think I had the chance to feel lonely. It was probably not until Evelyn and I had some sort of feeding/sleeping routine (from around 3 months) that I began to feel lonely. Although with routine came much needed relief, so too came the monotony. It can feel like you’re just waiting for your partner to come home, only to have the baby to talk about from your day. What did I actually achieve today? It’s frustrating as although there is no real tangible evidence, I had been rushed off my feet all day.
I also felt isolated because Evelyn doesn’t travel well in the car, and with the majority of my family and friends living at least 30 minutes away, it was hard to avoid the car. Blood curdling screams whilst I’m trying to drive is a common occurrence. I’d try to “just block it out”, but that goes against all your natural instincts as a mother. I frequently felt trapped at home because I’d much rather avoid it. However, getting out really would make a big difference to how I felt. Although at times, meeting up with people or going to baby groups felt to only scratch the surface out of a long lonely 24 hour day, getting out and connecting with someone or just the outside world gave me a sense of achievement and perspective.
Although the initial immediate shock of Evelyn’s arrival had subsided, it still took a while for the reality of the monumental life change to sink in. Overnight your identity changes. You become a mum but it took me some time to really feel like one, not just pretending to be one. Then I got so lost in being a mum that I started to forget what it was like to be me. I remember saying once that “I’m more than happy to be ‘just Evelyn’s Mum’ for 99% of the time, but could I stay as me for just 1%? If I knew how to that is”. I felt guilty for saying this, but deep down I think I knew that I needed to help ‘find’ myself again.
Having a baby is a life changing event and I do feel like a different person to the pre-baby me. It’s hard to describe how exactly, but I think instead of feeling like I’ve lost who I was, I now in fact feel that I know more about myself. A strength and depth of character that I didn’t know was there. I came across a quote which stuck with me as I think it perfectly sums it up, “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother never. A mother is something completely new”.
With all that said, even on the darkest of days, my love for Evelyn made everything better. Every negative emotion and tough moment is superseded by her love. The love we share is pure, unconditional and unbreakable. I have such pride over everything that she does and everything that she is. I feel the urge to tell anyone about her, even if they haven’t asked! Those silly faces, her gorgeous babbles, her beautiful smile. She is our Best friend and she brings us a new level of happiness that we didn’t know existed. My monkey, my sweetheart, my gorgeous girl! We are on this crazy emotional journey together and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
However for some mums out there, those negative emotions are too overpowering. If you are feeling like that then please talk to someone. I’m sure that there is someone who may have felt like you do or will understand and help you. Remember that whilst it’s ok not to be ok, you don’t have to stay that way.