November 13 – 19 is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week. This is the first in a series of posts focusing on pregnancy, parenting and mental health, getting real life experiences and where to find support for yourself or someone you care about.
Welcoming a new addition into the family is supposed to be a happy and joyful occasion... but what happens when it isn’t?
You have waited nine months; nine long, long months to meet this little person you have grown in your womb. Finally, the moment is here. You see your baby for the first time. You wait for that euphoric, overwhelming rush of love that everyone talks about. But it doesn’t come. Instead, you stare at this beautiful new baby and feel like it belongs to someone else. You wait, somewhat on edge, waiting for the real parents to come and collect their baby. But they don’t. Because it is your baby. You start to think “what is wrong with me?” Let me tell you a little secret… nothing. There is nothing wrong with you!
Not everyone feels that rush- that euphoria- when they first meet their new baby. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you love your baby any less, or that you are a bad mum. Having a baby can be overwhelming! Sure, you watch as your body changes over the pregnancy, your hormones go haywire and you have pictured how it would go in your mind for months. But nothing prepares you for that moment. That first moment of meeting your baby. Knowing that this little person relies solely on you to survive, that as far as this little person knows, you are all that exists in the world.
I remember when my first was born, laying in hospital late that night after my husband and visitors had gone, thinking to myself “well what the hell do I do now?!”. There was this tiny little baby just lying there, and I had no idea what to do with her. And it went on like that for a long time. Hell, even after my next 4 births, there were still those moments. It’s not limited to first time mums.
But what happens when the days turn into weeks and you find yourself feeling more and more disconnected with your baby? You don’t want to admit it to anyone for fear of judgment. And because saying it out loud makes it more real. And let’s not forget the fear of your baby possibly being removed from your care. So you keep it to yourself. You start withdrawing from society, from friends and family. You feel anxious. You feel like nobody would understand or even care. You feel alone. So you put on a brave face and pretend everything is ok.
Stop. Stop pretending right now.
First and foremost, you are not alone. You are not a bad mother. Your baby will not be removed from your care because you are struggling (unless of course in extreme situations where the safety of the baby is compromised and even then it is only a last resort!). People care. People want you to feel like you again. And there is help out there.
Admitting you are struggling takes enormous strength and is the hardest step to take. But it is also the most important. Talk to someone you trust- whether that means a friend or family member, mother’s group, doctor/GP/midwife or other medical professional or one of the many support lines available over the phone or internet. Let them know where your head is at, even if you aren’t really sure yourself. Tell them how they can help you and possibly more importantly, accept help when it’s offered! If you are worried about speaking to a medical professional such as your gp, ask them to come with you for moral support. The people who love you want you to be ok. And you will be; it just takes time. There is no overnight ‘quick fix’.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. You will get through this because, although it probably doesn’t feel like it right now, you are strong. You are loved. You are important. You matter.
There will come a day- or perhaps even a fleeting moment- where you look at your baby and feel like you could never love another person as much as you love this tiny person. And that, that is a feeling worth waiting for.