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.
Let's get real for a moment.
Parenting is hard. Damn hard. With the level of social media available to us these days, ideologies of what a ‘good’ parent (note: mother!) is, is everywhere. There is no avoiding it. And everyone has an opinion on what is best. The saying goes it takes a village to raise a child- which is true, we do need that support and to be surrounded by people who know what it’s like. But sometimes, this village becomes toxic. And because of social media, it’s become less of a close circle of well-known and trusted family and friends, to an international circle of strangers.
Sure, this has its benefits. Of course it does- we get to learn things we may not have otherwise. But it also has its downfalls. People tend to hold less back when behind a keyboard- the good, bad and ugly. We seem to forget that people on the other side of that screen are just that – people – not emotionless machines. Some of those people are already on the edge, and reach out to others in the hopes of some encouragement and a “hey, you are doing a great job!” Instead, they are met with judgment, criticism and sadly in some cases just plain nastiness. But why? Why do we feel the need to judge other parents? What does it achieve?
We need to build each other up. Nobody will ever agree on everything related to pregnancy, birth and parenting. That’s life - and imagine how boring it would be if that was the case. There needs to be difference of opinions. It’s how we learn, its how we grow. But let’s cut the judgment. Let’s cut the nastiness. Let’s cut the ‘holier than thou’ attitude. We are all parents. We are all trying to do our best for those little people we love. None of us know what the hell we are doing (although some of us try to pretend like we do!). So instead of knocking each other when we do things differently, why not throw a little encouragement to each other.
“Hey, I see you bottle feeding, awesome job on making sure your baby is fed!”
“Oh, you are breastfeeding your 2 year old? Go you!”
“You had a totally unmedicated birth in a creek in the rainforest? Good job!”
“You had a caesarean? Way to go on bringing your baby into this world!”
Its. Not. That. Hard! Even if you don’t agree with something, it doesn’t give you the right to tear someone down. Of course a bit of a healthy debate is good, and asking questions as to why someone does what they do is a great way to open up discussion about different parenting styles and philosophies. But do it respectfully. Don’t patronise, don’t judge. Listen. Acknowledge that sometimes we need to agree to disagree. Accept it and move on.
And maybe, just maybe, by being more encouraging of others and accepting we are all different, we may be easier on ourselves as parents. We won’t always be thinking where we are going wrong, or worrying that something is wrong with our baby because they aren’t doing what Jane from up the street’s baby is doing. We will learn to accept that we all parent differently. Babies develop differently.
But most of all, maybe we will learn to be a village. A place where people from all walks of life are able to share parenting wins and fails and not fear judgment or nastiness.
Parenting is hard enough. Why make it harder?
We need our village. And thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to find it. We have seemingly infinite support available, from all over the globe (handy at 2am when you are up feeding a cranky baby and need someone to chat to!). Let’s not ruin that. Let’s not make it harder to find a village the easier it gets.
I’m not saying it needs to be sunshine and lollipops and rainbows all the time. That’s not reality. Of course there will be hard times, and disagreements and difference in opinions. But let’s use that to our advantage! Let’s use that to learn from each other. To grow. And possibly most importantly, to open our minds to different ways of thinking. Let’s be that village. Let’s be the village that builds each other up, that offers a kind word when someone is struggling.
From one mother to another…. You. Got. This.