You can read countless parenting books and attend an array of antenatal classes, but I’m not convinced that anything will fully prepare you for all that parenthood brings until you are in the midst of it. Just like you cannot begin to comprehend the stupendous amount of love that you will feel towards your children until it happens and you feel it for yourself. Being a parent is truly a blessing, I often gaze in awe at my children, wondering how we created these perfect little miracles, and so it is no wonder that people are overjoyed when you announce you are expecting. People will talk to you about name choices, if you’re going to find out the gender, and of course the ridiculously long list of things you need to purchase, but no one mentions the emotional and mentally straining rollercoaster ride you may find yourself on during your journey into parenthood.
I found the transition into becoming a parent much harder than I had been anticipating, it certainly didn’t feel as though it came naturally to me. In hindsight, I realise my own mental health issues only heightened my low mood and anxiety, but regardless of whether or not you already struggle with your mental health, I believe all new mothers and fathers are vulnerable to feeling low after the arrival of their child. As an expectant parent reading this you may be thinking – but why will I feel sad after the arrival of the new little life we have created and spent 9 long months waiting to meet? I couldn’t envisage it either. When you announce your pregnancy news everyone is over the moon for you, you are built up to this expectation of only blissful emotions and experiences ahead.
Throughout my entire pregnancy, that’s 9 long months filled full of opportunities to talk about parenthood, not one person mentioned I might actually feel pretty low after having a baby, and this puzzles me because it is not as if it is a rarity! So, as this miserable feeling became a reality for me that I was unable to shake off, I recall thinking I must be the only new mother on earth to be feeling sadness right now, since no one had mentioned I would experience anything other than overwhelming love. In turn I believed there must be something wrong with me, and that I couldn’t possibly admit to anyone what I was going through in case they thought I was a terrible mother.
There is a saying that a family makes a house a home, but once all of our relatives had been and gone and the midwife appointments dried up, I soon found myself resenting the 4 walls around me, I felt trapped. I would cry as my Husband left for work each morning, leaving me to face the long and lonely day ahead by myself, over and over again. As I became all consumed in playing my new role of Mum, I lost a part of myself, overnight my sole purpose changed, I was now the carer of my new dependant who had me at their beck and call 24/7, my life was wholly dictated by this little person who did not yet smile back at me but instead drank, burped, pooped and slept very little. For a time it was very much a relentless one way relationship. The life I led before became a distant memory and my own needs took a back seat whether I liked it or not. I longed for some normality, adult conversation maybe, but it all seemed so far out of my reach and my anxiety prevented me from leaving the house for a variety of reasons, the main one being a fear of doing something wrong as a novice parent.
Everything felt like a struggle, yet it seemed that everyone else was taking to parenting with ease, which only left me feeling even worse, isolated and unable to air how I was really feeling. Online, on TV and in the magazines, we are surrounded by celebrities looking effortlessly well-kept as they take to parenting, painting this picture of perfection. Even months into my journey as I forced myself to attend some baby groups I felt as though I was being assessed instead of welcomed, which sadly meant I didn’t return. Too often parents feel that they have to keep up with this Super-Mum or Super-Dad competition, but let me tell you something… “Super-parents” are a myth, they’re superficial, because behind closed doors and camera lenses we are all the same!
If there is one thing I wish I had been told, it’s that in becoming a parent you will feel love which you have never felt before, but you may also visit depths of despair you’ve never been to before as well, and that’s okay. The love may not come straight away, and that’s okay too.
I never felt a powerful instantaneous bond rush through my body as I looked into my children’s eyes for the first time, our bond grew over time, but having been told that this bond would hit me at birth I immediately had my first taste of motherhood failure. There are so many precedents set upon us as we become parents, this pressure does nothing to help our mental health, but we should not compare ourself to others, parenthood is a journey which is different and unique to each of us, it is a long lesson in which we learn so much and evolve as parents, we should be easy on ourselves and supportive of each other.
Maybe no one told me about the other side of parenthood because they didn’t want to take the shine off it or be the bearer of bad news, but I’m a firm believer of honesty being the best policy, always. Because as I said earlier, I felt lonely and abnormal as I found myself going through the unspoken side of parenting, due to the fact no one had mentioned anything about it to me before. But we need to change that, we need to start speaking about it! If you are struggling, the best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out to someone. Do not suffer in silence, it is okay to ask for help or to express how you are truly feeling, whether that be to family, friends, fellow parents online or face to face, your GP, midwife or health visitor, just make sure you speak to someone.
Sometimes our fear of being judged or criticised prevents us from speaking the truth, but postnatal depression can affect any mum or dad, no one is immune, and once you take that first step in opening up you will find that there are a lot of people who feel the same way, and things will get better. Parenting is far from easy, as I heard Adele recently say – “In my pregnancy and becoming a mother I lost a lot of myself and I struggled, and I still do struggle being a mother, it’s really hard”, I’m sure I am not the only one who can relate to that.
We should not feel ashamed to admit our struggles, parenting is challenging enough without having to try and put on a perfect parent pretence, so lets just be open, honest and there for one another because perinatal mental health matters, it matters a lot.