In my drafts I have two blogs titled Maternal Mental Health week. One from 2018 and one from 2019. They remained drafts because honestly, I haven’t been able to work out how to say what I have experienced and what I wanted to say about it.
This morning though, that all changed. Somehow, the words are now flooding out. This one feels especially vulnerable though. Motherhood is a thick dense forest of judgement (from yourself as much as others), guilt, joy, hope and frustration. It’s very hard to see through it all to what might really be going on inside my head, and honestly, I haven’t really had the time to try. I think that it must have all been ticking away in the background though, because a simple text exchange this morning has triggered a tidal wave of thoughts and feelings that seem pretty fully formed.
So, the text exchange… My wonderful friend has just had a baby. He is a CUTE baby. You know, one of those ‘baby model’ objectively cute ones, mothers bias aside. My son Elijah was the same (or so everyone told me…). I asked my friend if she was enjoying it and she came back with yes, she is loving it. Obviously, I am very very happy for my friend! It’s wonderful that she is enjoying herself! But it made me sad. Because, especially in the first 4 months of Elijah’s life, I could not have said I was enjoying motherhood. I loved him, crumbs did I love him!! I was warned not to expect and immediate rush of bonding love when he was born, but I got it, for which I will be eternally grateful! Without that bond I would have sunk into a severe post natal depression. As it was, it was bad, but not hospital bad.
I felt sad this morning though, because I wish I had had that enjoyment with Elijah. I have had it with Iris, in fact, in the months after she was born I had to mourn what I had missed with Elijah but I thought I had processed it. Then, this conversation triggered a wave of mourning and sadness in me again. I think the thing that is making me so sad now, is not just what I lost, but what I think is normal. I think, for a first baby, it must be the same for everyone. No one enjoys it, no one feels happy in those first months. This sense of dread I feel for others in those first weeks is heart-breaking, because it reminds me of my feelings in those first weeks with Elijah but it also detracts from the joy I feel for my friends.
I remember looking at him sleeping and wishing he wouldn’t be there because I couldn’t deal with the permanence of this change. When my milk came in on day 3 I honestly couldn’t breathe for the panic I felt at having to feed him through the night and get even more tired than I was.
I remember a friend saying to me, when Elijah was about 3 months old, “you must be loving motherhood!” I said “no”, that was it, just no. This exchange has stayed with me, filled with guilt, because that friend was struggling with fertility. She had had miscarriages and she was desperate to have what I had. The lack of sensitivity in my response was obvious on her face.
Of course, it is valid to feel what I felt and it isn’t always possible to be sensitive when feeling so depressed, however the complexities of motherhood – from the desire to be a mother, conception, infertility, pregnancy and having a baby – are such that one woman’s valid feelings can cause another woman unbearable pain.
Maternal mental health is talked about a bit, but, because it is so everyday to have a baby or be pregnant, because some women don’t want to feel guilty about being pregnant or failures for not being able to, it is often talked down.
We forget the hormonal surges that are involved in broodiness, pregnancy, periods, having a newborn. These surges can mess with the happiest woman’s mental health. Yet, whilst we consider it “acceptable” for a woman to have post natal depression, there is still a lack of compassion, understanding and even expectation.
Honestly, I don’t really know what the point of all this is. Other than to say, it sucks that I will forever have the first bit of my son’s life tainted by the darkness I felt. Whilst it clearly hasn’t effected him, it makes me sad that this precious boy didn’t get from me what my daughter did.
Guilt is unhelpful, but oh so powerful when it comes to anything around the subject of motherhood. It sucks, and we need to talk more. We need to cut each other some slack and not put our experiences and longing into our expectations of others. More importantly though, we need to feel able to feel what we feel and talk about it, sensitively, but honestly with those whose experiences may differ, in such a way that we don’t feel judged and we don’t judge.
It’s a big ask considering the hormones and emotions involved, but it would make the journey around motherhood so much more hopeful!