There is so much I enjoy now about being Caterpillar’s mum. At five, he’s cheeky, funny, insightful and caring and, after all my fears during the PND time, it’s lovely to be able to admit that I adore being a parent to him. However, despite making me proud and happy for large chunks of the time, I also find parenting tiring, thankless, stressful and scary. For a long time I struggled with these thoughts and feelings, hated myself for them even, but eventually I’ve learnt to let them go.
The post Great Expectations is one of the very earliest on this blog. When I read it back I can fish out the remnants of my illness. I wasn’t as completely recovered as I thought I was at the time and it shows. However, much of what I wrote is still valid. We are sometimes mis-sold an idea of motherhood that doesn’t quite measure up to the reality of it, particularly the early days and months.
The Fourth Trimester
One of the problems I had was the expectation for instant love and joy. The idea that I would seamlessly slip into my new role as a mother and it would be the most natural of my life. Early motherhood is a huge learning curve and it’s fraught with deep and frequent emotional swings. Even mothers not experiencing a perinatal mental health issue still face sleep deprivation, colic, relationship changes, lifestyle changes, isolation, identity crisis and more. None of this is easy and yet it’s not often spoken about during your pregnancy, where the focus is purely on excitement.
Becoming a parent is an enormous gift (I’m even more aware of this thanks to our secondary infertility struggles) and should indeed be looked forward to and celebrated, but perhaps we should also better prepare parents for the potential struggles of those first months too?
Emotional Antenatal Classes?
We attended NCT classes during my pregnancy with Caterpillar and, although I’ll always be grateful for the great friendships I made there, I often wonder if the course content could be modified. Back then, much of any antenatal class was spent learning birth massage techniques or how to bath your baby but what about giving parents emotional tools to combat loneliness or overwhelm, or ideas for surviving on only four hours sleep?
Or, as a minimum, what about a 15 minute session where the facilitator says “You might feel lost after giving birth. You might feel scared or angry or worried or – heaven forbid – bored. And that’s okay. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes it is scary. But you will get through it. ” I know NCT have been working closely with my fellow advocates during recent years so hopefully there are plans for this to be included.
Parenthood should be celebrated, nobody could ever debate that. But sometimes it needs to be commiserated too. We all love sharing our happiest moments and cutest pics on Facebook but we should live in a society where parents also feel able to rant and rave and even laugh at the ludicrous nature of being a new member of this most miraculous club. There’s definitely been a shift in this direction and long may it continue. Sharing the good and bad is much more beautiful.
My most key advice to parents is give yourself time to adjust. It took me several years to feel even remotely comfortable in my skin as a parent. And this isn’t a concept that stops just with parents either, if you have a friend or family member who has recently had a child why not reach out to them and simply say “If you ever find this hard, call me.”
Are you finding parenthood harder than you expected?
Are you a new parent who is really struggling at the moment? Maybe you’re wondering how to cope or feeling frightened about the future? Maybe you’re worried about your feelings towards your baby or your new life? Finding the balance between normal new parent worries and a perinatal mental illness can be very difficult but this symptom list from Postpartum Progress might help to bring some clarity.
For further help, check out my archive of PND & Anxiety posts or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.