“I’m not enjoying this…”
That’s what I remember thinking one morning as I sat on the sofa feeding my beautiful three-week-old baby. I felt awful for thinking it, and was so afraid of telling anybody how I felt. I mean, what would people think if I told them?! The way I was feeling wasn’t normal– at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
Expectation is the mother of all frustration
I found the first few weeks of parenting agonisingly hard; I had no idea what I was doing, and when I looked around at all the other mummies around me, they just seemed so natural at this parenting thing. That’s what I had longed for throughout my pregnancy. I had this notion that, as women, we should just know what to do with our babies, that everything would just come naturally, like it does for all those new mummies you see in the movies. The fact that parenting didn’t come naturally to me left me feeling like a complete and utter failure. I had this beautiful little baby – something I’d wanted for so many years – but I simply wasn’t enjoying being a parent. What’s worse is that I was sure that my little girl knew it too. I felt like I was letting her (not to mention everybody else around me) down. So, I forced myself to put on a brave face, and I told myself that everything would be fine: I could do this. I would do this.
As the weeks went on, I found myself crying more and more often. I was really struggling. How the hell did everybody else just know what to do?! Why couldn’t I be like them? What was wrong with me?! I dreaded my husband going to work in the morning and leaving me alone with the baby. I’d cry when she cried – I’d even cry when she slept. I would get upset when somebody else tried to give me a break by taking her for a few minutes, and I would think why did she seem so settled in their arms but not in mine? I was failing at parenting.
“How often have you felt…?”
When my little girl was around six weeks old, my health visitor popped round. for my routine check-up. She asked how things were going, how my C-section scar was healing, if the baby was feeding okay, whether I had any concerns, and so on. I told her everything was great – couldn’t be better! That’s what I thought I had to say. That’s what any normal new parent would say, right?! But then she told me that she was going to ask me a series of questions as part of the NHS’ screening for postnatal depression (PND). I knew what the test was going to say, and I’d already told myself (numerous times) that I had to go and talk to somebody about how I was feeling. I needed help. Knowing what to say, how to say it, or who to say it to is what I had struggled with most. How on earth was I supposed to explain to somebody that I loved my baby but wasn’t enjoying being a parent?! I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
My health visitor started asking me questions: How often have you felt like things have been getting on top of you? I answered her truthfully, “every day”. How often have you felt scared or panicky for no good reason? I responded, “all the time!” Have you had any thoughts about harming yourself? Honestly, I had to answer “yes”.
We didn’t even get halfway through the questionnaire before I burst into tears. Having somebody ask me those direct questions was just what I needed. It was only when I was being asked to select a response that came closest to how I felt that I was able to tell somebody how much I was struggling. I was so worried about people judging me for feeling the way that I did, but my health visitor could not have been more supportive. She made an appointment for me to see my GP; she offered to come with me, and to talk to the GP in advance if I was worried having ‘that conversation’. It instantly felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
My road to recovery
As soon as I had ‘confessed’ how I was feeling to one person, the words came quite easily when I walked into the GP’s room later that day. Like my health visitor, she so supportive. She explained some of the options available to me, and got me started on a treatment plan. There was never any judgement, and just being able to admit how I felt really did help me to feel that bit better.
In the coming weeks, I started to be more honest with my friends and family about how I’d found the first couple of months of being a parent. I was amazed at how many other mummies (and daddies!) told me that they’d been feeling the same, and that they too had been struggling. I found that many of the parents who I thought had ‘cracked it’ were actually finding things hard too. Just like me, they’d been putting on a bit of a front – only letting people see how wonderful they were finding things. The truth was that I wasn’t the only one who sometimes struggled to get their little baby to settle, that I wasn’t the only one who felt like pulling their hair out when their baby would wake up for their next feed mere minutes after my head had touched the pillow. It also turned out that I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt like they had absolutely no idea what they were doing – it was such a relief!
The first few weeks (and really, the first few months) of parenting are challenging; it has been, without doubt, the hardest job I have ever had. I felt like there was so much pressure on me as a new mummy to just be able to ‘get on with it.’ It is a sad reality that there are so few people talking about just how hard things can be, and instead presenting the illusion that parenting is all sunshine and rainbows. I was amazed at how many other parents were finding things difficult but didn’t feel able to truly express how they were feeling. It was also surprising to me how many parents around me were being diagnosed with postnatal depression. It affects so many people, and I just wish that it wasn’t seen as such a taboo subject. If you are a new parent who is struggling, always remember that our health matters. It’s okay to not be okay, that it’s normal to find things hard and, most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it
If you think you are suffering from postnatal depression, you are not alone! Talking, sharing and building up a supportive network is key to your recovery. Get out and about and meet some other mums and dads, or check out some of the amazing communities on the likes of Mumsnet. Most importantly, remember that you are doing a great job!
Written by Emma, Nemo Swimming