Sometimes at the early stages when things may be hard, many of us tend to initially brush off negative thoughts or feelings that we may be having. Recently published research shows that too often women who experienced depression or anxiety during pregnancy or postnatally, initially put signs and symptoms down to pregnancy hormones or the ‘baby blues‘, expecting (and hoping) that these feelings would naturally pass on their own with time, and so help is not sought early.
No one tells you that if it gets hard that you should get help – no one tells you that this might happen, so when it does you are lost.
In addition, many of us feel pressure to try and live up to our initial expectations and the media portrayals of (impending) parenthood. Hence any feelings of grief, disappointment, frustration, anger, sadness – or whatever you may be experiencing, can be even harder to acknowledge, accept or talk openly about.
I wasn’t ready to admit something was wrong. I did a really good job of tricking myself into believing that I was fine…until I wasn’t able to cope at all…and at crisis point. I was in a lot of denial I think.
This is particularly the case when others around you seem to be coping and managing. It is common for parents to feel that they should be able to cope, and feel that they have failed if they do need help. This makes us cautious of asking for help early or talking openly about difficulties that we may be facing, for fear of how we may be viewed by others, as individuals and as parents.
I knew that my family would think ‘she’s just not coping…I knew the mothers in my mothers group would think the same. You do not want to be seen as not coping.
The truth is, becoming parents and parenthood is harder for some than others, for a whole range of reasons – so comparing yourself with others is not helpful, and does not make sense. Also focussing on what you hoped for, and comparing this to where you are is not helpful for moving forward.
I felt like I had failed. Now I understand that this was simply me taking my first step toward being a better mum – it was just a different path I had to take to get there, compared with the journey I expected to have.
Just as some people are able to conceive easily whilst others have to go to great lengths, the experience of pregnancy, birth and the first year with a new baby, can all bring with them a variety of challenges – which differ greatly from one parent to another.
But we rarely talk about these differences, or acknowledge them. We all have different physical experiences, personal histories, relationships, access to supports, infants with different temperaments and health issues, financial and work pressures, cultural and family dynamics – just to mention some aspects. Depending on your personal position and the experiences that happen to you, this will impact on the likelihood or possibility of developing emotional and mental health problems.
Everyone has this myth of motherhood being nothing but joy, pleasure, love, coping, happiness, thrilled with being a mother. No one has ever told us how hard it is. It’s not hard for everyone, some find it really easy and the myths of motherhood are absolutely going on for them, but it’s not everyone’s reality. Just tell people that it might actually be really hard, and you might find it really tough and lonely – so if that does happen for them, they are not alone, it happens.
Just like gestational diabetes, mastitis, or other conditions that you may be subjected to – it is not your fault. Also, as in the case of these conditions, it is important to seek help early.
If you have a good relationship with your GP, midwife, maternal and child health nurse, take this opportunity to talk with them. Also, when, and if, they ask you about how you are managing, try to see this as an opportunity to have the discussion.
Many women also may have an experience where they do not feel comfortable to discuss their feelings with their health professional – for a variety of reasons. If this is the case go elsewhere – just like you would find another cleaner, babysitter or car mechanic.
Remember, if things are difficult and you find that you are struggling or need support, it is ok. It is also vital that you invest in yourself at this point.
Accepting that it has happened is a big part of getting better. I can accept it, and get help for it.
By looking after yourself first you will be best placed to then nurture the needs of your baby and others, as well as giving yourself the opportunity to have an experience of parenthood which is as positive as it can be.