*Filling out antenatal hospital form, reads* “History of mental illness?”
Hmmmm…well I suffered with an eating disorder for ten years. Suffered with depression in my 20’s and occasional crippling anxiety. Have extreme perfectionist issues, massively controlling and contingent self esteem. But mental? I think I’ll tick no, just in case ticking yes means I get put on some kind of danger register and my baby is taken away the moment it plops from my vagina.
So taking the above into consideration, some might say I was at risk of postnatal depression. There was absolutely NO WAY I was going to get it though. Postnatal depression was that really tragic condition that lead women to take their own lives. I’m way too chicken to do that.
Looking back, after my little girl was born, I did go a bit crazy. I can see that now. It was all because of two things: I didn’t push her out – I needed assistance. I stopped breastfeeding for four days – I needed assistance. Big deal I hear you cry. But for a slightly unhinged perfectionist, that just wouldn’t do.
So for two years I battled with inner voices. A black cloud that loomed menacingly behind me – not above me – I wasn’t postnatally depressed remember? Just clearly not really cut out for this mothering lark. I was never really fully present. Just going through the motions. Doing everything as perfectly as I could. Not ever letting my daughter cry – I must telepathically pre-empt her every need. Stimulating her to ensure she reached all her milestones – the book says she must be batting things with her hands by 9 weeks. Walking. Lot’s of walking. Newborns get bored, don’t they? Let’s go walking again. She needs a sleep for 30 minutes precisely every three hours preferably in the sling, she’s just not happy otherwise. Must keep her HAPPY!
I would attempt to muster some semblance of a grin and nod benignly but inwardly be thinking, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just say yes?”
I would cry after leaving children’s parties because another mum wore nail polish and someone made cupcakes. Why don’t you ever make cupcakes? Real mums bake cakes. When was the last time you washed your hair? You disgust me. You should take a long hard look at yourself. You’re not a proper mother, you’re shit. And you’re looking fat. Go home and bake a cake.
I was so
focussed obsessed with keeping The girl happy, I knew what every facial gesture meant. I knew exactly the moment she needed a poo. I knew when she was too hot. I knew when she was too cold. I knew that she didn’t like having her arm like that when she slept. I knew that noise meant she needed to swap sides she was sleeping on – she liked sleeping on her side. Mostly the left, but occasionally changing her onto her right to stop pressure sores, and then changing her back again. Always making sure she was breathing. None of this made me feel like a good mother. In fact, it made me feel worse. She cried today. You could have prevented that. You weren’t listening to her. Why weren’t you listening, you cretin?
I fell pregnant when my daughter was 14 months old. I was devastated. You can’t even look after one child properly, how are you going to cope with two? You’re going to ruin her life. You’ll have to share yourself between two children and how do you expect to be able to do that exactly?
But then the boy was born. Naturally. Like it
should could have been the first time round. The cloud instantly disappeared. It was amazing. I could finally say I LOVED being a mum. Had that gloomy shadow really been following me around just because I didn’t have an entirely natural birth last time? I wondered how many other mums had a malevolent figure following them because things hadn’t gone the way they planned? You’re pathetic. You’ve ruined the first two years of your daughter’s life just because you didn’t push her out all by yourself.
I hadn’t realised the insidious voice was still there. Just quietly whispering in the background so I didn’t really notice it. I felt great and loved being able to relax about decisions regarding The Boy. Not sleeping in a routine? No problem, I can cope. Not sleeping at all? I can deal with that. Feeds completely differently to The Girl? I’m on it like a car bonnet.
16 months passed and The Boy was doing brilliantly. He seemed to be hitting all his milestones… apart from when I compared him to one or two of his peers – he wasn’t using words as much. In fact not at all. But I was fine with that. Babies all develop differently and I knew he wasn’t going to be as quick at talking as his sister because girls are quicker than boys… aren’t they?
17 months. 18 months. Still the same. Whilst his peers developed speech and signing skills enabling them to communicate their wants and needs, The Boy didn’t and became increasingly frustrated and angry. I’ve been waiting for you to fuck up. You’re so busy being ‘relaxed and so-good-at-this-mothering that you’ve not been paying enough attention to him and now he can’t speak. Shhhhhhhhhhh. I wasn’t going to let the voice win.
I looked in The Girl’s red book – I had written down all the things she could do at 18 months – I’ll compare it. “Singing 20-30 songs in sign” What??? Really??? “Saying 20-30 words” “Counting 1-10” That’s ridiculous… The boy couldn’t even properly pronounce one word. See I told you. You’ve fucked up.
Over the following months leading up to today, the voice has slowly been winning. Wearing me down till I feel like I’m not me anymore. I’m back to just existing and going through the motions. It has sucked the joy out of everything.
Perhaps if that question had been “do you think you could be at risk of postnatal depression?” I might have been tempted to tick the ‘yes’ box….. Naahhh. I won’t get postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression week is November 17th to 23rd. For this week I will be posting one story a day and have already received some amazing posts from brilliant mums battling with their inner voices. The difference is, like me, they’re not ‘a risk’. Stories in the press about mothers driven to suicide are horrific to read and are very real. But like with everything, it is just the extreme and fortunately the minority. Many mothers don’t speak out about how they’re feeling because of fear of others judging them as the extreme, when in fact, just feeling safe and able to talk about it gives The Dark Cloud far less power.
I’m taking the power back so if motherhood is not turning out how you’d hoped, don’t be afraid to regain your power and say it, because they’ll be thousands just like you. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.