I am probably a bit too honest with people when they announce their pregnancies. I go into the gory details of pregnancy , discuss in detail my attempts at breastfeeding and bemoan what sleep deprivation does to you.
I’m sure it’s not always appreciated but I wish someone had prepared me a bit better for what being pregnant and having a newborn would really be like. So for me it’s important to talk about what happens when it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and what factors to look out for to help avoid postnatal depression.
I find when women come to me with postnatal depression there is generally three factors at play. Isolation,control and societal expectation.
Often they are living somewhere where they do not have family or friends, they may have lived there for years but because they were working elsewhere they never found a social network in the town where they lived. Or because of the impending new arrival they moved to a new house just before the birth. This means that once their partner returns to work they are on their own, with only a helpless newborn who depends on them for everything to keep them company. Some find a good support group but often postnatal depression like other depressions stops you wanting to go out and meet people and when you’re sleep deprived trying to find the energy to fight that urge can be impossible. Often women went from speaking to a lot of other adults throughout the day to being lucky if they can manage conversation with their husband or partner at the end of the day.
Most of the women I worked with had had busy jobs before having a baby, they had been doing it for a while and were pretty confident in what they were doing. They knew how to handle any problems that came along, they could make decisions and know what the likely outcome would be. Then they became pregnant. Suddenly their body was not their own, maybe they had morning sickness or had to watch as their body became one they no longer recognised. They could no longer choose whatever they wanted to eat or drink, it became harder to sleep and therefore harder to function.
Then there is the birth which often does not go to plan and decisions can be taken out of your hands by midwives or doctors. These doctors and midwives may have you and your babies best interests at heart but for some women this ends in them feeling like they have failed in some way. What is important to remember is that the only job you have is to bring your baby into this world, if you ask your children later in life they probably won’t know (or care!) how they got here.
Newborn babies don’t give a lot of feedback so trying to figure out what is wrong with them and what is the magic thing that is going to stop them crying is a minefield, never mind that something that worked yesterday may not work today! It destroys your confidence, you start to feel like you can do nothing right.
None of this is helped by the attitude that this should all come naturally. The magazines,TV shows and Movies have all set us up for failure. In recent years I have been relieved to see, mainly through social media, a more realistic view of motherhood begin to appear. But in the main we are still given the impression that we will just know what to do when that baby appears. There will be a rush of love and our maternal instinct will kick in. If breastfeeding is so natural why is it so difficult and painful. If my mothering instinct is so spot on why can’t I get this baby to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time! I don’t know about you but I am still winging it most of the time, 7 years and two kids later.
So if you have had a baby and you are feeling low and thinking that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, reach out. Chances are it won’t take long to find someone who feels exactly the same. Motherhood is amazing, we keep little people alive! But let’s not pretend that it’s always that way.Hopefully being more honest about that would make the not so awesome bits easier to deal with.