The transition to motherhood is something that is difficult to put into words. It is greater than the shift in role and identity and shines a spotlight on every part of you that you thought you once knew. The feelings are intense and often contradictory. And even when you are surrounded by people, it can be a lonely and confusing time. But if you too are struggling with the adjustment to this new role and identity, you are not alone, and as Emma captures in her letter, there is help and there is hope.
Emma Cottam is owner of Isabella and Us., editor and creator of the Positive Wellbeing Zine for Mums and mummy to Isabella. This letter is written from personal experience of the past year of becoming a mum, her struggles with the transition and diagnosis with PND.
To the mum who is struggling to adjust,
I’ve been there. When my daughter Isabella was born last December, just 9 days before Christmas Day I struggled to adjust to my new ‘role’. I struggled on for 5 long months without asking for any help; I struggled alone with the thoughts racing around my mind. Thoughts that my daughter didn’t need me, thoughts that I wasn’t a good enough mother, thoughts that my husband no longer loved me because he now had my daughter and didn’t need me anymore. I was embarrassed for feeling like I didn’t want to be a mum anymore and feeling guilty for feeling that way after I had longed for a baby. I spent months just going through the motions, never feeling fully present, not enjoying anything. Continue Reading
‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.’
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Loss and mental health is something that people often ask me about: how does it impact? What help is available? Does it get better? I’ve researched academic articles and reflected on my own work and personal experiences and all I can say reliably is yes it does. But as with everything in life after loss, it is complex and completely individual.
Grief in itself is not a mental health problem (i.e. a diagnosable one) yet it impacts on our mental wellbeing considerably. It is a normal reaction to a painful, sometimes traumatic, event. A response that reflects the loss of someone or something meaningful. Someone we loved. Someone we will miss infinitely. We wouldn’t want to pathologise what is part of the human condition; to label it and to find ways in which to eradicate it. Grief is part of life and living as much as it is a response to death and dying.
“I think you’re depressed”
The words that still ring through my ears when I think about the day that the perinatal mental health nurse turned up at my door. It had been a difficult morning; baby refusing to sleep, pacing the house wearing the sling. Much like many of the days that had preceded really. I was tired. Emotionally more than physically, although my body had certainly been through the mill too.
It’s something that I still struggle to accept sometimes, and something that I have fought hard to overcome. But I think that this term – depression – has gradually become more of a friend than a foe. Although deep in my heart, I knew that this was what was going on, hearing the word spoken out loud and directed at mestung. A verbal slap in the face. I denied it could be true. I tried to argue that I was just stressed. But when I struggled to answer one of her questions, I realised that this was why I felt so heavy and why each day had become like I was wading through treacle.
I felt stupid: ‘How could I not have known?’ I felt ashamed: ‘Why couldn’t I prevent this?’ I felt guilty: ‘What kind of mother – what kind of person – are you to become depressed now, when your arms are full?’
And just like that, she was one.
Except, when I really think about it, it wasn’t ‘just like that’ at all. The first year of parenting after loss has been a complete rollercoaster; a Big Dipper, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and one that I have desperately wanted to escape at times. Because, despite what I had hoped, having a take home baby did not fix everything. It did not take away my pain. It just made the hardest job in the world that much more complicated.
Parenting a live baby has changed me. I am not the person I once was, and at the same time, I have come to accept that I am not parent I thought I would be. It has shattered my sense of self and I am slowly piecing the shards back together and getting to know the cracks that exist in between them. Some of those crevices have been deep, dark and quite unnerving to expose myself to, whilst others have acted as a prism and shone the full spectrum of colours.
I thought that when Orla died that I was well and truly broken, but looking back, I had just built up an even stronger wall than I had before. My own emotions have always scared me and I have run from them; finding solutions or ways in which to numb the pain. Working harder. Finding another project. I would bounce from one thing to another as a way of blocking out what was really troubling me, because I feared that my emotions would destroy me. I couldn’t trust that anyone else could hold them; the terror that they would either become overwhelmed by them or would reject me was paralysing. So, I denied that they existed and continued to build my armour of strategies, that enabled me to run away from pain. Continue Reading