Do you remember the first few weeks of being a parent?
Do you remember what you were thinking? How you were feeling?
Were you overwhelmed with love the second you saw your baby? Or did you look at that screaming, squashed-up, purple face and think, “Holy shit, this is SO IRREVERSIBLE.”
Or is it all a blur because Mother Nature, that tricky bitch, makes us go a bit soft in the head so we forget the horror and go back for child number two? Honestly, if we were fully lucid during the child-bearing years, civilisation would’ve died out. But, somehow, we survive on exactly zero sleep, we look permanently horrendous, we deal with oceans of poo and survive years of heinous, epic tantrums… and we love it.
I’d forgotten what it was like. Well, not exactly forgotten, I’d just filed it away in my brain, somewhere between the distant memory of looking hot in a bikini and how to do long division. Until recently when a darling friend had her first baby and those first few weeks came rushing back. And it wasn’t pretty.
When they popped baby Thud on my chest, I remember thinking, “he’s a real baby!” Because I hadn’t been able to wrap my mind around the fact there was a living person inside of me (I kept imagining one of those robotic, special effects babies they use in movies). I looked down at his tiny face with his wide, open eyes and thought. “Wow.” And that’s pretty much all I thought for days.
I didn’t have a huge surge of overwhelming love, like I was told to expect. I was mostly in shock. All I could think was “Oh my God, I have a baby. I have a baby. WOW, I have a baby.”
I thought he was adorable. I was even a bit attached to him. But I felt guilty that I wasn’t all teary with the intensity of my love for him.
Where were the fireworks? Where were the singing angels and the harps and violins? Everyone says how life-changing that first meeting is. How they suddenly and instantly knew what they were put on earth for.
THE PRESSURE! Can we give a mother the chance to recover from the trauma of pushing a human being out of her body before expecting her to instantly bond with someone she’s only just met? She will get there. She WILL love that baby passionately. But it doesn’t have to be right away.
It crept up on me, the love. One day, a few weeks later, I realised I was stupidly, fiercely in love with this little person. The love had been hidden under a pile of fatigue, confusion and desperation to be a good mum. I needed to come up for air before I could see what was in front of me.
Because, those first few weeks of motherhood SUCK. Can we all just admit that?
Even if you’re totally, blissfully in love from the second you clap eyes on your offspring, you still need to go home and not sleep for weeks (months) while trying to not kill your bundle of joy. Your life is suddenly and irreversibly turned upside down. Permanently. There’s no going back. Your old life and the old you is gone forever. And that’s a bit scary.
Add to the mix, a child with reflux who refuses to sleep, a mother who is used to succeeding in everything she does and the expectation to post a thousand glowing mother-earth type photos on social media…. and you’ve got a fairly big shock to the system.
It doesn’t matter how desperately you wanted that baby. It’s no picnic when you finally have them. And if it is a picnic…. Well, something’s wrong with you or your child. That shit’s not normal.
Normal is a baby screaming for no reason. Normal is a baby who decides to sleep for four hours in the middle of the day so she can be EXTRA alert and awake at 2am. Normal is a mother sitting in yesterday’s pyjamas with dirty hair, eating cereal for lunch while breastfeeding the baby that won’t stop crying unless she has a boob in her mouth. Normal is a mother watching TV at 3am and crying because she’s watching TV at 3am. Crying because life is so different and she thinks she should be so happy and grateful, but instead she feels pissed off and over it. Normal is wanting to kill the baby’s father because he NEVER seems to hear the baby screaming at 3am.
HOW MUCH FUN DOES THAT SOUND!?
There were a number of times I looked at my baby and felt like screaming “I’m really smart you know!! I’m smarter than you! Why can’t I figure this out??”
I was just SO FUCKING SERIOUS. ALL THE TIME.
It’s an epidemic facing all first-time mothers. The Serious. It’s all so important. It all feels very life-or-death.
Sometimes The Serious can get on top of you. And if it does, make sure you’re getting the right help.
I had a friend admit to me that when her baby was four months old, she went to her GP and told him she wanted to kill herself. He said, “You’ll get over it.”
HOLY FUCKING SHITBALLS. That was an actual medical professional.
If this ever happens to you, RUN from that office and find yourself a new doctor. And report your old one to the AMA. A dickhead of that magnitude should not be giving anyone life or medical advice.
Thing is, you probably will get over it. With the right help and support. Just like you’d get over a broken leg with a plaster cast. Or a throat infection with antibiotics.
One in seven women will be diagnosed with postnatal depression (and 1 in 20 dads). Even more will be diagnosed with anxiety. While I didn’t have PND, I did cop the baby blues. Like practically every mother I know. Sometimes it’s all just too much. It’s non-stop, never-easing responsibility, uncertainty and self-doubt.
A lot of new mums cop some epic ‘downstairs’ injuries. Some new mums lose the ability to run without weeing their pants. Some mums deal with bleeding and cracked nipples and mastitis. Some mums experience full-on exhaustion and a huge drop in hormones which makes it really hard to balance their emotions . A totally understandable post-birth injury which needs medical attention.
And some help from your friends.
So, although I am infinitely wise and knowledgable, I’m not actually an expert. (Gasp! Shocking!) So, I’m going to hand over to The Thud’s resident psych. Dr Sasha is the shit. And I think she’d endorse that description. If you haven’t discovered her blog From the Left Field, get over there. She’s awesomely funny and very clever and you will learn stuff. She’s going to pop back to The Thud now and then to help us all be rounded, insightful human beings.
I asked Dr Sash for some advice on how to help a friend who might be finding it all a bit tough……
Going down Struggle St
Struggle st blows. It’s the street that no one wants to live on. Filled with potholes, glass houses and guilt-ridden gardens. We’ve all stayed on Struggle St. before. But most of the time we’re able to stay for a few nights, complain about the shitty bedding and crappy service and hightail it out of there. For some though, that time on Struggle St. stretches out. It becomes more long-term than we’d like it to. And before we know it we’ve started hanging pictures on the wall because we have no idea how to get out.
Watching someone go down Struggle St. can be hard. You want desperately to grab their hand and run in the opposite direction. But sometimes they can resist such force. This is so true for Mamas who might be in the grips of the baby blues, or even heading down the path of Post Natal Depression (PND). It’s important to be on the lookout for each other, and if you notice a friend is struggling; if they’re teary, irritable, getting completely overwrought at seemingly small issues, if they’re not sleeping, not eating/over eating. If you can see them withdrawing from socialising, or doing their usual activities here’s a couple of ideas you might like to try out:
- Just open your ears for them. You don’t have to be the one to fix their problems, heck, they might not want to be ‘fixed’ right now. But just knowing there is someone there for them is huge. Someone for them to vent to, someone to hear their struggle. Because sometimes just getting it out helps a person to process what’s going on and can lift their mood.
- Check-in with them. Even if they’re pushing you away, or putting on a brave front. Just a simple text ‘hi love, thinking of you’ might be all they need. PND tells us to shut others out, that we’ve gotta go it alone. And while we know rationally this isn’t helpful, often we struggle to stop it. So just check in regularly where you can. Obviously not getting up in their grills 24/7, but you get my drift.
- Offer to take the kids for a bit so she can get sleep. Or just pop around and hang out with the kids at her house while she has a nap. If she gets upset thinking you’re doing this because ‘she’s not coping’, don’t feed into the PND, just be matter of fact and explain that she needs sleep, you’re there to help, and one day you can swap. Because it takes a village, peeps.
- Bring around meals. Anything to make life a bit easier. Just say you’ve been testing out some new dishes, and want taste testers. Again, this isn’t meant to make her feel incompetent, but we ALL need help. And hell, who is going to refuse the chance to not have to cook dinner? *If anyone would like to donate meals to me, I’d be glad to test them out for you*
- Have a laugh. Share your own funny stories, talk about the oily goodness of Kim Kardashians booty. Help her just get out of her own head for a bit. When we can look out and see the world going on around us it can help us to see that things will move forward, and this too shall pass.
- Push her out the door and into the sun! Pop over, bring some morning tea and have a picnic in the backyard. Sun is good! Fresh air, a bit of brightness. Just moving out of the house for a bit can be wonderful.
- And if you can see she’s heading down a darker path and is unable to turn back around for herself? Then it’s time to head to the GP. Time to call for help. PANDA have some great resources and a helpline. And Beyond Blue is da bomb.
And if you’re reading this thinking ‘holy shit, I’m stuck in Struggle St.’ it’s ok! You WILL be ok! It is normal, and common, and 1 in 5 of us now are experiencing anxiety or depression. Know that you’re not alone, and that there is a village right there ready to help. Talk about it, write it down, call someone. Don’t hide away, because that’s when Struggle St. closes in and has you stuck using their shitty amenities. Use some of the tips above for yourself-get out of the house, get some sun, send a text to a friend ‘hey, whatcha up to?’, anything to get out of your own headspace for a bit. And again, if you feel things are getting darker and deeper, get yourself to your GP for a good chat. Because we can sort this out- you don’t have to feel like this.
Thank you Dr Sasha!!
And remember, if you’re not feeling like yourself, you can always talk to the great people at PANDA or Beyond Blue because they know just how to get you back on track. If you’re really having a hard time, please give Lifeline a call on 13 11 14 – they are literally sitting there waiting to talk to someone like you.
One last thing….. it DOES get better. Before you know it, you will start to feel like you’re living a pretty normal life with a pretty spectacular little person who makes you so grateful you get to be their mother. Before you know it, you will look at your baby and think “I love you so much I just want to BITE you.” (I really should ask Dr Sasha why I always want to eat my child…. Can’t help it. He’s just SO DELICIOUSLY EDIBLE!)
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