Do you remember what it was like to be a new mum? REALLY remember?
No really, stop and think. What was it like? And I’m not talking about the cuddles and the baby smell and the cute noises they make and patting nappy bums through terry towelling wondersuits which is officially the snuggliest feeling in the whole world and OMG all babies should be required to wear those things… 😍
Pardon me, my ovaries took over for a second.
How did you FEEL? Tired? Sure. In love? Probably.
But did you feel confident? Self-assured? At peace? SUPPORTED?
Or did you feel adrift, scared, bewildered, undone and alone? Did you feel the eyes of every other, more experienced mother judging your every move? Did you feel you needed to prove yourself every time you were in public? Did you feel like you were drowning in this whole new world and you didn’t know if you’d ever feel like you belonged or if the ‘old you’ would ever feel familiar again?
Most people can’t remember. Not really. If you’re a few years into motherhood, those memories have been washed away and replaced with toddler tantrums, food refusal and attitude problems. If you have a teenager, your memory is even foggier and you’re probably convinced that you’d take a newborn over a teenager any day of the week.
But you’re looking at it with different eyes. You’re forgetting the relentlessness of having a human being depend on you for survival. You’re forgetting the bone-aching exhaustion. You’re forgetting the complete upheaval of everything you’ve ever known about yourself. You’ve forgotten what it was like to sit there thinking, “oh fuck, this is forever, I can’t go back now, WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
You’re forgetting the one in five women who suffer from postnatal depression and anxiety because of how incredibly difficult it is to adjust to the new you. You’re forgetting that going from no children to one (or more) is a shock to the system that some don’t survive.
Going from a teenager to a newborn? Piece of cake. Because you have 15 years experience as a mum.
I remember being a new mum. Not because I have some special skills or extraordinary memory. I remember because it’s my job to remember. I’ve been writing about it for four years and I’ve been speaking to new mums every single day for that whole time. I’ve heard their cries for help, I’ve read their stories of heartbreaking loneliness and shattered self-confidence.
I’ve heard, time and time again how much support and understanding they need to get through it.
So, for the sake of all new mothers, TRY. Try to remember. So when you go and visit a new mum and sniff her baby’s head, stroke their tiny fingers and squeeze their little bodies against yours; you don’t say something like “cherish every moment.”
Because you’ll know that’s impossible and unfair. You’ll know that what you’re saying is coming from a place of selfishness because YOU want to cherish those moments again. YOU miss the newborn smell and funny squeaks. You’ll remember that the hard times sometimes outweigh the good and cherishing those moments is one task too many for a mum just trying to stay alive.
Don’t forget to look at HER. Look at her eyes. Don’t assume she’s head over heels. Don’t assume she’s loving every minute. Ask her how she’s REALLY doing. Tell her you know it’s so FUCKING hard. Tell her how much better it gets. Tell her she’s not weird or sick because she finds some moments totally awful. Tell her you KNOW she loves her baby but yeah, it’s a slog. Tell her none of us know what we’re doing – even if we look like we do. Say it again: IT GETS BETTER. She just needs to hang on.
Don’t tell her to change her thinking because you think she should be more grateful and you think she’s not cherishing it all enough for you. She’s grateful, ok? I promise.
Most importantly: cherish HER. She needs it more than the baby.
For all the new mums and mums-to-be, I want to tell you this: It’s not that bad! I don’t want to terrify you! But I want to let new mums know that sometimes it is really hard and if you’re struggling to cope, that’s OKAY. It doesn’t make you a failure or weird or sick. It’s NORMAL. In fact, pretty much everything is normal with a new baby.
Love the baby so much it makes you literally burst into tears? NORMAL.
Not sure you even like the baby very much? NORMAL.
Want to smack your partner in the face because he breathes too loudly? NORMAL.
Want to hide away in your house and watch TV all day? NORMAL.
Want to parade around the shops and show every elderly lady in your suburb the child you created? NORMAL.
There’s nothing wrong with you. You ARE meant to be a mother. This baby is better off WITH YOU. YOU are the best mum for this baby. Absolutely, positively. In time, your emotions and hormones will settle down and you’ll start to feel a bit more like you. Except not the old you because, sorry darl, she’s long gone. It’ll be a new you, a better you, and you’ll like her a lot. If you give her some time.
If you really think something is not quite normal about how you’re coping, just pop along to your GP and have a chat. You’ll be amazed how many women need a bit of extra help to get back to themselves and PND and anxiety is super common because having a baby can send shockwaves through your body. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of your baby. You are just as important!