I have been putting off writing this article for a while now, knowing that it would be both confronting and scary. But I also know that it is cathartic to reflect on this journey, own it and then move on.
I’d like to think that my journey might give other Mums the strength to know it is ok to ask for help, it is ok to not be coping with motherhood. It is ok to tell someone out loud you are not ok. In fact, I now believe this takes more strength than gritting your teeth and soldiering on.
This article is a little different because it is very personal. It is about what made me acknowledge that I needed help, that I was not in a good place and that my headspace was no longer just affecting me but it was impacting my children.
Almost a year and a half ago, I rang my Mum, cried and uttered the words I’d been trying to ignore “Mum, I need help.”
I was exhausted, lonely, barely making it through each day, counting down the hours until every day was completed and sadly wishing away the time when my babies were tiny. I cried at the drop of a hat, had little to no excitement about anything but I was very good at putting on a brave face and being the person I knew others wanted to see- so no one knew I was barely staying afloat.
At the time I thought I was being strong, pulling myself together.
But it wasn’t strength, it was fear of not living up to expectation and most importantly the fear of saying out loud “I am NOT enjoying being a Mum. I am not ok”.
My second child was 8 months at the time and it had been a full on 8 months;
I had given birth
I was breastfeeding A LOT!
I was so tired from broken sleep
I was stressed trying to get my head around doctors reports- we had some medical concerns and lots of appointments for our 8 month old.
I was juggling a toddler and a baby
I used these as reasons to peg my feeling of overwhelm to.
These were all true, they were all happening, but I hung on to these as the crux of the problem, believing that as these stressors lessened, I would start to feel better.
I now know that this is not necessarily how depression works, particularly for Mums, post birth. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that I probably should have sought help earlier but believed my feelings were ‘normal’ given the stressors involved.
They weren’t normal though. And it took a visit to the doctor about my 8 month old to give me a wake up call.
The medical concerns we had for my 8 month old meant that whenever he got sick, had a temperature we needed to take a urine sample ASAP.
This sounds pretty straight forward but for any parent who has tried to get a urine sample from a child under three, you will know it is like trying to catch a wild pig and making it sit still in your lap for an hour!
It is exhausting and you want to cry when, for the fraction of a second that you look away, they do a wee, all over the floor and you start the process again- no sample and a lovely little puddle to attend to as well.
So one particular weekend my son was clearly feeling ‘off’- lost his appetite, spiking temperature etc. I knew he was feeling sick, so we needed a sample, but I put it off.
I told myself that we’d see if he improved the next day. This was Saturday. By Monday I was in the GP’s office, crying, listening to myself explain my son’s symptoms and how he had not improved but in fact become worse and feeling that crushing realisation that I should have gotten a sample 48hrs earlier.
What made this realisation worse was that if I was honest with myself I knew exactly the reason I hadn’t taken the sample and why I had talked myself out of needing to…
I couldn’t handle ONE MORE JOB.
I honestly felt like that one task would tip me over.
Realising this, was soul destroying! As a normally proactive person, for the first time, I had let something go when I should have known better. I did know better but pretended in my head I did not. For the first time my feelings of overwhelm were no longer just impacting me, but my kids too.
Enough! My feelings were not normal, stresses or no stresses, I knew then and there that the way I was feeling wasn’t ok, it wasn’t just a ‘part of motherhood’ that I needed to suck up, because everyone finds it tough. It was more than that.
My son ended up being fine. But this scare, instead of tipping me over the edge, gave me the wake up call I needed.
The following week, I was back in front of the same GP, in tears again, finally vocalising all that I had been feeling for the better part of a year.
I left with a plan in place and already felt a little lighter.
I came out the other side of PND and I am the happiest I have been in a long time.
The icing on the cake, getting help when I did, saw my 8 month old thrive and flourish over the coming months.
As my son went from a quiet little boy (such that I occasionally worried about his language development), to a laughing little chatterbox who spends his day giving me a running commentary of our every move. Looking back I can see that at my lowest I could go hours at a time and not say a word to him- I was fighting so hard to ‘cope’ that I wasn’t able to engage and chatter to him at a time in his life when he needed me to.
I am sad that he missed this for those first few months, but then I remind myself that it took strength to stand up and say I wasn’t ok, and this was the best thing I could have done for my kids.
If you know a Mum with a little one and she seems a bit flat, ask her how she is going. Share your own feelings of overwhelm during this crazy ride that is motherhood. No Mum should feel like she needs to ‘suck it up’ and ‘soldier on’ the strength lies in asking for help, not going it alone. Remind a Mummy mate of this and share some of the load.
Your hands-on helper,