Where do I start?
I am fortunate enough to say, I had a pretty easy breezy pregnancy. When Liam was born, sure, I had my feelings of loneliness and helplessness from time to time but I can’t say I experienced any post-partum depression. But I did feel differently; my usual positive, happy-go lucky outlook was dampened by a sadness of sorts for reasons I can’t really explain or describe. That said, I’ve witnessed those who have been through it; some very much close to me. And it’s not pretty. It’s a scary, emotional rollercoaster and neither mum nor baby are safe from its impact. It is also a lot more common than we often give credit for. Because, in actual fact, post-partum depression is a mental health issue. It’s as much as one as schizophrenia and the like. It’s so much more than just a new mother who’s sad.
I give Louis Theroux credit for bringing some much-needed awareness to such an overlooked issue with new mothers and the care that goes into bringing them back to good health. Although I have not experienced post-partum depression myself, there was a common trend of feelings from the mothers that I can say I empathise and identify with.
Anxiety in Pregnancy
This was a prevalent feeling during and after my pregnancy. Being a first time mum is extremely daunting. I was lucky to have had a little hands on experience with my niece Aava but while it prepared me somewhat for the arrival of my own, I still don’t think I was ready for the curveball being a first time mum threw my way. What can I say? It’s a technical, wireless world and what to expect when you’re expecting no longer comes from your mother or her mother before her. With all the conflicting information on the world wide web, coupled with the ever-present opinions of seasoned mothers, swirled up with our own thoughts, it’s no wonder our anxiety is through the roof. I was constantly worrying about gaining too much weight and becoming unfit (I was obsessed with fitness), this lead to worrying about what I should and shouldn’t eat not only for weight reasons but for health reasons, too. My sister was diagnosed with gestational diabetes due to her consumption of too much fruit juice. Fruit juice, of all things! There was also always this lingering feeling of not being prepared enough. Do I have everything I need? Do I have enough onesies? Do I have all the essentials? What if I forget something?
Before I knew it, I had given birth and now someone else’s life was in my hands. I was now responsible for someone other than myself; responsible for their health and well-being. All while being under the microscope of other people and other mothers. It’s sometimes hard not to compare yourself and wonder, am I doing a good job? Especially in the days when you’ve reached your limit. There were days I didn’t eat because Liam was stuck to my breast the entire day and cried every time I put him down. Imagine being confined to one place an entire day while another human being feeds off you.
If that doesn’t give you anxiety…
Doubt and Guilt
Along with the feelings of anxiety came the doubt and the guilt. I have always been a person who is sure of myself, I could never really be told what to do. When I became pregnant though… Yea, well, I can’t say much changed in that aspect. However, the suggestions and directions of others definitely had more of an impact and soon, doubt, in a lot of what I thought I was doing right, precided. I questioned more of my decisions both before and after giving birth. I knew there was nothing wrong with going out with my friends sans baby but sometimes I felt guilty for it. I spent most of my night checking up on Liam and then checking my watch, counting down the hours and minutes when I could make my exit fashionably.
Guilt was a constant feeling for me, not because I thought I was doing anything wrong but because I always wanted to be doing everything right. When I had Liam, I knew I wanted to be a mother who breast-fed well into toddler years as long as my baby was willing. However, my return back to the workforce and the persistence of my mother-in-law had other plans and Liam was introduced to formula. Not only had I lost that bonding time with him, I felt guilty of being selfish because my desire for that bonding took precedent over him feeling satisfied. Doubt and guilt are the by-products of the ever-judging eye of society and it’s expectations which, unfortunately, hardly ever reflect on our realities.
My feelings of loneliness began from the day Liam was born. Born one month premature, Liam was placed in NICU shortly after birth so I spent my days in the hospital alone. I chose to go down to NICU just after breakfast and rarely returned before dinner. I always felt an emptiness when I did. The loneliness only escalated when I returned home and the hubby returned to work. Day in and day out with little to no adult contact was extremely lonely. In addition, being surrounded by friends who did not have children was quite isolating. Slowly, but surely, a lot of our common interests weren’t so common anymore.
Sure, I eventually came to a point where I had returned to work and started rebuilding my interactions with adults but there were the feelings of guilt, doubt and anxiety associated with it. While all the mothers in the documentary seemed to have completely different symptoms and changes, in the same way, there was a link between all of them to the way they made it to that point; maybe even with all mothers at some point or another along this journey that is motherhood. I definitely saw myself in a few.
My heart goes out to all mothers out there fighting the good fight and especially those who are doing it without their full mental health, being strong for their little ones. Kudos to Louis Theroux for shedding some light on a serious, albeit sensitive, matter and to the staff of the centres and the families who let him in to such a private aspect of their lives.
“Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing” – Ricki Lake.