Can something help to heal you and be massively triggering at the same time? That’s how I’d best describe my experience of motherhood second time around.
Eight years ago, I became a mum for the first time and I struggled. I had a constant anxiety-knot in my stomach. I felt lonely. I dreaded 8am on a weekday morning, when Mr P would go to work and I’d sit at the kitchen table in tears, wishing I could beg him not to go to work. I cried most days, sometimes out of exhaustion but mostly out of sheer despair that every night and day rolled into one long wave of anxiety.
I loved my baby. And I’d meet up with NCT friends and their babies, going to Baby Sensory and Monkey Music classes, but the smiles and light-hearted chat over coffee were only temporary, and as I walked home, pushing the pram, they would subside, making way for that knot in my stomach and a wave of – I don’t know – a wave of something. Something that made me feel terrible.
But I assumed every mum couldn’t relax – ever – for months after having her baby, feeling on edge all day, every day. I thought every mum paced the streets with a pram, for seven hours a day, only stopping to change and feed the baby, just to avoid sitting in the house, alone, all day.
It didn’t even occur to me that I might be suffering from anything other than MOTHERHOOD. It’s just hard, right?
And I can hear myself now, saying these words and I’m thinking: “How could you not have realised?” But I didn’t. And not one person – family member, friend, health professional – ever said to me: “Do you think you might be suffering from post-natal depression?”
It was when my daughter was 18 months old and I was sitting on my bed, reading a blog post by a blogger I’d discovered and got chatting to, on Twitter (as was the norm in 2012), that the penny dropped. The blogger was writing about having PND and I found myself with tears streaming down my face.
So I went to my GP, chatted about it and got help, right? Well, no. At that point in time, even though I was convinced that I’d been suffering from post-natal depression, my thought-process went something like: Oh that’s a relief. I’m not just bad at being a mum after all. But I can’t go to the GP. What if the GP tells me it’s not PND. I can’t face being told I am just bad at being a mum.
Yep, the only thing worse than being told I had PND by a health professional was being told I didn’t have it.
But deep down, I knew. And I was feeling a hundred times better by this point, so just did that British thing of putting on a brave face and getting on with things.
The after-effects were huge. The knot appeared in my stomach every time I saw a mum pushing a pram down the street. Back at work, after maternity leave, I worked four days a week and dreaded the fifth day, when I’d be at home with my daughter. Not because I didn’t want to spend time with her, but because the knot would re-appear. I agonised over whether I wanted another baby. ‘I want one, but I’m not sure I’m strong enough to go through all of that again,’ I’d say to Mr P. My daughter was three when we decided to try for another baby. Three years of the memories fading slightly, of the knot subsiding and of talking myself into it. ‘It might not even happen again,’ I’d tell myself. ‘If it does, I’ll handle it better. I know the signs now. I’ll get straight to the GP and ask for help.’
But we had five more years of waiting. We’d got pregnant really quickly the first time, but this time…. nothing. So we did what we had to do: fertility drugs, a surgical procedure, more fertility drugs, another surgical procedure and two rounds of IVF.
By the time that I got a positive pregnancy test – in March 2018 – we were ecstatic. And with twins! Double ecstatic. But there was still this very small, nagging voice in the back of my mind, saying ‘I wonder if you’ll get post-natal depression again?’
Fast-forward to today, and I’m seven months into being a mum for the second (and third) time. I cannot describe how different it has felt. Actually, I can, and I will. It feels like I finally get it. I finally understand why people bang on about how great being a mum is. Before, I thought being a mum was great, sure, but NOW IT’S GREAT. Before, I’d hear people talking about hibernating with their small baby, watching box sets and eating cake. I couldn’t relate at all. Hibernation = loneliness = ohmyGodwhyamIcryingsomuch?
Before, I’d hear people say, ‘I could just cuddle my baby all day long,’ and I’d think, ‘I just want a few hours on my own.’ Before, I was convinced – utterly convinced – that anyone who said they loved motherhood was part of this Big Baby Lie (I really did, read about it here – I especially cringe at the sentence ‘Being a mum to a newborn is hideous’).
So I really do view the past few months as being part of a healing process – these two little babies have given me the chance to see what motherhood can be like. It doesn’t have to be hideous. And yes, it’s also been triggering. There have been moments when the echoes of that knot in my stomach have reverberated around – when the noise of a toy or the theme tune of a CBeebies show has taken me back to eight years ago. But I’m so lucky that it’s been different this time. And I’m so lucky, after five years of trying, that there even is a ‘this time’.