This may possibly be the hardest thing I have ever written, but I feel I cannot write about parenting without at some point addressing The Elephant in the Room: Post Natal Depression
So many of you will have experienced this, or watched your partner struggle with life at a time when everyone tells you you should be so happy. One of the biggest myths is that it only happens at birth, or that it only lasts for a few months – alas both of these things are false.
Post Natal Depression is not merely a long period of Baby Blues and it is not confined to the period immediately after delivery, in fact many mothers cope brilliantly for the first six months then find themselves slipping into a deep dark hole – just around the point when life is starting to get back to normal.
Personally I feel the PND is an extension of Depression, full stop. An inability to cope, a feeling of being out of control and realising that no matter what you do – you can’t make yourself feel better.
The loss of control is a major trigger in the onset of PND. A normal healthy woman goes from being highly autonomous, thinking and acting for herself – possibly working a job with great responsibility, or enjoying the freedom of adult life then suddenly everything changes. I used to think it akin to losing a limb; you have to learn to live in a whole new way.
Only, now its not only about you; there is this helpless individual, wholly dependent on you for its survival, with whom you cannot reason, you cannot placate or discuss or negotiate with.
Life is turned upside down, you lose sleep, you forget to eat, you hardly manage to finish a thought let alone a full sentence, and it is exhausting.
Add to this the world telling you how Happy you should feel, how wonderful and beautiful and perfect it all is – and you have a recipe for one sad mummy. Who feels a failure and has the darkest of dark thoughts running through her head; thoughts which can never be uttered – for NO ONE MUST KNOW. And this is the worst part of it. Like any mental health issue – the instinct is to hide it, to pretend that everything is alright, when deep inside you are raging. Or numb. Or both.
So what to do? The first thing is admit it – at least to yourself.
Talk to someone – anyone – and ‘confess’ your darkness to them. This simple act of honestly will bring such huge relief.
Then tell someone who can help you – a doctor, health visitor, parenting coach, family centre worker, or pharmacist.
And the next time someone asks ‘how are you?’ try telling the Truth! ‘Actually I feel awful and could really use a friend.’ Radical Honesty is truly your Saviour, even if it takes a few people to find the best response. But if nobody knows how you feel no one can help you.
If you are uncertain if what you are feeling is ‘normal’ or not, think about this: What would you tell another mother who told you she felt this way? The chances are you would instinctively guide her to ask for help – so please, follow your own advice.
Our culture does not really ‘hold the space’ for mothers, and this is a great shame. Personally I offer support and encouragement to anyone struggling with any mental health issue – I’ve been there, I know how lonely it can be. And with the rates of mental health issues topping 1 in 4 the chances are the next person you talk to today will know exactly what you are talking about.
True, not everyone can empathise – and some people – older generations especially, can struggle to understand; but most younger people will ‘get you’ and be only too happy to ‘walk with you’ for a while until you can stand on your own two feet.
The most important part of this journey – for that is exactly what it is – is to share it. Walk it, talk it, write about it, tell stories about it, find others to share with, read, learn and teach. Truly this goddamn awful affliction can be the most amazing education, if you embrace it exactly as that.
But your instinct is to run, to hide, to push everyone away and pretend to be The Perfect Mother. But that way madness lies, and worse. And your baby needs you. Your family needs you. The world needs you.
You are not tainted. You are not broken. You are TRANSFORMED. And you now hold the key to the most amazing power source on the planet. LIFE ITSELF,
You created it. You grew it. You birthed it into being. You nourish it. You protect it. You teach it. You develop it. You bless it with love and warmth and spirit. And you release it into the world. Truly you are a Divine Mother. The Goddess Incarnate: Gaia.
Never let anyone tell you that you are Just a Mother! For indeed there is no such thing.
We are the life- givers. We are magic. We are power and we are Queens. This is why The Patriarchy seeks to keep us down. This is why we are lied to and told this is a Man’s World. Rubbish!
I am not anti – men but this belief system has got to end. Women must regain their place on the Throne. We are Queens. We are rulers.
Men may rule countries and lead armies, but women rule people and lead hearts and minds. This is where our power lies. In the deepest recesses of love, life and imagination.
Men may well be strong of muscle, to hunt, to gather, to build and destroy, to take up weapons and fight. Yes they may well ‘have a sword’, but women hold ‘the chalice’. We need both to create an equal world, to thrust forward with intention and force is so masculine, yet to embrace, accept and take within is female. The yin and the yang flowing together. Neither better than the other, yet neither submissive or lesser either.
(Elephant cartoon by Kate Blundell for http://www.outofourheads.net)