Mental Health and Motherhood

I read something a few years ago that really surprised me; in the UK, the leading cause of death for new mothers is suicide.

I was shocked by that, but why? I’ve been a new mother to five new humans, and I know just how hard and amazing each and every one of those experiences was. I have spoken to many friends who found the early days tough, but not many of us shared that with each other at the time.

For some they blamed themselves for not having an instant bond with their baby. For some they felt overwhelmed by the guilt that they could not live up to some fairytale ideal of parenthood. For some they became seriously ill with depression and were too frightened to ask for support for fear that their baby would be taken away. There were so many different ways that these women had punished themselves and blamed themselves for being imperfect.

I always say imperfect parents are the best parents, because there is a secret to parenting; there is no such thing as perfect parenting. If you think you are the perfect parent then by definition you are imperfect since you’re clearly not trying hard enough. Good parents try, and people who try sometimes fail. You can’t escape the laws of the universe.

Guilt is a parent’s companion. It follows us around. I feel guilty if I don’t let my children have any chocolate, because it’s a nice treat. I feel guilty if I let them have it, because sugar is the root of all evil. There is no right way and no wrong way, and as with most things, everything in moderation is good advice… unless you’re talking about giving your baby opiates or alcohol, and even then that’s fine if you’re living in the 1930s.

There are so many shades of grey. There is so much uncertainty. I was going to write this article about being an autistic mother, but whilst there can be additional sensory difficulties, challenges with change to routine, difficulties communicating needs to health care professionals and so on, there are so many more commonalities across the neurotypes, and so that it isn’t my focus here.

Today is Mental Health Awareness day. Support for those with mental health problems in the UK is currently shockingly poor. We are seeing standards of care slipping, we are seeing people with serious mental health conditions being sidelined and ignored.

There is no focus on preventative treatment and the treatment for those who are in serious need is lacking.

I’m still shocked by that statistic about new mothers, but then I remember the nights of exhaustion and despair. I remember those nights when I was the only one awake in the whole world (or so it felt), and my baby, who was supposed to love me above all others, screeched at my ineffectuality, and I had slept a total of six hours in half hour increments over the past five days, and my nipples were sore, and my hair was greasy, and nothing felt like it was mine anymore, and I didn’t have the capacity for full rational thought, and the whole world was telling me how happy I should be, and I was telling me how happy I should be, and I hated myself for not being happier, and the crying kept punching into my ears with each breath she gulped down, and I started crying with her, and she wouldn’t feed, and she didn’t need changing, and I had already walked around in circles for miles, and I couldn’t risk taking her out in the car because I was so tired, and I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I didn’t know if morning would ever come, and I didn’t know if I should wake my husband because he was tired too and he had work in the morning, and it was all so bloody hard.

And those times passed, and they were not forever, and they are not my main memories of my gorgeous and perfect babies. I remember the rush of love they gave me and the softness of their skin and their smiles. But oh how I know where too many nights like that could take you; where too many messages that you are imperfect and failing if you are not blooming and joy-filled can take you; where too many opportunities to reach out and speak are lost to assumptions that everything is wonderful now, can take you.

Parenting is hard. It is rewarding and amazing, but it is also hard. To any mothers caught in that beginning bit, that moment of unquenched turbulence, you are amazing and it does not last forever. Things do get better and things do change. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If there’s no one else awake, The Samaritans are always there to listen in the UK (google will point you in the right direction if you’re not). Talk to your health visitor if they are nice – and if they’re not go to your GP.

If I’m honest, I think it’s the people who go through huge changes like being a new parent, and don’t have some kind of crisis, who have the issue! It is so utterly normal to find the world difficult when it turns on its head. Be kind to yourself. Seek help. Ask for support. You’ve got this.

9 thoughts on “Mental Health and Motherhood

  1. Even in the 21st century, women’s health issues (mental and physical) are still the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. Isn’t it time we all got up the courage to address it? Way past time, really. No woman (whether she’s on the spectrum or not) is immune from PND. It never happened to my mother (even though having an autistic daughter couldn’t have been easy for her, she did the best she could), but my maternal grandmother, did go through post natal depression after my mum’s sister was born. Not that the medical profession used the term. Nana just wasn’t “well”, and was sent off somewhere for “a rest.” Which usually means something unpleasant. When it comes to my own personal health, I have learned to be my own doctor and advocate for myself, because I lost all trust in the medical profession a long time ago. I’m sure I’m not the only one in that boat.
    Too many “medical experts” have no idea about autism, nor do they make an effort to try and understand it. Sad, but true.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Absolutely, only now are we beginning to realise just how overlooked women have been when it comes to all sorts of things. It’s just not good enough

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. I say that all the time. It’s just not good enough. I even said that in a piece of writing I did for my creative writing class (the subject being “The elephant in the room”). I was the only one who chose to write about perimenopause and medical gaslighting. Which is always the way. Oh, well, if no one else will take a stand and address this issue, I guess it has to be me. If you want something done, you have to do it yourself. Even if it involves cleaning up a careless person’s mess, which I have had to do more than once.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post. I think that the stress of being a new mother today is even worse than it was 30 something years ago when I raised my children. Mother groups on social media and the internet in general offer such conflicting information and ideals yet make a mother feel she should be perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh dear! Your post brought back so many memories of trying desperately to cope with my preemie twins after they came home from the hospital. Screaming in stereo. My husband (who is usually the embodiment of control) and myself running around without a clue what to do…. The apartment looked as if a bomb loaded with used diapers had exploded…. Fun times – in retrospect. Reviewing my memories, I suddenly see the view from the perspective of my babies – two scarily clueless adults running around. Chaos. Loud noise. Pale faces and wild, unkempt, unwashed hair come into focus, looming above me. A new world where everything is too much and too little all at once – what is not scary about that? I can relate to the new mothers too. You say “nothing belongs to me” and it is true from the moment the baby bump becomes noticeable, your body no longer belongs to you – it belongs to the world and everyone will have an opinion about “the bump”. Then the baby is born and a whole new world of advice and criticism and opinion and inadequacy opens before you… Some days it will seem as if you can do no right. It takes strong nerves and an indomitable spirit to navigate those waters.

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