Having a baby is a momentous event. The kind of event that kicks you so far out of your comfort zone that you don’t even know what planet you’re on.
We all know about the nice side of it – the miracle of a new life, the immense and overwhelming love, the snuggling baby at your bosom. In fact, we’re inundated with images and articles and information about how wonderful it is to have a baby. But what about the dark side?
What people seldom talk about is how tough it is – how those first days and weeks are so overwhelming and scary and strange and intimidating. Nobody tells you how difficult it is to care for another little being when you are trying to recover both physically and emotionally from a birth. Nobody speaks about the terror of leaving the hospital with a stranger in your arms – one that doesn’t even speak your language. Your antenatal classes were unlikely to show you video footage of what prisoners of war look like after a few weeks of sleep deprivation. The magazines are not filled with pictures of mothers crumpled on the floor in their pyjamas weeping.
We see movies of mothers doting on their newborns, not mothers calling the cops to take their screaming baby away from them before they kill it. We hear stories of overwhelming love, not overwhelming disinterest. We get advice on how to breastfeed not advice on how to not commit suicide.
And I feel that it is the lack of this other side of life that causes half of the problems with post-natal depression.
All depression has an element of fantasy in it. We become depressed because we compare reality with how we hoped or wished it would be (the fantasy) and then find our life to be somewhat lacking. Now if you are bombarded with information telling you that motherhood is instantly wonderful, that you will fall in love with your baby at first sight, that your life will be changed forever in wonderful ways, and then this is not your experience, you’re already on the slippery slope to depression.
I believe that new mothers ought to have a more balanced perspective and a more realistic picture of what they’re in for. Of course there are good sides to having kids, but they don’t always surface immediately. It is normal, for instance, to not love your baby instantly. You are tired, emotionally and physically recovering, in shock, overwhelmed, confused and often feeling a bit panicky. There may not be space in your internal world for a rush of love and affection. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean you will never love your child or that you won’t care for them, or that there is anything wrong with you.
It is also normal to really struggle in the first weeks and months. Everyone tells you that caring for your child is a natural instinct, but how many of us are in touch with our natural instincts? Some things you may figure out on your own, some things you’ll mess up and others you may need to ask for help. That’s ok. You are not a bad mother if you don’t know what to do or if you can’t interpret your baby’s every cry.
It is normal to lose it sometimes. Go and watch those videos of sleep-deprived soldiers! Even the toughest, trained men will fold under the pressure of not getting some much-needed rest. You may collapse in a weeping heap, you may shout at your baby, you may think you’re losing your mind, you may do crazy or irrational things. You are not insane, you are not a bad person, you are not unable to cope.
Having a baby will turn your world upside down. It takes time to adjust. It takes time to find a rhythm. It takes time to feel like yourself again. You may even go through a period of resenting your baby, your partner, yourself. You may question your choices. You may want to run away. You may throw things.
It does ultimately settle down. You will eventually find the good side. And if you don’t, there are plenty of people out there who can help you. Find a coach or a therapist or a good friend (particularly one who has gone through what you are going through).
Most importantly, know that where there is a positive there is a negative and where there is a negative there is a positive. Babies are like life, they come with both sides. The more prepared you are for reality (and not fantasy) the more likely you are to take it in your stride.