I gave birth to my first child not long after my 20th birthday; it was one of the best days of my life. I was worried that I wouldn’t know how to look after a new-born baby, I’d never done it before and I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to do it - but it seemed to come naturally to me, I loved being a mum. I needn’t have worried, but it is to be expected, I suppose?
There are many periods of transition in people’s lives, but becoming a new mum is one of the most difficult – there is an expectation, both from yourself and others, that you will just be able to adapt simply because you’re female. This isn’t always the case though and we should be mindful of this.
"Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws."
I really struggled with the sleepless nights, these were really hard! Sleep is fundamental for our functioning and happiness – the lack of it made a difficult situation even worse. It was getting to me, I felt stressed! I also noticed that the lack of adult interaction was increasing – I think that this is something which is overlooked by many. Sometimes we need support in order to release some tension and gain some reassurance, but how can you do this if you don’t see other people? In addition to this I was experiencing some family problems which put more pressure on me. I was a new mum, I didn’t need this and I was finding it difficult to cope.
"With what price we pay for the glory of motherhood."
I started to feel upset at the slightest thing and what made it worse was that I didn’t fully understand why. I was anxious constantly – the feelings of sickness and a fear of the unknown was unbearable. I felt like I had a knot in my stomach, one which was impossible to untangle. I felt really angry for no reason, or at least I couldn’t figure out why I felt the way I did. I was in despair! This could not continue! I tried to reach out and somebody mentioned post-natal depression, but I just brushed it aside. I wasn’t depressed! My baby was happy and that’s all that mattered to me.
I tried to carry on regardless, I now understand that this wasn’t the best idea – speaking out and accepting support is so important. People do care and people can help. One day I was supposed to be taking my son out for the day, I got us both ready to go, I got him in his pram and we went out the front door. I was just about to get the pram down the front steps when I just froze. I got the most overwhelming feeling of anxiety I had ever had in my life. It was awful. I felt sick. I don’t know how long I was just stood there frozen, but it felt forever, I just could not move. It was only when I heard my son shouting me that I knew I couldn’t take another step forward – I snapped back into reality, I brought the pram back in to the house and just burst out crying.
"For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet... and hoped that they would go away."
-Richard J. Codey
After this experience I knew I needed help. I rang my GP and made an appointment. When I finally managed to go for my appointment the Doctor took one look at me, looked at my son in his pram and without me saying a word to him, he said “let me guess, post-natal depression? I’ll write you a prescription for anti-depressants”. That was that! There are some things in this world that should not be medicalised because a medical cure isn’t always appropriate and how can somebody provide suitable help when they don’t try and understand the person and their experience? I’d waited a while for this appointment and in the space of thirty seconds I’d been given a new, scientific-sounding identity - I wasn’t Claire anymore, I had been defined and categorized in medical terms. I wasn’t reassured nor did I have faith that this person could actually help me – this was not what I was expecting or needed, at all. I walked out of the room confused, angry, annoyed and upset. I didn’t even know fully what post-natal depression was. I done some research and learnt that it was actually quite common and there were lots of ways to help. One of the things I learnt was that people’s experience is quite unique to them, the factors which cause their struggle and the ways in which they can help themselves can be very different, person to person. I quickly realized that the label assigned to me did not help. I decided not to take the medication and that I would first try and help myself.
"I think that what I have been truly searching for as a person, as a writer, as a thinker, as a daughter, is freedom. That is my mission. A sense of liberty, the liberty that comes not only from self-awareness but also from letting go of many things. Many things that weigh us down."
I built up the courage to go to mother and toddler groups and I joined an online chat group for first time mums, I started to build friendships with people in similar situations to me and eventually I started to feel better. They say that a problem shared is a problem halved and I believe this. Our local communities, whether online or offline, are filled to the brim with people and groups just willing to help. We all have a lot of skills and assets to offer others, the key is finding the confidence to access this help. People are amazing and we are stronger when we work together. It was this social intervention and not a medical one which helped me at the time; maybe there’s something to learn from that?
"When you study postpartum depression, there is a very clear understanding that in communities where you see more support, there is less depression."
Over the next few years, I have had setbacks and there were things that sent me right back to feeling depressed or anxious, but I knew how to deal with it and what I needed to do to help myself. I know how much I am capable of now and this is powerful! Since that day with my GP, I knew I wanted to work with people suffering from mental health problems, to be there to listen to people and not just assume things or push them away, but to actually be there for them. I am now almost halfway through studying for a degree in psychology and counselling, so one day I hope to be the person helping others. My experience has shaped my whole life and it has given me the insight and strength to truly want to help others. I hope that by sharing my experience then other people will see just what they are capable of themselves.
"Always go with your passions. Never ask yourself if it's realistic or not."
Thank you for reading