Postnatal mental health and parental separation anxiety is something i’ve wanted to discuss for quite a while now but i’ve never really been able to find the words that would allow me to talk honestly and openly knowing that people may actually read it.
I think now is as good a time as any to shed some light on parental anxiety and postnatal mental health in general though. As a side note, Ive never been diagnosed with any of the above. Instead I thought I would share my own raw feelings on becoming a first time Mum and how those feelings affected my mental health.
My aim is to address those feelings in the hope that it encourages others to discuss theirs. When Mums no longer feel isolated and judged and have the correct emotional support following birth then we can start to move forward and understand all manner of post natal mental health. If we can learn to understand, accept help (however big or small) then we are in a better position to help others too.
So…here are MY emotions behind becoming a first time Mum.
When I was pregnant with Henry, my eldest, my 25 year old self did have some inkling as to how hard parenting would be physically and I understood I was about to be tired for the next decade but I was totally and utterly unprepared for the emotional burden of being a Mum.
I’m not a big open emotional talker (I prefer writing), I’m quite a closed book and slightly blunt at times and I, like many Mums to be before me had probably never really had commit a completely selfless or altruistic act of love pre baby.
So on the 15th May 2013 when my beautiful boy was placed into my arms (I make it sound wonderful but it was f**king horrific) it was a huge huge shock!
There were just so many emotions to process! Love, fear, worry, joy all felt like they matted together forming one giant ball in my head.
I came into hospital a pretty confident, tough young cookie and I left feeling vulnerable, alone and weak. “Was the baby getting enough milk?” “Why wasn’t he sleeping” “Why IS he sleeping, should he be feeding?” There seemed to be a never ending list of questions which there seemed to be no answer for or worse conflicting answers from the post man to the midwife and everyone in between.
As well as the thousands of worries and questions in my mind I was also experiencing a new love id never felt before. It was the strongest most overwhelming love id felt. It was an all-consuming, completely selfless love. I mean, I loved my Chris yes, but I knew from that day that I would die for my son.
I didn’t quite know how to process this new love and I felt quite afraid of it. I literally felt like I had a personality transplant overnight and this made me feel distant from everyone around me. Was I still the same person my friends and partner loved?
I didn’t spend much time away from Henry at all, I tried to pretend it was due to breastfeeding but I know now I was making an excuse for myself so I didn’t have to leave him.
I came to realise that I wasn’t afraid what would happen to him if I wasn’t there, I knew he was safe. I was afraid what would happen to ME. I didn’t know how to be ME anymore. Henry became my security blanket and I couldn’t concentrate on anything when we were apart.
On the rare occasion I did leave him I found conversations difficult to join in on. Where was the funny, witty, carefree person I used to be? I felt like I was drowning at times and I hated going out knowing this feeling of insecurity would happen.
I once tried to go clothes shopping with Chris but had to come home. I could feel my head thumping, everything seemed loud and there were too many people everywhere for me to deal with. I wasn’t used to being out of my baby bubble. I wish I had waited until I felt ready to re join society as once this happened I became nervous about going out again. It made me feel so lost and alone to sit in my old life and pretend to still be me. The only place I felt as ease was with Henry.
I have since discovered that there is something called parental separation anxiety. Every word I read about this made sense to me. Surprisingly once I realised what I was experiencing I was able to control it better.
I started inviting friends over for “girls nights” to get back into the swing of things and find myself again. I also (thanks to my sister in law) made lots of Mum friends which helped enormously. Suddenly I didnt feel so lonely.
I also found that if I was leaving Henry to go to work or go out then I was able to cope better if I planned out what was going to happen and the carer in charge for the day stuck to the schedule. I’m pretty sure most of my friends and family thought I was abit mad, but it did work.
As my confidence grew in Motherhood my old self started to come back through too. I found that I needed these lists and schedules less and less. (I still like to know what they have eaten and try overly hard to get them to make healthy choices but I can cope with that.)
In hindsight I imagine these are feelings are BOTH totally normal AND warning signs for PND or anxiety. These feelings lasted well over a year so I imagine I fell into the later category.
I never asked for help as I VERY naively thought that anxiety meant sat in a room rocking and crying and hating your new life. I simply didn’t feel that way. I loved (still do) love being a Mum. But…..
I was struggling figuring out where the “Mum” ended and the “Me” began. I was struggling holding it all together when I wanted to cry. I was struggling fitting back into society . I was struggling doing anything out of the routine I created to keep me safe and it it feels so good to say out loud that yes… I struggled.
Second time round with Leo I was way more relaxed! I guess I knew who I was by then and was confident enough to be who I wanted to be.
If you are/have ever experienced issues with mental health or finding your identity after having a baby then I would to know how you coped.
Love A Mum Like Me xxx