Motherhood and mental health

The Birth & Baby Network

Throughout the last year of motherhood I have considered writing so many different blog posts, featuring a myriad of issues. At times, these thoughts have been a comfort; in quiet, lonely and perhaps frustrating times I have framed my thoughts into neat paragraphs, thought about the language I would use and how I would maybe find solidarity from others through text. However, despite liking the idea of writing something down, of sharing my thoughts and exorcising my demons if you will, I have never actually sat down and done it. Interestingly, some of the issues that I was so preoccupied with earlier this year have become slightly diluted (or perhaps replaced with other issues!), and so for a while I gave up the ghost. However, the event of my baby turning one has made me even more reflective than usual, so I’ve bitten the bullet and decided to write down a few thoughts I’ve had over the last year.

  • Just feeding your baby”. A while ago on one of the baby Facebook forums I am a member of, someone posted a meme of a list of things that a mother may do for their baby and in this meme it compared breastfeeding and bottle feeding. To try and dispel some of the stigma/tension there perhaps is in the media around breastfeeding ‘versus’ bottle feeding, it said something to the effect of whatever method we choose, we’re “just” feeding our baby. Now, as someone who combination fed their child due to difficulties breastfeeding (amongst a battery of other barriers), I feel pretty strongly about the fact that a mother chooses what is right for them and their child. But what I really took issue with is the use of the word “just”. In reflecting on my first year of motherhood and the people I have met and conversations I have had, I don’t know anyone who has “just” fed their baby. It’s not that simple! In some ways I wish it were, but in other ways the blood, sweat and tears that go into the whole concept of feeding your baby, whatever method you use, reminds you that you are a mother. It seems unfair to boil down the difficult decisions around feeding, the heartache, the broken expectations, the balancing of emotions and thoughts, the endless hours cluster feeding, the endless task of sterilising bottles, the guilt, the victory, the hard fight, into a “just”. Having combination fed I don’t have huge opinions on any method of feeding, but I do have a strong belief that people underestimate the emotion that people put into considering how they are going to feed their baby and the lengths that many mothers go to in order to fulfil their choices is so inspiring. I guess my point (if there is one) is that before I became a mother I could never know that I would/could feel so strongly about how I fed my baby, and to try to package ‘feeding’ into neat little boxes does not do the process justice, as our feelings about feeding cannot be so easily contained.
  • Finding a mum tribe. When I first read something about mum tribes pre-baby I thought; what a load of shit. I know, I’m so tolerant. However, now I am a mum, I am able to appreciate this so much more and I think this is one of the most complex parts of parenting/motherhood that is often so difficult to pinpoint. Being generally quite an anxious person who is an over-sharing extrovert; I put a lot of emotional stock into friendships and relationships and can find them difficult to manage at times, constantly circling around my own expectations. But I was sure that when I became a mother and did antenatal and attended all the groups, I would find some kind of female soul mate and we would share everything, bonding over parenting and understanding everything about each other. What I actually found is that this didn’t happen and that its actually really bloody hard to find mum friends who you properly bond with! Everyone I have met is really lovely, but there is often a spark missing and my existing friends with babies have been a huge support, but there can be a bit shift in friendship dynamics when you have children and especially when your experiences differ. What I’ve learned is that motherhood can actually be really lonely, even when you are roaming around playgroups with a crowd, and that finding a mum tribe, or even just one mum, who you are really in tune with, is really hard! Even harder is that often we don’t talk about it and feel that as (apparently mature) adult women, we shouldn’t admit that sometimes we just want a friend. What I’ve also learnt, along a similar vein, is that cliques are not cool and a random small act of compassion can go a long way.
  • Mental health in motherhood is huge. As with feeding, I think that mental health post-partum (and I’m not putting a time frame on that either because a year down the line I’m still figuring things out) is something that is rarely talked about or explored. We tend to know about the extremes of mental illness, and thankfully cases of psychosis and post-natal depression are becoming more widely understood, but what I’m referring to the low lying level of difficulty that we live with after having a baby. Prior to having a baby I naively thought that the issues I had with myself and in my brain would go away and life would be made simpler by having a baby into whom I could put all my efforts. Yeah actually, I was really naive! I also expected to be able to say “having a baby is everything”; and while my baby is the absolute centre of my world and I love him more than I ever thought possible, this again simplifies the whole web of emotions and thoughts and feelings that come with having a baby. I still suffer from anxiety; which magnifies the mother guilt that we all share, I think I have started to experience a little low mood since having a baby, which I didn’t really before, and I found stress difficult to cope with pre-baby, so now it’s even more of a task for me to try and keep of top of the peaks. However, I’m fairly sure that lots of mothers feel like this, but there never seems a safe space to discuss it. I have really struggled to discuss it infact; I’ve found there’s the expectation that I should always be extolling the virtues of my child, rather than talking about my feelings as a mother (which are two separate issues in my mind). We are starting to do great things in addressing the stigma about mental health, but I think there should be a push towards honesty in parenting, to again make people feel less alone.
  • Having control over your own decisions, whatever they may be, is so super important.

While writing the above I have realised that they really are quite open musings and I don’t often have a point, but maybe this has been of interest to someone, or the issues will resonate for other mothers/parents.

Anonymous

About Janine 574 Articles
I am an antenatal teacher, doula, baby massage instructor, postnatal educator, life coach, writer, mum, wife, friend and, sometimes, just me. As an experienced and qualified practitioner, I specialise in pregnancy, birth and early parenting - my aim is to listen, inform, support and reassure when needed. I have worked with parents since 2002 and I set up Birth, Baby & Family in 2011 to provide good information, a different perspective and links to the best products and services for families. I set up the Birth, Baby & Family Centre in 2014 to provide a welcoming, friendly and supportive space for parents across Tyneside.

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