I often get asked how do you do it? How do you manage being so far away from friends and family with two small humans to look after? Do you really enjoy being a stay at home mum?
Firstly I hate the label ‘stay at home mum’. In fact I hate any sort of label when it comes to defining motherhood and the choices you make. I don’t actually stay at home all day. If a I were to do that I would actually go bananas as would my children.
The truth is motherhood is no walk in the park. It’s a tough gig that doesn’t resemble the filtered squares of Instagram. There are days when I would very much like to resign and hand in my notice. But the reality is I can’t do that. This is a contract, which can’t be terminated. Instead I manage. I never leave the house without my war paint on, it’s the perfect disguise to hide my tired eyes. And when people comment how calm and collected I always appear, the truth is I’m like a swan.
On the surface I’m gliding through motherhood trying to keep up appearances. However, beneath the surface I’m paddling ferociously trying to keep my head above water, dealing with a toddling dictator, a sleep thief and a milk monster, whilst I crave adult conversation and try to remember what it was like to go on a proper date as your sex life is comparable to the Sahara Desert.
This week is Maternal Mental Health Week. I thought long and hard whether or not to write this post and I should say from the outset this is not a cry for sympathy but an attempt to raise awareness and highlight the simple fact that it’s okay not to feel okay. It’s okay to feel a bit shit and as I can testify it’s normal to feel isolated and lonely. Ironically being a new mum in such a wonderfully diverse and bustling city such as London, can be and is isolating. As a result I’ve felt low and questioned whether or not I’m cut out for this job. The truth is I am and I’m pretty good at it and I have two gorgeous boys who I love more than I could ever describe on paper. But there have been periods when it’s been tough.
Our first pregnancy didn’t reach fruition, which planted the seeds of doubt and worry throughout my second pregnancy. Every scan that followed was never pleasant, only anxiety was felt. Otto however arrived safe and healthy in 2015 and I through myself into my new role but when he hit the six month mark I hit a low. Geoff was in France, my family were 400 miles away. I was exhausted and sleep deprived and felt so low. I was terrified that those I loved were going to come to harm. I spoke to my GP and it was at this point I realised the importance of talking about my anxieties and not bottling up my feelings when I felt down and blue.
In the middle of my third pregnancy my anxieties escalated once more. This was a period of huge change. Not only was I pregnant, but we were moving house from one side of London to another, my husband was transitioning from one career to a completely new one, we had been told Reuben only had one kidney (the missing one was however discovered at my 30 week scan) and we were also involved in a car crash. Consequently I had a series of panic attacks but my family were quick to encourage me to seek the necessary support, which has given me the tools to deal with periods of uncertainty. As well as the occasional stretch on my yoga mat, mindfulness, cooking and long daily walks help me to keep my mind clear and focused so I can do the best job possible.
On paper it’s understandable that sleep deprivation, hormonal changes and the addition of a new life into your own life may cause you to feel like your old self has been abducted and replaced by someone you don’t recognise. This is normal but it doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. Maternal mental health matters, before you give birth and after. Long after your six week check I might add.
It’s okay to ask for help and to talk. In fact it’s not heroic to keep anxieties and feelings of depression bottled up. It’s heroic to speak out and and say; “You know what I feel pretty shit, it feels like it’s getting a bit much, I need a little support and help.”
You’re not the first to go through this rollercoaster but at the same time you feel you are very much going it alone. But dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover you’re not alone.
At a time when mental health has never been in the spotlight as much as it is now, it’s time we keep dismantling the barriers, which prevent so many from seeking the necessary help. It’s okay not to be okay. We’re in this together, so if you’re having a crap day, phone a friend, tell them how things really are and that you need a shoulder to cry on and a large cup of hot tea. Trust me I’ve been there and got the t-shirt. I have a supportive and patient husband and some wonderful friends and talking and opening up to them is one step towards feeling human again.