Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dear Struggling Mummy...

... This post is for you and you alone. Only you're not alone. You are one of hundreds, thousands and probably millions of Mummies all over the world who are finding being a first-time Mummy or a Mummy for the second, third or fourth time a whole load more challenging than you had hoped or expected.

I was one of you. Some days I still am but with a lessening frequency as time goes by and over the past 2 and a bit years I have slowly pulled myself out of the very dark place I once found myself in so, from the bottom of my heart, I truly know how you feel and I'll say it again, you are not alone.

I felt compelled to write a post about how hard being a Mummy can be because having been through it myself and coming out the other side, I now find myself watching some of my friends far and near going through the same thing and I can’t stand by and observe without trying to at least do something to help them through it. I know how it feels to feel completely alone and as though you are the only person in the world struggling this way and I know how crucial fellow Mummy support is at a time when you are feeling utterly helpless and desperate and can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So here are some thoughts I wanted to share with you. Because you are not alone. Because you need support. Because you are no doubt doing an awesome job but don't believe it yet.

Being a Mummy isn't always enjoyable and it isn't always fun. And that's OK.

If I had a pound for every time I heard someone utter the phrase 'Enjoy every moment, this time is so precious, you must cherish all of it' or words to that effect, I wouldn't still be doing a job that I effectively hate, I'd be lounging around by a pool in my luxury mansion in Beverly Hills. I know it is said with the best of intentions, really I do, but it has to be one of the most unhelpful things you can ever say to a struggling Mummy. What new Mummy wouldn't think her newborn is the most precious thing in the world and have every intention of cherishing and enjoying every moment?  I believe all Mummies want to do that but here's the reality. Children (of all ages) are not always fun and being responsible for them and being their Mummies is sometimes incredibly challenging, exhausting, upsetting and as far from enjoyable as a thing can be. Enjoying something can only be done when something is enjoyable. Feeling like you should enjoy something that isn't enjoyable and being reminded how quickly it is passing so this is kind of your only chance to enjoy it only puts added pressure on you at an already difficult time. Sometimes, when times are tough, merely surviving it (whatever difficult phase it is) is the absolute best you can do and makes you a total hero in my eyes.

I am comfortable with saying this now as it feels like a lifetime ago but for me, the first 6 months of Dalton's life was the worst 6 months of mine. Without a doubt. So hard in fact that I can’t risk putting me, Ron or Dalton through it again to have that second child I always wanted and thought I would have. I loved my baby (as I will forever) so much it hurt but I sunk in to a deep depression that I didn't even know I was capable of. I know that feeling of not being able to see the light when it feels like everything is falling apart around you.  I can think of no circumstance other than being a new Mummy in which a person suffering with depression is urged to enjoy it.

You don't need to enjoy every moment my vulnerable little flower. When you can, that's great, and there are lots of enjoyable and wonderful moments even in the darkest of times, but when you can't, don't feel bad. You are only human and if all you are able to do is survive and just about keep everyone in one piece, do that, that's enough. You will get through it and you are still doing a great job.

If you find yourself in a position where the best you can do is get through it, whatever ‘it’ is, resist the urge to fix things. The pressure I put on myself in the early months trying to fix me, fix me and Ron and fix Dalton (who wasn’t broken – he just didn’t much like being a baby!) led to nothing good and everything bad. It was just more stuff to fail at and, in the end, once I stopped trying to fix everybody and everything, those things that felt broken fixed themselves all on their own.

Oh, and this is very important to say, too. Not enjoying every moment you have with your child (no matter how old they are) doesn't mean you love them any less. It is because you love them so very, very much that you sometimes find it so very, very hard.

Other Mummies aren't finding it as easy as you think.

When I was at my lowest point, I remember feeling so upset with myself that I was coping so terribly when all around me, every other Mummy I knew and every other Mummy I saw on the street seemed to be coping so bloody well!  But here's the thing. Apart from the fact that I chose to have my emotional meltdowns in public via a popular social networking site (the support from which I gained pretty much single-handedly got me through the hard times), anyone who hadn't seen those posts would probably have thought I was coping brilliantly too. You see, the hours / days when I was having a particularly hard time, I didn't go outside, I sat inside sobbing, or I walked Dalton in the pushchair crying (both of us), trying to get him to nap for the God knows which-th time that day up and down a road by the creek where you hardly ever see anyone. What I am trying to say is that no one really saw me on those days. On the days when I felt together enough to face the world, I did, and on those days, I probably looked like I was coping well. I realise now that all those other Mummies I saw walking about in the street in plain public view looking like they were coping so well were probably just having a good day too. I didn't see them at their lowest points so I irrationally deduced that there weren't any.

Equally, it is only natural for Mummies to share updates and photos of the good times. The times when bubba is doing something hilarious, cute or impressive. The times when Momma is feeling good and happy and smiley. People deal with the tougher Mummy experiences in different ways. Some, like me, send out an SOS in the hope of some much needed support from other Mummies. Some, probably most people, are more private and turn to those nearest and dearest for support and some withdraw, somehow ashamed or embarrassed for finding things so tough and say nothing at all (these are the people I worry about most and the people I hope to reach with these blog posts). Whatever the method, it’s easy to have a distorted view of how other Mummies are coping and I have learnt not to assume everyone else is finding being a Mummy easy just because they aren’t melting down in public – that just isn’t the way some people roll!  I was astonished at some of the wonderfully supportive messages sent to me at my darkest times from people who I thought were total SuperMummies and finding it all a breeze. It turned out they weren’t at all and whilst I would never take comfort from other people feeling the way I did, I took comfort from knowing I wasn’t alone and that what I was going through was not necessarily the norm, but certainly not unusual. In the end, knowing this was my saviour.

Some Mummies DO genuinely cope with Motherhood better than others. This doesn’t make us failures.

I’m always conscious of putting the fear of God in to expecting parents and worrying them about how tough the road is that lies ahead of them so I don’t want to give the impression that all Mummies find it such a tough experience. I think if I had known how tough my journey was going to be at the beginning, I might not have gone through it. But that would have been a tragedy as I would never then have been able to experience the wonderful aspects of being a Mummy that I now get to enjoy. The truth is though that some Mummies just genuinely seem to cope brilliantly with being a new Mummy so if you are expecting, I hope you will be one of them but if you aren’t, don’t beat yourself up.

There are a million reasons why some people cope better than others. Perhaps they have an easier baby than you. Perhaps they get more support than you. Perhaps they are in a position where they can take a break more than you. Perhaps they were around babies a lot before having their own and were better prepared. Perhaps they cope with sleep deprivation better than you. Perhaps their personalities don’t lead them on a constant quest for absolute perfection. Perhaps they are just the type of person who is able to go with the flow better. Whatever the reason, don’t worry and don’t compare yourselves to them. It isn’t a competition. This is your journey and if your journey has a bumpy start, that’s OK. It will only make you appreciate the smoother road ahead more when you get there. And believe me, there is a smoother road ahead.

So, that’s all I really wanted to say. I hope the tough times pass quickly for you and I hope you will take some comfort from knowing that a) you are not alone and b) things get a whole load better.

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be challenges ahead and things will always come in phases. My current biggest challenge, for example, is finding a way to have the career I want to have whilst continuing to be the Mummy I want to be. I’m finding it particularly difficult to cope with not being able to go for the jobs I want and know I can do without giving up seeing my sweet baby for most of the working week but it is what it is and I’m sure I will find a way to make the balance of being a working Mummy work better in the future. The fact that this is my only real challenge at the moment is an indication of how much easier life gets as your beautiful ball of fluff grows up.

Another indication of how much easier life can get is that I now have been able to make a little room in my life for hobbies – such as my new found love of food art!

Banana Caterpillar!

I wouldn’t have dreamt of having the time, energy or desire to create my nutritious little works of art 18 months ago but I consider each plate another symbol of how much happier and confident I feel as a Mummy every day. And congratulating myself on these small achievements is something I now feel comfortable doing.

Love and hugs to all you special Mummies – those who are struggling and those who are not.

I leave you now, as ever, with a couple of pictures of the boy who rocks my world (and sometimes my house when swinging from the chandeliers!).

Smiling because he is looking at his favourite person - himself!

Puddles!

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