STOP what you are doing right now new mama (except for anyone about to sip a hot beverage at the right temperature) – early childhood consultant, author and mum Stella Stead wants you to know something. It is a message she believes all parents should be told the day they come home from the hospital and every day after.
Hey there Mamma. How are you going? How many months postpartum are you?
Wherever you are at right now – I really want you to know something. Don’t wait for hindsight, like I did. Listen up!
Breathe. You are doing an amazing job.
Stop that eye-rolling mean girl, I said, BREATHE. You are doing an AMAZING job. Seriously!
True Fact Coming Your Way (like a splodge of Weetbix in your face).
Motherhood. Is. Hard.
It is even harder than you thought it would be while you were pregnant and vaguely trusted your siblings’ and friends’ warnings — while being quietly smug that it would be different for you.
Let’s face it, if we really thought it would be epic, we may not take the plunge into parenthood. Our naivety tricks us into this chapter of life and for the most part, we are glad.
But it is harder than you thought it would be, hey babe?
Much harder than when you once gawked at a frazzled mum yelling at her kids in the supermarket, and wondered why she wasn’t more on top of it.
It is harder than you thought it would be early on, when for a split second, holding your beautiful newborn in your arms, you thought that, maybe, just maybe, you had it all figured out.
The exhaustion and isolation set in. Someone got sick, or bubs decided sleep was for sissies. Or maybe the milk you thought you’d be frothing with, came only in drips.
Or right when you needed honouring more than ever, people treated YOU like the baby, constantly telling you what to do (have you burped her? She looks tired. Is she sick?), doubting your gut instincts and concerns. And putting your reactions and emotions down to “new-mum hormones”.
Aaargh!! I know, frickin’ frustrating, right?
Thank God I ignored those doubters and insisted on further tests for my newborn’s nappy rash (which turned out to be a virus that needed urgent treatment). But why did I push myself so hard to breastfeed for those first six months, when I had real lactation issues and it was a COOONSTANT battle?
Ouch. There are so many painful and humbling reality checks along this journey. In the long-run, motherhood can make us more real, raw and resilient. But the stuff we face in between can really f-ing hurt.
Particularly on an emotional level, with feelings of guilt, failure, and anxiety all exacerbated by the times we live in and the myriad roles we play.
Why so blue, modern mamma?
Information overload is one big problem we face these days – every new parent knows that feeling of reading online articles at 3 in the morning until your eyes are popping out of your head … trying to figure out the best approach to, well, every single detail of your child’s life.
Then we put the experts’ tips into practice but sometimes it still doesn’t work for our little one. So we feel bereft, and, you said it, like a … (cue kick-in-the-gut), “failure”.
I’d like that word to be erased out of every new mother’s brain.
There are many reasons why motherhood feels like such a struggle these days, and please know it is not your fault — and you are not alone.
The extreme pressure we put on ourselves has to stop. This minute!
That halo society honours pregnant mums with, where does it go once the baby has arrived?
Suddenly, mothers feel so much pressure from all angles. But just remember you are doing the best you can right now – and That. Is. Fine.
Your wellbeing is the highest priority for you and your child. If you don’t know this in your bones right now, you will soon enough. Just as 1 + 1 = 2, being kind to you = being kind to the one you treasure.
As someone who suffered in silence in those early months, I am determined to change the way we communicate with ourselves and each other about motherhood.
It is easy to assume we are unique in our struggle – the self-doubt, the depletion, the overwhelm. But with all due respect sisters – let’s get over ourselves!
I’m going to call it. A lot more mums face issues such as postnatal depression and anxiety than is officially reported. When the midwife comes to the house and asks how we are feeling, we often tell them we’re fine when we’re not. Afraid of judgement and doubt from those there to support us.
It is completely OK to reach out. In some cases, urgent.
It will not go away.
That feeling of hypervigilance that is making it hard for you to distinguish between instinct and paranoia? That uncharacteristic cloud that hangs over you some days? Those negative thought cycles?
These could be warning signs of postnatal depletion or depression, and need to be looked into. There are many compassionate people and professionals out there who will really make a difference to your world when you simply explain what you’re going through.
You can’t fix a problem that you have not identified.
Oh the irony
Since when was being so goddamn tough such a desirable quality? Toughness – I prefer resilience – has its place but it is not always possible.
It is human instinct to respond in positive ways to vulnerability. So, if you need extra support, bloody-well ask for it!
You were never meant to manage this alone, and for most of human history, mothers have been held by their communities.
There is no one right answer, or one right way of doing things, just as there wasn’t before we became mums. Mutual respect and non-comparison provide a boundary to our personal lives that must remain in-tact after we become mums too.
We should feel safe to be ourselves, and not feel judged.
That motherly, nurturing instinct which we so readily offer our kids (to the point of burn out!) is exactly what is missing sometimes in society, and in our self-talk.
So mammas, let’s do this.
Let’s actually embody the very thing that we became the moment we held our firstborn, starting with loving ourselves, and telling that overly proud and stressed out mean-girl in our heads:
“Breathe, you are doing an amazing job.”