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Opinion: On motherhood, postnatal depression, and being kind to yourself

Looking back, there is so much I wish I’d known. Yes, we were told life would never be the same again, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Fiona Kennedy

I’M THANKFULLY WELL out of the baby phase and happy never to go back there. Well, not happy exactly, I always thought I’d have three, if not four, kids but between Hubby and I having a talent for making reflux babies and the continued presence of depression and borderline personality disorder in my life, more kids just aren’t an option.

But, I have a lot of friends who are either pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or have very young babies, so the early days have been on my mind a lot. I’ve talked about this a lot with Mam over the years, she’s commented on how different things are now, how we’re so overwhelmed with information and advice that it paralyses us. And she’s right. For every piece of parenting advice out there, you’ll find another ‘expert’ telling you the exact polar opposite. Not. helpful.

Looking back, there is so much I would do differently, so much I wish I’d known. Because there are things they don’t tell you about in the antenatal classes, and things that nobody likes to talk about. Yes, we were told life would never be the same again, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it. I remember so clearly the day we came home from hospital with my son. I was PETRIFIED. Seriously. Scared out of my mind. We came home, put his car seat on the table in the sitting room and looked at each other. What on earth were we supposed to do with him?

I think the hardest part of all is accepting that the reality of parenthood is nothing, and I mean literally nothing, like we expected.

I’m pretty sure when I was pregnant I imagined cuddles, a smiling baby, pottering about the house or garden with a gurgly little man bouncing in his chair beside me – in short, that I would be a Zen-like earth mamma. I’m reasonably confident the sun was also constantly shining in this happy little daydream/delusion and that I was getting lots of sleep. There definitely wasn’t post natal depression, reflux, projectile vomiting, projectile poo (yes, really), hours and hours on end listening to a screaming baby, crippling exhaustion, loneliness and a myriad other joys.

If I could talk to my terrified, first time mother self, there are a few things I’d tell her:

  • Hubby is just as scared and clueless as you are. He’s not the enemy. Hug each other, a lot. Talk.
  • Being tired all the time is inconvenient and a mammoth pain in the arse, but normal. Being angry, tearful, emotional, guilty, anxious and scared as hell all the time is not.
  • Ask for help. Ask anyone.
  • Drop the standards. Dog hair on the floor really isn’t a big issue. Haven’t made the bed? Meh. Honestly, some days showering is a bonus.
  • Admit that it’s not like you thought it would be. Ask for help.
  • Sometimes, you’ll be unspeakably bored.
  • Reflux babies can happen (I’m not sure I’d ever heard of reflux before D came along. Now the mere mention of it sends shivers down my spine. Think constant puking, inability to lie down, screaming in the car, in the buggy, in the cot, anywhere that involved lying down really, severely broken sleep for months on end etc etc)
  • First thing in the morning, right after Hubby leaves for work will be the single most lonely and scary moment of the day – hours to fill, crying baby, no adult company – utter panic
  • Ask for help.
  • Throw out the parenting book! Burn it if you have to.
  • Did I mention ask for help?

It is not easy. I’d go so far as to say becoming a parent was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I love my kids, absolutely and completely, more than I ever thought possible, but there’s no escaping just how hard it is.

Do I have a point? I’m actually not sure. No, I do. If you’re reading this and you’re at home with a baby, be kind to yourself. Be kind to your baby Daddy. It will be all too easy to get angry with him, resent him for having the freedom to go to work, and play tired olympics over and over again. You’re in this together and you have to look after each other. Tell him what’s on your mind, or if you’re struggling, or going stir crazy for want of a little adult conversation.

You’re not wonderwoman, you’re human. You’ll make mistakes. Sometimes, despite your best efforts your little cherub will be inconsolable, you’ll have no idea why or how to fix it and you’ll want to tear your hair out.

But, you’ll muddle through the best you can. And someday, that little cherub will be about to turn seven and be able to talk about the big bang and dinosaurs and make you laugh till you cry, or surprise you with a bear hug, or make you immeasurably proud of him for mastering something new. He’ll need you to wrap your arms around him and tell him you love him every night before he goes to sleep, and he’ll smile and blow kisses to you constantly during his first school play. He’ll melt your heart. Suddenly, you’ll realise that you survived those first few months. Not only did you survive it, you actually did a pretty good job.

Fiona Kennedy is a 30(ish) year old, happily married, mam of two, living in a small town in Connemara. She has two crazy dogs, wonderful friends and a loving, supportive family. Oh, and clinical depression. She blogs at Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @SunnyScatteredFiona is an Ambassador for See Change – a national movement to change minds about mental health, one conversation at a time’. 

If you would like support or advice on mental health issues surrounding pregnancy, childbirth or postnatal depression, contact Nurture.

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