*Mary is 37 years old and married to her husband for the past 8 years. They have a 3 and a half year old daughter who means the world to them. Mary works outside the home in a job she describes as not stressful in itself but that has very limited flexibility with employers who are not very understanding when it comes to needing time off – even if her daughter is ill!
Mary finds motherhood incredibly difficult and even goes so far as to describe herself as “not a typical mother”. Here she talks to me about why sometimes she hates being a mother, her difficulty with social media reflections and why she wishes people wouldn’t shame those who don’t conform to type.
I had the perfect pregnancy. No sickness at all. My daughter was born 3 days after her due date. My waters broke naturally in the middle of the night, but labour failed to progress, and I ended up being induced. That didn’t work either, so I had an emergency C-Section. It was very traumatic. For medical reasons, I needed a large amount of pain relief in a very short amount of time. This meant I had really frightening hallucinations after the birth, which left me traumatised, so bad that I ended up having to give my daughter to the nurses for 2 nights as I couldn’t manage. The nurses in the hospital were not very helpful. I was in extreme pain after the c-section. I kept telling them that something wasn’t right, but they fobbed me off by telling me – “its normal after major surgery”.
However, it turned out that I had a problem with my bowel from surgery. A small procedure sorted it out, but I ended up in hospital for about 10 days. I cried every day, but I put it down to the ‘baby blues’.
When baby came home…
On the day we brought baby girl home, I was terrified. I told my husband ‘we need to give her back, we’ll give her up for adoption’. I was dead serious. He laughs now, but at the time I was terrified. I was totally and utterly overwhelmed.
My husband had no extra time off, so he went back to work almost immediately. Every morning when the door would close behind him, I felt so alone. I could see the day stretching out ahead of me, and I would think ‘Another day of this. Another day of being a terrible mother, of struggling through the day, praying for a break’.
I genuinely believed that I was awful at this ‘mothering’ thing. I took things one day at a time, but I hated it. Hated being at home with this newborn who never settled. Hated being such a failure – feeling like she deserved so much better.
I always say that I ‘parented by numbers’ when she was a baby. I fed her at regular intervals, put her down for naps, cuddled her when she needed it, but I couldn’t enjoy it.
Self-loathing set in very early. I would tell me husband ‘that baby won’t settle. She hates me. She doesn’t want me, she wants you/your mother/my mother/anybody else’.
I was frightened all of the time. Frightened about the future. Frightened I couldn’t bond with baby. Frightened my husband would resent me for how I was. I really believed that what I was feeling was real. I believed that I would never bond with Baby. I believed that what I was feeling was just because I wasn’t good at being a mother. My low self-esteem allowed me to feel like that.
As time passed…
As the months went on, baby thrived. She really did. She was a happy, contented, well-fed baby. All developmental milestones were met. I knew I should feel lucky, but I never felt happy.
I even returned to work a month early, which (probably) contributed to having a nervous breakdown a year later.
It would seem obvious to most people, but I had severe post-natal depression. It only got diagnosed when my daughter was maybe 1.5 years old.
I am lucky to have support, even on the days when I didn’t want it. Even on the days when I resented those around me for having a better relationship with my daughter than I had. My mother-in-law was fantastic. My husband was fantastic. Without him, I wouldn’t have got through this.
I still have panic attacks and anxiety. I am still taking anti-anxiety medication. I have to be strict with myself to take 30 minutes by myself every day.
The anxiety has brought on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and that is tough to manage on a day-to-day basis.
If I’ve had a stressful day, I get crippling stomach cramps. I have to get help to look after my daughter. I worry all the time about how I’m going to take care of her if I relapse.
My daily routine…
We get up between 6.30 and 6.45am every day, usually my daughter wakes us.
Husband leaves for work at 7am.
I get daughter ready for school, and drop her to the childminders, who then drop her to school.
I have to be home for 5.30pm every day to collect her. We go straight home and I bath her, give her a light supper and put her to bed for about 7.30pm.
Husband gets home just after that. I spend the rest of the night preparing dinner, lunches and getting everything ready for the next day.
At about 9.30pm, I usually take my 30 minutes time-out with a book, which invariably leads to sleep. Thankfully!!
(No quality time mid-week. Poor daughter only gets an hour with us in the morning, and another short while in the evening before bed).
She is quite a demanding child. Very difficult at times. Most of her behaviour is typical for her age, but she is very clever, and knows how to pull strings/manipulate us. She knows we’re tired. She knows that Daddy is a soft touch.
My little girl…
My daughter is a lovely child. She is extremely intelligent, but quite a quirky child. She says the strangest things – words/phrases/sentences that are beyond her years. She hated hugs and kisses, etc until the last maybe 6 months. Now she is very affectionate.
I do feel that she has sensory issues, but it was been a struggle to get any kind of assessment from health professionals. They say her needs are not severe enough to warrant further investigation at this stage. However, I feel she at least needs some Occupational Therapy, or other kind of Therapy, as she has extreme tantrums/anger/behavioural issues.
Her tantrums involve her screaming at ear-piercing level, sometime for 30 minutes. Lately, she throws things across the room when she is angry. On the bad days, when she’s tired, etc, we sometime avoid bringing her anywhere where she might get overwhelmed. That’s how we manage our own stress, I suppose. When we just can’t take another tantrum because we’re exhausted, we have to think carefully about where we go as a family.
It has gotten slightly better the older she gets, she is less sensitive to certain places , but when she was aged 1-3, I couldn’t bring her to indoor play centres (Too noisy ,too much stimulation), restaurants (She hates being tied down or strapped in to high-chairs, etc), or any organised activity where there would be loads of kids. It was all just too much for her.
Now I feel like the luckiest woman in the world, when it comes to my daughter and husband. She and I have the loveliest bond. I can’t wait to get home from work every day just to see her smiling face. There are days when I think I’ll never forget what I went through. But there are also days when I feel like I can take on the world. Because going through it makes you tougher when you come out the other side.
I often wonder would I be this stressed and anxious if the birth had been less stressful, and if I felt supported in the immediate aftermath during my stay in hospital. Neither my husband and I slept for those nights I spent in hospital. Because I was in pain, and probably a bit demanding, and because they had to look after baby for me in the hospital, I just felt that the nursing staff treated me horribly. They felt that I was a trouble-maker. At least that’s how they treated me. They even conducted a ‘questionnaire’ on me one day – they got one of the lesser known managers of the ward to pose as an ‘Independent’ Auditor of their services. I only discovered some weeks later when I met the Obstetrician that the ‘survey’ did not exist. He had never heard of this lady, or the audit she was purporting to carry out!
They also told me that I would not be able to care for a baby when I got home. That I was oblivious to how hard it was going to be. Why would a nurse professional tell a new mother this??? When I started crying, they told me they thought I “almost certainly had mental health issues”. They even asked me if I would consent to a Psychiatric evaluation before I was discharged.
Believe me, although I was depressed, they definitely made me worse. They also only conducted these little chats/interviews/audits on me when I was on my own. They always waited until my husband had gone home.
Anyway, I feel that the situation in hospital made an already life-changing time much, much worse.
I also feel that new mothers should have counselling offered to them in the weeks after they give birth. This may help to recognise PND earlier.
I also didn’t feel that the Public Health Nurse was much good. She was covering for another PHN, and seemed like she didn’t have much time to spend with us.
However, I really feel that society has us conditioned to believe we must be ‘perfect’ when we have a baby. That we must do things a certain way, and no way are we supposed to complain about the experience. No way are we permitted to talk about how tired we are. No way are we permitted to say how little we’re actually enjoying the ‘precious time’ with a newborn.
Before “becoming mum”…
I was a fiercely independent person before I had my daughter. I loved my own space, I loved being able to flit off on a weekend away anytime I like. My whole life was impromptu lunches, impromptu nights out. I thrived on the last minute-ness of it all.
Then along came baby. Maybe it was because I wasn’t what you’d call a ‘young’ mother. Maybe because I had reached my 30s, I had it all worked out, or so I thought. My husband and I were settled, we had a lovely life, we had our own little bubble of nights out, romantic nights in, trips abroad, etc. And then overnight, it all changed, and in the most traumatic way possible.
Now don;t get me wrong – we LOVE LOVE LOVE our girl. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle. Every. Day.
I’m not a typical mother. Sometimes I hate being a mother, but thankfully those days are few. But I’m not the mother gushing about her kids. I’m the one talking about my struggles. And that’s not the done thing in this country.
Having another child…
I am TERRIFIED of getting pregnant again. I wouldn’t be the pushover and the nervous mother I was, but I would be terrified of getting PND again. However, I think I’d still do it if the urge was strong enough.
My advice to others who feel the same…
Talk to your GP. I am very lucky in that I found a wonderful straight-talking GP.
Also- if someone told me that they felt like I did – I would tell them in no uncertain terms that they were wonderful. That their baby loves them, just as they are. I would tell them to talk to their GP, and I would even offer yo mind the baby, or go with them to the GP.
Women need to talk more. But not about how perfect their lives are. About how shit they are feeling.
And we need to stop shaming mothers who don’t conform to this perfect stereotype. Social Media is a useful tool when you’re at home with a newborn and you’re lonely. However it is also dangerous, when all you see is images of perfect mothers holding perfect babies.
I was TOTALLY and utterly unprepared for motherhood. Ante-natal classes should show you pictures of a c-section scar, pictures of a baby with poo running up its back. They should prepare you more for the fact that your life is going to irrevocably change, at least for 2 years or so.
*Mary’s name has been changed to protect both her and her family’s identity.