An open letter to new mums: You are not alone
Updated: Feb 3
Hello lovely lady, How are you? You've probably been asked that a lot recently, and I'm guessing the answer is always something like 'good, thank you. Tired'. That was always my default response in the first few weeks of Rex's arrival, never telling anyone the truth, which was that I actually felt crushed by sheer volume of emotions I was feeling. Happy, sad, exhausted, fearful, elated, terrified, desperate and etc... the list goes on.
The reality of the answer to how I was really feeling having just become a mum was something I didn't want to admit. I had this beautiful little baby, which I had deluded myself into thinking would be the most perfect, serene experience ever, but instead I felt like I'd just started a very long prison sentence. Just writing that makes me wince. Now, three-and-a-half years on, it's impossible to imagine that I ever felt like that about being mum to my gorgeous boy. But I did, at first.
Way back then, I wrote a blog post when things were getting really tough, which I've reposted below. As much as it's painful to read now, it's actually also really helpful for me to see how far my little family has come since then. I also know, from the response I got first time round, that what I wrote provided a lot of comfort and reassurance to other mums feeling a similar way.
It's fair to say 2020 so far has been a year unlike any other, and now, even more than ever, we need to know we're not alone. So to every mum out there, you are doing an amazing job. It sure as shit might not feel like it most of the time, but I promise you, you are. And whether you feeling like you've got this mum malarkey nailed (you absolute warrior) or are more like I was, wondering how the hell I was even going to make it through the next hour, you are not alone.
Here is the blog post I first wrote on 17 September 2017, plus a photo taken around the same time. Rex was three months old and the world was an extremely dark place. Just over three years on now, Rex and I have a bond, the strength of which I often find words can't do justice.
So things kind of all fell apart after my last blog post. For the past three months, I’ve really struggled with how I feel about being a mum and deliberately hadn’t stopped to let myself properly think about it. It was as if I knew that if I did stop, everything would come crashing down around me. And that’s exactly what happened. The day that followed that post saw me completely break down on Eamo, where I admitted to him, and myself, that I was now at the stage where I needed some help.
From the day I started this blog, I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by and massively grateful for the support and advice I’ve had from you lovely lot. But none more so than a message I received shortly after my last post from a lady who had been following my story. The message brought me to tears as she explained how she had identified with a lot of what I had said and had previously suffered from postnatal depression. She wasn’t suggesting that I was depressed, but she wanted to let me know that I wasn’t alone in how I’d been feeling and that support was out there should I want it. Right now, I feel like that one message may very well have saved my life because, without really knowing it, I’d been at breaking point for a while.
Don’t get me wrong, most days I am absolutely fine. I’m not sat at home crying into the bottom of a bottle of vodka or anything. Just sometimes I have this underlying feeling of sadness that I just can’t shake, and I can’t work out why. I have absolutely nothing to be sad about and yet sometimes the smallest of things can reduce me to tears. It’s like my head space is so crammed that the most trivial things can push me over the edge.
The lovely lady who messaged me put me in touch with a lady who runs a postnatal support group, and on Tuesday just gone I went to my first session. The Monday before I’d decided I wasn’t going. I’d convinced myself that if I went someone would think I’m a rubbish mum and take Rex away from me. I also knew that by turning up I was admitting I needed help and it would make it all the more real. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, but most of all, felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt for all the families out there who can’t or struggle to have children. Guilt for Rex because I feel like he deserves so much better. Guilt for Eamo because he’s had to put up with so much. The list goes on. But two things absolutely compelled me to go; Rex and the fact that if I didn’t show there would be a lady somewhere struggling who could’ve taken my space. I was terrified about going and baring my soul to total strangers but I am so glad I went. The session was every bit as hard and emotional as I thought it would be, but I felt so much better getting some of it off my chest and have other mums not only completely agree and totally understand where I was coming from but also be hugely supportive. I cried a lot as I tried to explain how lonely and isolated I’ve felt since having Rex. And, in short, just how fucking hard I’ve found having a baby. It’s not the looking after him. That I can do, no problem. My issue is how I feel about my capabilities as a mum and how I’ve struggled to come to terms with not having that immediate bond with my child that seemingly comes so naturally to others.
Being a mum isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. (I hope) Everybody knows that. But you take the rough with the smooth and hope that the latter outweighs the former. However, for me it’s a much harder, trickier business because being a mum isn’t a role that I naturally fit in to. Many mums carry their child for nine months and form a bond before they are even born. Some – me included – don’t. And the relationship they have with their child is one that grows over time, rather than it being determined as soon as they clap eyes on each other. I wish I’d formed that bond with Rex immediately as I can imagine it would’ve made those ridiculously hard first few days and weeks that much easier to deal with.
When I think back, I’m almost sure all of my insecurities about being a mum stem from the struggles I had with breastfeeding. Not being able to feed my baby felt like a huge failure on my part, like I had fallen at the very first hurdle and it knocked my confidence as a mum massively. I also found that comments or actions from other people chipped away at my confidence too. Even the smallest things, like people rearranging Rex’s blanket on him after me, would make me feel incapable. Like ‘shit, I can’t even put a blanket on him properly’. Just writing that and reading it back, it sounds ridiculous, but when you’re in that frame of mind, it all adds up to huge amounts of self-doubt.
When your pregnant people say all the time how hard being a parent is. But I always associated that with actually looking after another human 24/7 on literally no sleep, as very rarely do you hear people talk about how it affects people mentally. And that really needs to change. Just writing this post was hard enough but pressing the publish button is something that I worried about doing for fear of people feeling sorry for me or treating me differently somehow. But I have always been completely honest about my journey into motherhood and to not share this made me feel like I was doing myself and anyone else who might also be having a tough time a huge disservice.
I’ve spoken with a few people about how I feel, and 90% of the other mums that I’ve shared this with have identified with some or all of what I’ve said. And the more honest I am and the more I talk about it, the more they have come forward with their own issues and insecurities. I was told recently that a staggeringly high percent of mum’s feel similar to me and sometimes still do years after giving birth. But only 1 out of every 10 mums who feel that way say or do something about it.
That is why I have written this. If even one of those women somehow finds their way to reading this and it makes them feel a bit better, even momentarily, then baring my soul was worth it. I’m slowly learning that admitting being mum is sometimes a bit shit doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad mum. It makes me human. And as awful as this sounds, I am comforted in the fact that many, many other women can identify with how I feel. Because being a mum can be a very lonely place, and the more I talk about this, the more I realise I am absolutely not on my own with my issues and fears.
I felt it was really important to be honest and talk about this because without this blog I would never have known about the support group that I am going to. It’s 12 weeks and completely free and, hard as it is, I am really positive about going back and working my way through all this. Every day gets a little easier but Rex still manages to floor me on a daily basis, and I often feel totally overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone. But I guess that is just what being a parent is. Making decisions, trying your best and hoping to not completely fuck your kids up. No pressure then!
I really hope that my writing this raises even just a little awareness to the fact that there is help out there. One of my friends, a mum of two, recently said to me ‘we’re all in this together’ and she’s absolutely right. It’s ok to not be ok. And it’s even more ok to say so.
To finish, to my baby boy, Rex,
If this blog post still exists when you are old enough to go online and you somehow happen across it, firstly I am sorry if any of it upsets you. I was never sure if I would make a good mum, but I always hoped I would be and knew that anything I lacked in I’d work my ass off to make sure I was the best I could be. Trust me when I say I am doing exactly that for you. Secondly, know that I love you with every inch of my being. You are, without a doubt, the best thing to ever happen to me. My greatest achievement. My feelings are no reflection on you, how could they be? To me, you are perfect. Every day you make me a better, stronger person and every day we get through I become more confident that I can be a good enough mum for you. You, baby boy, make me want to be a better human being. And for that, I can never thank you enough. I love you. Unequivocally. Unconditionally. Forever.
To all the new mums out there reading this, keep going, strong Mama, you've got this. One day, hour, minute at a time – you're stronger and more capable than you can ever imagine, I promise.