Sometimes stress hides a great unspoken. Unspoken truths that rattle around in our heads that we may only share with our partner or a trusted friend, or maybe no-one at all. Many times since becoming a mother I’ve stood in my living room surrounded by chaos and screaming children and felt like a total and utter failure, while feeling exhaustion down to my bones. Rationally, I know this is a feeling that most mothers have felt and rarely shared, but at that very moment I felt so completely incompetent and alone. As mothers, the message we’re fed is to ‘suck it up’, ‘get on with it’, ‘don’t complain’ and ‘surely you knew what you were getting yourself into?’ Is it any wonder that depression among mothers is so rife? An Australian study released this week found the highest rate of depression reported by mothers is four years after having their first child. Four years. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression in varying degrees since having my first child 4 and half years ago, this hit me like a lightning bolt.
Often, the postnatal depression we hear about is the sudden and abrupt kind. While this is a very real and a particularly tragic form of postnatal depression, there’s another kind. The creeping, destabilising force that undermines your confidence, that whispers words of failure in your ears, that paralyses your decision making with its anxiety, while you carry on doing your best, mothering, working, with an unpleasant truth nipping at your heels. Its insidious and when not dealt with, only continues. This has been my experience and, as this study shows, that of a lot of other women.
It’s only in hindsight that I realise how badly I was in its grips after the birth of both my boys, but particularly after my first child. Both experiences were different , but were nonetheless coloured by that very first experience of motherhood where I struggled and struggled, felt misunderstood and alone. Now I know I should’ve reached out and asked for help, rather than swallowed the belief that motherhood is hard and that I just should struggle on and get used to it. Maybe the following years may have been a bit easier in some ways if I’d been able to do that. So, if you’re out there right now feeling like you’re struggling, I’d encourage you to reach out and tell someone you know will understand how you are feeling. Someone who will take your feelings seriously and help you get the help you need.
While I can’t change what I chose back then, I can change how I face today and tomorrow and help you to do the same. I can ask for help and say it’s OK for you to ask too. I can speak about this great unspoken and encourage you to do the same. In doing so I believe we can change the dialogue. If we can be kinder to ourselves, we’ll end up being kinder to each other and maybe then the societal message to mothers will be ‘let it out’, ‘you’re not a failure’, ‘there’s no right way’ and ‘you never know what you’re getting into, but you can do it’. Maybe we can change the unspoken truth?
If you feel like you’re struggling contact the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) helpline on 1300 726 306.