This new life as a mama is unlike anything we've ever experienced. Not only are we recovering from giving birth, our bodies have a whirlpool of hormones swirling around inside us; we are sleep-deprived and exhausted; and we are also experiencing massive emotions towards this little creature who is now a permanent part of our lives. It's challenging for all of us.
As our baby grows, so too do we grow into parents, and our life begins to reflect the changes happening inside. We may find ourselves struggling with loneliness or depression, missing our old selves and feeling like we never use our brains (or talk about anything other than babies), or even just desperate for some adult conversations.
But the good news is, we aren't alone!
Postnatal Depression + Anxiety
Don't feel the way you thought you would after having your baby? It's quite normal to experience emotional ups and downs, but there are some symptoms that might mean something a bit deeper is occurring:
- Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Abrupt mood swings
- Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no reason
- Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
- Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
- Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
- Losing interest in sex or intimacy
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Being easily annoyed or irritated
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember
- Engaging in more risk-taking behaviour (e.g. alcohol or drug use)
- Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
- Changes in appetite: under or overeating
- Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
- Feeling emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of doing chores and/or caring for the baby
- Loss of confidence and lowered self-esteem
- Fear of being alone with baby
- Intrusive thoughts of harm to self or baby
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
Some women sum it all up by saying "There is no joy in anything anymore", or, "I feel like I have lost myself".
(Information from Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
I Don't Know What I'm Doing
Contrary to common belief, having a baby does not mean you know how to look after a baby! It can take a while before we have had enough practise, got to know our baby's unique temperament, and tried enough things, for our 'instincts' to kick in.
So, in the meantime, there are a couple options.
- Talk to someone you trust, preferably a mother who has experienced what you are going through.
- There is a good chance your local region (in Australia) has a free child/family health centre, where there is so much support for new parents. These centres are amazing and many run classes (or can help with) everything from how to settle a crying baby, to how to massage your baby.
Contact the local 'family health clinic' if there is one in your region, to find out more. (Note: public maternity wards often have a list of free services available to new parents too. Ask while you're there.)
- Online resources - some are better than others. A good place to start is the Raising Children Network, full of trusted information from experienced Australian midwives and child nurses. There are stacks of information (and videos), on everything from pregnancy right up to having teens.
Becoming a mother can be an isolating experience. Our social lives change, our relationships change - heck our whole life changes!
The wonderful thing is this is also a new opportunity to meet so many new friends and find a lovely community and support network, which we would otherwise never experience.
Mothers groups can be good, bad and ugly. If you can start out together straight out of hospital (or even better, in antenatal classes), that's always one way to really 'do the journey' together.
When attending a mothers group for the first time, it's easy to feel judged, but it's good to remember other new mums are just as insecure and worried. Other mums might make it look easy, but trust me, once you start being honest with each other, the truth becomes clear quickly - we all find things challenging. And it's great to have someone to talk to who is going through the same things. Every new relationship goes through stages where there are good times and bad, but if you persist, you'll reap the rewards. Give it a go, be brave, and keep on trying.
While there are lots of online communities, nothing beats seeing a friend in real life.
Find other new mums in your local region. How? Try doing a Google search for 'mothers group in your region'.
There is also likely to be an official 'playgroup' or 'breastfeeding' group in your region. I'll let you do the Googling.