Before having my daughter I guessed that the sleepless nights would be exhausting, but the part that got me by surprise was the mental exhaustion that no one really spoke about.
Today, mums are expected to be a super mum. Surviving everything that is thrown at them with a smile and perfect makeup. Social media doesn't help the situation especially all the filters that make you look amazing on three hours sleep.
Then there are the self-help “mum” books that have all the answers. You even find yourself Amazon Priming a copy of the latest “how to get your newborn to sleep” from the baby book chart, following your frantic search during last night’s 3am feed.
Stop – please just stop. I wish I had. I think I nearly broke myself making sure all the boxes were ticked and everyone was happy. Everyone that is a part from me. I was too busy worrying about going back to work, about why I couldn’t fit back into my pre-maternity jeans after three months, about making sure I understood how to wean. I didn’t realise I wasn’t looking after me!
Before my daughter was born I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, but I had it all under control. Then boom! Maternal hormones kicked in and I didn’t know how to control it anymore. I wanted to be that perfect mum and wife who could do it all. Yet I'd beat myself up over the things I felt I couldn’t do, the things I felt other mums managed fine. I was pretending I had it together, when really inside I was crying.
I was too busy watching all the other mums wishing I had it together like them. Now two years on, I realise they were exactly like me. Exhausted, mentally and physically. I wish I knew that it was ok to feel like that, to cry when I needed to and accept the help that was offered so I could have a snooze and some self-care time.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
If you feel physically ill and can't shake the symptoms the first port of call is the doctor. This should be the same for mental health, but we often forget that help is out there and that it's actually ok to ask for it when we need it. There are so many ways to deal with mental health, so many options out there, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask. In some respects it feels as thought looking after your mental health isn't as important as your physical health. That not feeling mentally capable makes you weaker than the other mums that are coping fine. This is wrong.
For me, my life line was and still is a baby and toddler group. I went there when my daughter was just two-weeks-old. I literally fell through the door. Someone sat me down, took my daughter for a cuddle and offered me coffee and cake. I can honestly say that I've now got some amazing friends thanks to that group, plus they make the best cake! I know it can be daunting walking into a room full of people who you don’t know, but we all had one thing in common, children. I quickly learnt that I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I felt.
Someone is always there to listen to you and give you a hug, or even five minutes just to breathe. I know local councils have their budgets, along with the NHS, but the government needs to look at groups like this and help support them. We need more non-judgemental, safe, loving places to vent our issues about; lack of sleep; the sixth pooey nappy in the last two hours; the snoring partner who didn’t get up last night for the night feeds (!); cluster feeds; sleep regressions and slow cooker recipes. These groups help.
I’m not saying that this is the answer for everyone, but it’s a start. Finding something in your comfort zone that allows you to know it's ok to not be ok. That there is someone there for you. Whether it’s a neighbour, a friend, a person you follow on social media, a family member, or the lady who lives behind you who has just had a baby too. It's having someone to talk to. Talking lets it out and stops the mind manifesting into a dark cloud.
The NHS also offer great services, whilst it is daunting saying you need help, help is what you will get. My doctor was brilliant with me from medication to counselling, I’m glad I went. It took courage as it felt like I was letting my daughter and my family down, but asking for help isn’t something to be ashamed of. At the end of the day you want to be at your best to actually enjoy having your little one around to help them grow and learn.
It’s normal to not feel ok sometimes, and the way I describe a super mum is all mums. Can you name a mum who hasn’t had snot wiped on their top and gone out without realising it? We are all the same. All coping in our amazing different ways. So never put yourself down for not doing the dishes or the laundry when really you want to sit down and rest. You are far more important!
By Frances Cross. Find her bog on https://francescrosswrites.wordpress.com
Also read "What have you got to be depressed about? or for helpful tips on reducing anxiety watch the Mama Life YouTube video.