A cloud hangs over

English: Miranda Kerr at a book signing.

If I see one more headline featuring 'super-mum' Miranda Kerr I'm going to lose it.

About 10 years ago I was told by my doctor that due to suffering from anxiety I would be more susceptible to post-natal depression than most.

At the age of 19 I didn’t really think about it too much as having children was the furthest thing from my mind but lately it’s been weighing on me a bit.

For the past week or so I’ve been feeling low, my insomnia has returned with a vengeance and I even had a mild anxiety attack the other morning. These feelings are at their worst when I first wake up. I don’t want to get out of bed and quite often I get teary. At night my mind races at a mile a minute and during the day I am so tired it hurts.

A line from one of my favourite songs describes it best – ‘a cloud hangs over and mutes my happiness’.

That’s not what concerns me as I’ve been putting up with this sort of thing on and off for about a decade and I’ve learnt to deal with it. I find it more annoying than anything. However if these feelings do continue and it starts to become a problem I will speak to my doctor about it.

What concerns me is the lack of discussion about antenatal and postnatal depression.

There’s so much talk about birth, breastfeeding and parenting yet it seems no one wants to talk about this issue which according to Beyond Blue affects one in six mothers while antenatal depression affects up to 10 per cent of expectant mothers.

Antenatal depression occurs during pregnancy while postnatal depression can occur one month or even year after giving birth and has the same characteristics as depression. Beyond Blue has a PND checklist which is worth checking out if you or someone you know may be suffering from the illness.

It’s important to note PND is different from the ‘baby blues’ which develops pretty much straight away, is considered ‘normal’ and fades away after a few days.

Some mothers are more at risk than others when it comes to developing PND.

“Like depression which occurs at any other time, PND doesn’t have one definite cause – but it’s likely to result from a combination of factors. A mixture of physical, biological and hormonal factors seem to put women at risk of experiencing depression following the birth of a baby including:

  • a past history of depression and/or anxiety
  • a stressful pregnancy
  • depression during the current pregnancy
  • a family history of mental disorders
  • experiencing severe ‘baby blues’
  • a prolonged labour and/or delivery complications
  • problems with the baby’s health
  • difficulty breastfeeding

Social and psychological risk factors may include:

  • a lack of practical, financial and/or emotional support
  • past history of abuse
  • difficulties in close relationships
  • being a single parent
  • having an unsettled baby (i.e. difficulties with feeding and sleeping)
  • having unrealistic expectations about motherhood including: mothers bond with their babies straight away, mothers know instinctively what to do and/or motherhood is a time of joy
  • moving house
  • making work adjustments (e.g. stopping or re-starting work).
  • leep deprivation

Source: www.beyondblue.org.au

I’m no medical expert but I’d like to add ‘pressure to be perfect’ to that list.

There is so much pressure for new mothers to be super mums these days and I’ll admit the mass media’s portrayal of mothers has a lot to do with it. Its infatuation with new mums such as Victoria’s Secret models Miranda Kerr and Alessandra Ambrosio and how they got their bodies back, how easy motherhood is and how being a mother is ‘the best job in the world’ is sickening.

It’s also not reality.

Why don’t we ever hear about what those first few months or year is really like? Instead we are bombarded with glossy airbrushed images of celebrity in bikinis six weeks after giving birth and interviews of them espousing how motherhood is a breeze. I call bullshit.

The women who buy these magazines are also at fault for feeding the machine which continues to project this false image. Ladies stop buying them!

Why don’t we ever hear or talk about the fears new mums have? Is it a sign of weakness to reveal how we are really feeling? Does it make a woman less of a mother if she admits she’s not coping? What’s with all the competitiveness between mothers? Perhaps if there was more discussion and openness surrounding these mental health issues less mothers would suffer from antenatal and postnatal depression. One in six is a very concerning statistic.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, I am petrified of becoming a mother – PETRIFIED! I barely know how to hold a baby, I’m sure I’m going to lose the plot if I can’t get he/she to stop crying, the thought of being at home all day with barely any adult interaction gives me anxiety and I have ZERO maternal instinct.

I absolutely love being pregnant, childbirth doesn’t faze me too much but it’s what comes after which scares the hell out of me.

Just once when I tell a friend or family member my fears it’d be nice for some truth or advice rather than the generic – ‘oh you’ll be fine’, ‘it’ll kick in once the baby’s born’ or ‘it’s different when it’s your own’ followed by a swift change of subject. These sorts of responses only add to my anxiety.

What if it’s not? What if I become the one out of six? If that is the case I hope I will be strong enough to ask for help rather than keep up the façade that all is well. Because at the end of the day if mum isn’t happy or coping how is that mini-human meant to have the best start to life?

If you aren’t coping – please ask for help from a supportive partner, friends or family and talk to a health professional.Here are some tips for helping yourself.

Or if someone you know looks like they’re not coping give them a hand, listen to their fears. Sometimes just talking is enough.

Maternally yours, Not Ashamed.

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What about me?

What if I give up on my achieving my goals?

With impending motherhood also comes a million and one anxieties. Those thoughts that keep you awake at night – will I be a good mother, what if I can’t breast feed, what if I can’t bond with my baby or suffer post-natal depression and God forbid what if he/she isn’t the next Beyonce or Justin Timberlake?

These issues can be readily solved – shower he/she with love, get over it and use a bottle, ask for help and goddamnit pay for extra dancing/singing lessons.

But the one thing making me lose sleep at the moment is the thought of losing my identity. What if I forget who I was before I was a mother? What if I let my goals/dreams and ambitions fall by the wayside for good? What if I forget the things I’m so passionate about? What if I start handing out Mummy cards?

I don’t want to just be known as so-and-so’s mum.

I’m not downplaying the amazing job mothers do and I know there are many out there who are more than happy to be forever known as so-and-so’s mum. But for me that’s not enough.

We all know that mother who has become a shadow of her former self. She was the life of the party, had her own opinions, had interests/hobbies, ambitions and a zest for life. Then she had kids. Now you struggle to have a conversation with her because motherhood has overtaken every facet of her life. All she talks about is what her children or partner is up to. What about yourself, you find yourself asking. ‘Oh no I’m much too busy with the kids/house to have time for myself’ she says rather hurriedly.

From the outset they seem content but I find myself wondering where their former self has run off to. Have they noticed the change? Do they miss who they were? Do they wish things were different? I’m sure deep down a part of them is screaming ‘what about me!’

I see myself as independent, strong-willed, ambitious and I admit it I’m a little bit of a narcissist – I’m writing a blog after all. Since becoming pregnant I’ve noticed a softer side starting to emerge and once the baby arrives I know I’m going to change even more but I still want to be me.

Obviously family will always be my number one priority but I also believe we all need to look out for number one – ourselves.

I want to be a role model to my children. I want to show them how important it is to have goals, ambition and a range of interests. I want them to see me as a strong independent well-rounded woman who has a life outside of being their mother and not just a cook, cleaner and housewife. I want them to be as proud of me as I will be of them. The thought of me giving up all the things I’ve worked so hard to achieve both professionally and personally scares the bejesus out of me. At this stage I will be taking a year off from work once the baby is born. But to be honest from then it’s anyone’s guess, I’m not going to know how I feel until the time comes. If I choose to return to work that’s fine and if I choose not to then I’m happy with that too. What I won’t be happy with is if I just turn my back on myself.

How dear reader do I prevent this from happening? I have no idea, and unfortunately I don’t have a crystal ball to see what the future holds so in the meantime I’m going to set a few personal goals for the next year or two and go from there. They’re entirely selfish but to me a happy, fulfilled mum means a happy, fulfilled child. What do you think? Have you lost your identity since becoming a mum? Do you know someone who has? How did you keep your identity? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Personal Goals for 2012-13

  • Work on finishing my Masters in a timely fashion.
  • Run this year’s City2Surf – even if it’s just the 5km leg.
  • Plan the wedding and get married.
  • Write at least once per week, every week.
  • Devote time to keeping the relationship between me and The Boy fresh and fun.
  • Date nights – have at least one child-free night per month.
  • Exercise five times per week and live a healthy lifestyle.
  • Catch up with friends at least once per month.
  • Have at least half an hour of relaxing me-time every day.
  • Regular family holidays – even if it’s just a night away from home.
  • New Zealand in 2013.
  • Get the ball rolling to become a Les Mills fitness instructor.
  • Join a Mothers’ Group.
  • Keep learning/have an active mind.
  • Never, ever be seen wearing track pants away from the home (this one is really important).

Maternally yours, ME!