As a new mother you will have the same conversations over and over again. You will hear the birth stories of others related in every form, from a one-sentence mumble to an unnecessarily detailed blow-by-blow account. You may share your own repeatedly, even if it makes you feel slightly nauseated. You will talk about sleep a lot. In fact, you will probably talk about sleep more than you actually sleep. You will discuss all kinds of things that you would have once considered non-subjects, like what’s up for grabs in the latest Aldi baby event and the fact that you’ve found sugar-free kids’ fruit yoghurts. (Seriously, I tried to enthuse to my husband about the yoghurt; he was having any of it!)
Your interest in and enjoyment of these conversations will yo-yo terrifically. One moment you’ll be ranting on with the best of them about this sleep technique or that annoying midwife; the next you’ll be staring absent-mindedly out of the window just wishing you could talk about something apart from babies!
Occasionally, you will get to talk about yourself. You will talk about all of the unparalleled upheaval you are encountering on a daily basis. Even more occasionally you may actually be able to say how you really feel. I do hope so. But when you’re sleep-deprived to the point of madness it’s not always easy to actually know how you really feel. Ok, well you do know you feel exhausted, but other than that.
In the first months with my little new born boy who had big blue eyes and the even bigger cry, I didn’t pay much attention to myself at all. Even when I got the chance to talk about how I was doing within myself I rarely took it. Looking back I notice that I had a few stock answers I would roll out. They were sort of like mantras I could repeat. I now call these sentences the Script and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent who has one.
There were two main lines in my Script that I remember saying over and over again. The first was “I don’t feel like I love him, but I know I do.” This would only be said to a select few, but even then I would say it in a breezy, optimistic voice, as if I were sharing some positive self-discovery. Or (worse?) offering reassurance to my nearest and dearest. The other, which probably came about from week 6 onwards, was “It’s funny because, I sort of know it’s easier now, but I don’t feel like it’s easier yet.” Nice little know/feel motif running through there, don’tcha think? What can I say? I’m a natural playwright.
So why was I saying these things? What purpose did they serve? Well, I think they were both really about convincing myself rather than anyone else. When you don’t get that instant rush of love as new mum it’s scary. So I just kept saying ‘I know I love him’, ‘I know I love him’. I’m not sure I really did know it. There was a small voice in the back of my mind saying “but what if I don’t?” and so I used the Script to counter that. And of course, to ward off the gnawing guilt that would raise its all-too-familiar ugly head whenever I contemplated this point.
It’s pretty obviously me repeatedly saying “I know it’s easier” was my way of trying to speak up over the harassed madwoman inside who was screaming “It’s not getting easier. WHY ISN’T IT GETTING EASIER???” And, much worse, it was a little stick to beat myself with. It’s easier now, what’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be enjoying this! The thing is it actually wasn’t easier. Ok, he had calmed a bit after the switch to formula because he wasn’t starving hungry all the time any more. Yes he did sometimes sleep for 3 ½ hours straight (big woop!). But I was tired. Really, really tired. I’d been at it for 2 months and there was no let up.
I wonder now what would have happened if I’d taken more notice of my Script at the time. If I listen to those words now they seem to be clear early warning signs. You know that you love your baby but you don’t feel it? So you can’t feel any love at the moment? Well that seems a bit crap. You’re getting a bit more sleep and there’s less crying but it still feels achingly hard? Hmm, that doesn’t sound great either. Do you think you might be depressed? You know, like you have been previously several times in your life? Duh.
But when a new mum is tearful and tired we all think it’s just exhaustion and hormones. Why wouldn’t we? Everyone gets tearful and tired. The image of postnatal depression is one where you are afraid of or repulsed by your child. Of course that happens and it’s awful. But PND can be a very subtle beast. You may not realise you’re in its jaws until you wake up one day and it’s as if of the lights have gone out.
So, do you have a Script? Anything you’ve been saying to friends and family repeatedly that you don’t quite believe? Anything you keep saying in the subconscious hope someone else picks up on it? Or have you heard a Script that you didn’t find believable recently? Mothers can be very good actors; we need someone to see through the performance every now and then.