A couple of weeks ago I went to visit my friend who had jumped ship and moved out of the city. It was a shorter commute for her husband to get to work, as well as it being okay-ish for her commute. Furthermore, house prices in my neck of the woods are horrendous and they managed to snap up a new build at a fraction of the price. It was the first time I had seen her in far over a year; her first-born was sixth months old. This new mum has been my best friend for almost thirteen years, so not to worry, despite two children being born in three years and us barely getting the time to make a phone call to each other, not a thing had changed. Well, apart from the awkward fact that she seemed to be struggling and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do for her apart from open a packet of crisps for her while she had her sleeping babe upon her chest.
I’d seen this side of her before. The desperate glint in her eyes, the jerky movements and an almost sadness to her voice.
I was a seasoned expert in comparison to her. My kid is almost three, so I’ve been through the awkward feeds, the sleepless nights (thank goodness we didn’t get a lot of those), the teething, the weening, the poo up baby’s back – my son even got it as high as his face. But I’d also been educated on the judgements of other mothers, and even women and men who hadn’t experienced motherhood. I knew that if someone spoke to me using a tone I wasn’t familiar with, I felt I was being judged thus automatically branded a shi* mom. I knew that when people tried to give me advice: “Don’t feed him like that, try it this way.” “It’s probably colic.” “Do not under any circumstance give him a gram of solids before he’s six months.” “Just let him cry.” “Don’t let him cry, he needs you.” that I was just a stupid young mum who’d bitten off more than she could chew. I felt I couldn’t cope.
Motherhood for me, at least the first nine months of it, were an anxious, angry haze. I didn’t bond with my son for a good couple of months. In fact I would say it was closer to a year where I felt we fully knew each other as Mother and Son. It wasn’t until I shifted two stone of baby weight and got myself back into employment that I felt normal again. That y’know, I could cope with him crying for a good twenty minutes, because I’d taken back control of my own life, thus felt better able to take control of a crying situation. Hell, I felt able to take charge of a hostage situation. I was a mother, an employee, I was finally a woman.
My friend described her daughter’s cries as demonic. We’ve all been there. She attempted putting her in the cot but they were back to co-sleeping to handle the 2am breastfeeds. Whatever’s best for you all. She doesn’t like giving her much floor time, through fear of her slipping and hurting herself. Well that’s understandable, but she’ll need to learn at some point. The husband has been demoted to the spare room because he doesn’t have mammary glands and needs to get up early for work. I get that. But if anything, your relationship needs to stay strong as ever. I refrained asking about her sex life. The point I’m trying to make is, the more she went on, the more I could see she was struggling. Although I hadn’t struggled to this extent – and fully aware that I gave her no lasting advice whatsoever – I realised that the personal struggles us mothers go through are just that: personal. We could shout them from the rooftop, but no one will be able to help us, not really.
According to the NHS, 26% of new mums suffer from Postnatal Depression. Of these, just 42% seek professional help*. The rest of it goes unreported. I think the main reason for this is because we feel no one can help us. Sitting talking to a therapist isn’t going to change the alarm in our babies’ brains that they need feeding, or that their temperature isn’t just right, or that they want to roll over but can’t. Seeking professional help to many just means being prescribed some chemicals to pop into our bodies twice a day. We think we may feel happy for a while, but it’s not going to get rid of that gorge, that massive abyss in our stomachs that makes us feel lonely, or angry, or disappointed, or just bloody negative about everything.
My friend had been desperately wanting this baby since she was married in 2016. She would send me photos on WhatsApp of pregnancy tests with two lines visible only to a telescope, in hope that it was a positive. But now she had this little bundle of flesh and lungs (oh, so much lungs), she didn’t feel she could cope with it. She wanted to skip the part where she was a milking machine and go straight to the school years. But these are the years you don’t get back. These are the years you will yearn for and wish that you hadn’t felt so bloody shi* all the time. These are the years your son or daughter learns to trust, love and play. These are the years when they haven’t been introduced to the hate and malice that is all around us.
I know that things will look up for my best friend, as they did for me. She’ll come off maternity leave and realise she’s her own woman. Through work, she’ll have to develop routine. More than anything, going to work will make her miss her baby and look forward to hearing her cry. If she decides she doesn’t want to work – as I now have for a while – she’ll find other ways to cope. Us mums do, we have to.