Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Post-Natal Anxiety, Faking it, and the Things I wish someone had said to me


Want to see pictures of me faking it? Because I've got lots—LOTS! If you're ever flipping through the newborn photos of any of the three of my children, and you happen to see one in which I appear happy, relaxed, or remotely in control...yea, faking it!

When my first son was born (and anyone who has ever become a parent can confirm this), my life was turned upside down. And I'm going to say this out loud, my life was turned upside down and not in a good way. If you're thinking about becoming a parent, I'm not saying this to scare you, nor am I discrediting anyone who felt this change was an amazing one, I'm saying this because I wish someone had said it to me—IT IS OKAY IF YOU DON'T LOVE IT (the whole parenting thing) RIGHT AWAY.

My feelings, which I now recognize as ones of full-blown anxiety were very real and understandable. How else would I feel on the heels of nine months of pregnancy (not awesome for me), giving birth, and becoming immediately and wholly responsible for a helpless human being? But having said that, many of my thoughts were not rational, though in the moment, I very much believed they were. For instance, I remember very seriously asking my husband if it would be so outrageous if we gave him up for adoption. Now, I'm not going to bother considering the reality of that because it was never going to happen, but I am not apologizing for a thought I had during a mental health episode either. Again, I say this because I wish someone had said it to me (who knows maybe they did!), IT IS NORMAL TO FEEL OVERWHELMED, ANXIOUS, or EVEN INCAPABLE.

You know, I think back to prenatal classes which I dutifully enrolled for when I was pregnant with my first. The thing that stuck with me was this... They do a really great job of presenting in agonizing detail every possibility of labour and delivery, every twist and turn these events might take, the hospital, the drugs, the personnel, etc...but the end result was always the same—a baby with whom you fall instantly in love and the lifetime of bliss that follows. Well, when my son was born, there was definitely an element of that, but, I'm not going to lie, there was an underlying terror screaming “NOW WHAT?” And I remember one of the many thoughts I stewed over over the next few months being, “Why the f&%k aren't there any post-natal classes?” And I say this because THE FIRST FEW WEEKS OF YOUR BABY'S LIFE, YOU WILL RIDE THE STEEPEST LEARNING CURVE OF YOUR LIFE.

Another thing that stuck with me were the many, many words of advice that came from well-meaning relatives and friends during this period. Now I make a habit of not being offended when no offence was meant, but in my fragile state, these words of advice may as well have been written on stone and lightning bolted from the sky. I felt compelled to heed every single one, even the ones that contradicted the other ones. I felt this because I had NO IDEA what I was doing. To give you a few examples... When my newborn cried (and he cried A LOT!), people seemed to enjoy warning of the more onerous trials that would inevitably come my way... “Oh, you just wait til he's teething,” or “At least he's not a teenager,” and “It gets worse during a growth spurt.” Now those warnings may or may not hold any weight, but what I heard was this, “You ain't seen nothing yet, buttercup.” and in a moment where I was hanging on by thread, this was NOT HELPFUL.
Then there was the gushing... “He's so perfect,” “Isn't motherhood the most amazing thing?”, “Try to enjoy this time, it goes by so quickly.” Now, I can't express how very TRUE these statements actually are, but in my sleep deprived, anxiety-ridden state, all I could think was, “When will this (WAHHH) F*&king (WAAAHHH) amazing (WWWWAHHH) time (WWWWAAAHHH) be (WWWWWWAAAAAAHHH) over (WAH)?” What I felt was failure and like there was something wrong with me. The words that would have been more helpful here? WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BABY. HOW ARE YOU DOING WITH EVERYTHING? Now, no doubt, I would've put on my best 'fake-it' face, said I was doing fine, and asked for your advice on green poo, but you get my drift.

Now my story of anxiety is not dramatic tale—mostly inability to sleep, irrational thoughts, feeling tightly wound, paralysed with indecision—all of which might mean nothing to you unless you have been through it. The lifetime-of-bliss-feeling did arrive for me when my babies were 4 months, 2 months, and 3 months old, but it was tough-slugging during those months. I was lucky enough that an awesome support network (who I acknowledge quite possibly did say these things to me) and 'faking it' were enough to see me through to the other side, but if they hadn't, the words that I hope would have...DO YOU NEED HELP?

Now if you know me, you will know that I am a 'supporter' more than 'advisor', so the bus kinda stops here. But wherever you are on your parenting journey, from pregnancy to an old-pro, if anxiety was part of your journey, I just wanted to say, I hear ya. I wish you all the best in 'faking it', getting help, doing yoga, whatever you need to do, to help you enjoy the little people in your life the way you deserve.

Adele Paul