Perhaps every mother who has been through depression at least for a certain period of time has a feeling that they have had to hide it from others. I was not an exception. I often ask myself why and still come to the conclusion that it was simply a subconscious reflex of my mind. I had the impression that something was wrong with me and that people would judge me for my feelings.
Somewhere deep inside I even feared that they could take my children away from me. Which, by the way, is an interesting paradox. On the one hand, I was depressed by the existence of my children, but the idea of taking them from me made me feel even worse … Maternal instinct is (fortunately) an extremely powerful and perhaps affects us more than we can imagine.
However, back to the subject. Before I became a mother, I couldn’t understand how some mothers became depressed after the arrival of their children. Today I understand. As a new mother you are thrown into a whole new world, which you may have only had a slight glimpse through a keyhole. Suddenly, in front of you is a ‘stranger’ who constantly screams and you don’t know how to deal with them. All you know is that the baby will stay with you for the rest of your life. And that you have to give him a sense of security, even though you don’t feel safe yourself.
I personally was confused, scared and extremely vulnerable during the first weeks of maternity. (You can read more on this subject in the post Are you feeling depressed? Talk!). The question, however, is why I put so much energy for others not to notice it. I’d heard of baby blues and postpartum depression before… So why that intense effort to hide everything under the mask of a happy mum?
I have recently read an interview with an English psychologist about this matter who had highlighted two major issues. The first one is the fact that in the daily life we talk very little about mental issues. It’s true that in terms of maternity, we mostly speak in positive associations and rarely mention the risks in the field of mental health. Another problem she points out is the fact that a new mother is somewhat automatically expected to be happy. Well, when you open the newspapers, turn on the TV, the Internet … from everywhere there are jumping out at you with only smiling faces of mothers who are experiencing the most beautiful time of their lives. From your relatives you hear stories about other couples who could not have children for years and now they finally do, so they burst out with the happiness… All these are indirect influences of the environment that make us think that maternity is time when a woman achieves the highest level of happiness and joy. Reality is often different, so a new mum is then further confused if she doesn’t feel the way she had expected. Or the way she thought she was expected to feel.
Yes, motherhood brings plenty of love and happiness, but certainly not in the beginning. That is when it mostly involves sadness or even depression, hopelessness, fear, uselessness and self-doubt, breastfeeding problems, streams of tears, states of total exhaustion, everyday learning and recognising your child’s signals… All these things we rarely hear about.
On the other hand, no one hides them either. On the websites that specialise on certain topics you can find a lot of information you are interested in. When you ask a random mother about her beginning as a mum, it’s unlikely for her to talk about the feelings of happiness and love. If you suffer from depression yourself, you find that many other women experience the same thing you do. If you cry, everyone around you understands. If you ask for a help, everyone is happy to please you. If you admit that sometimes you don’t do the “right” things, other moms admit they don’t do them either. Why do we feel then that everyone is expecting perfection from us? Why do we feel the need to hide from each other things that we all experience every day?
As I’ve mentioned above – the bad things we just don’t find tossed ‘on the street’. You don’t read about in magazines’ headlines. We don’t see them on TV. We don’t hear about them from mothers during the chat in a waiting room. We simply have a fear of being judged. I’m just not sure whether we’re afraid of being judged by other people or by ourselves.
Whatever the reason, together we can start to change it. If we realise that neither of us are perfect and that maternity is not a walk through the park for us, we can start to tear away all the layers and prevent many other women from suffering.
The most important thing is to talk. If we did that we may not even have to suffer from depression. Mothers often struggle to admit that they occasionally cry or have a tough day. And if they repress all those feelings, they can accumulate over time and eventually grow into a depression. If we want to help ourselves and others, we have to talk!
But where should we start? The best we can do is to start today with ourselves. Do you have a mum, partner, a friend? What if you arranged a coffee with them and told them what you had wanted to share with her them for a very long time in order to unburden yourself…? Remember, the hardest is to start. And you have already started. 😉