It was probably the third time my GP had ‘the talk’ with me about postnatal depression that I decided to listen and not shrug her off with a I’ll deal-with-it-if-it-happens attitude.
My GP has known me through several rubbish relationships, and subsequent crappy breakups over the last 15 years. She’s known of my Mumming ambitions and journey through starting an IVF savings account and egg timer tests. While we don’t always agree on things like the benefits of fancy vitamin supplements or acupuncture in pregnancy, she knows her stuff and most importantly, she knows me.
Her concerns were somewhat valid: I’m a highly independent person, super organized and in control, a master of having my proverbial shit together - a baby with all their needs and dependency could really throw a spanner in the neatly scheduled works. I have a blossoming career and run two small businesses/passion projects as well as a holding down a relatively demanding role in an inner-city school – a baby meant that I’d have to put these on hold and let go of what I was working towards just as they were taking off. I’m pretty hard on myself and I’m incredibly impatient – a baby in gorgeous oblivion to time meant I was at the mercy of her schedule and her slow-compared-to-other-mammals development.
I also have a bit of a history of dysthymia and some general anxiety that creeps in when I’m stressed, take on too much and over-think things. Plus, I dread monotony.
Being a psychologist wasn’t in itself going to protect me against PND – a condition which impacts not just around 1 in 7 mums, but also dads/same-sex partners. But I was hoping that being a more ‘mature’ (read: older) mother might mean that I was also more emotionally prepped and resilient for the huge changes that occur in the transition to motherhood. Certainly the research I read showed it could.
Everything is counted in weeks. The school terms, my pregnancy and now baby’s age. My life revolved around 7 day blocks which felt simultaneously like they were dragging and flying. The nights felt eternal and the broken sleep (tracked and graphed out on my Fitbit) was discombobulating, but when the winter sun came up and the caffeine kicked in so did my sense of self and stability. Routine suddenly became important, yet time felt elastic.
I was constantly running to the next goalpost. To the 6-week post-partum mark when your body is supposed to have had enough time to rest and you can start doing stuff again (very slowly, and with supervision). To the end of the 4th Trimester when your baby would start to show signs of being more of a human, just before the infamous 4-month sleep regression. To the end of the 18 weeks paid parental leave, when I could start earning money from my businesses again (what even is that Centrelink rule where business owners can’t earn a penny but you can do ten paid ‘keeping in touch days’ with an employer?).
One of my strengths is my ability to gather resources, ask questions and seek support. So I surveyed my friends on their experiences of parenthood, twice. I cherry-picked the best ideas and information I could find from my trusted network of friends and I listened. I listened to others (mostly over lots of coffee and brunches) and I listened to myself (usually in my relished time in the shower). I kept a journal, I noted the patterns of thoughts I had, and the themes which played out.
I went back to my therapist, who like my GP, understands how I tick and provides a unique space where I can hear myself aloud and mull through the challenges and confusion that comes with early parenthood.
I walked the pram aimlessly around the mall until my daughter fell asleep so I could grab a 30-minute remedial massages from the TCM Dr to iron out the knots in my neck and shoulder I had from breastfeeding and gazing lovingly down at her little squishy face.
I also went back to the gym and (tentatively, at first) handed my ten-week-old baby over to a bubbly Greek woman called Athena (like the stargazer, but she's a babygazer) and smiling Nepalese lady in the gym’s crèche, who sang songs in Hindi to her while I tried to find where my pelvic floor had gone. For the first time in my life I have actually gotten value out of a membership, dedicating at least three mornings a week to gently coercing myself out the door with baby and baby paraphernalia in tow to a pilates or yoga class. For a good four months it’s been somewhat of a non-negotiable lifeline, the opportunity to have routine, build strength and give my bub a taste of childcare for short periods of time.
Dont get me wrong - I dont glide into class ready to peacefully salute the sun (truth it that salutation happened hours earlier), but the excuses for skipping the gym I used to so easily believe evaporated and with much less mental fussing I appeared right on 9am for my three classes a week. Sometimes I dont know how I even stood upright, let alone managed Ardha Chandrasana. My favourite part was zipping off to chug a piccolo and scroll my social media accounts in the 15 minutes before drop off and the start of class.
There were other benefits too - the other parents coming and going and the incidental conversations that happened, tips shared or anecdotes relayed. It provided more of a regular squeeze to my brain and social connection than my quickly fragmenting Mother's group. For a couple of months, my little one slept for long stretches in the pram surrounded by the cranking noise of the gym - leaving me for sometimes up to an hour after my class had ended to wait for her to wake. I took to carrying a notepad and novel around with me so that I didn't get stuck doing, quelle-horreur, nothing in that time.
Next, I found a wonderful occasional care place which offers a range of child care sessions across the day. Building upon her time at the gym crèche, I popped my daughter into 3 hour afternoon sessions so I could zip to a café or the library to rebuild my work, do some professional reading, write blogs like this, pay bills and generally clear my head. It felt great to be alone again, but nothing was greater than seeing her little face smile in recognition of me when I go to pick her up.
Its a mega cliche, but my 'journey' has been truly #blessed. I am lucky that I have the resources to afford a gym membership, private health insurance to claim massages on, and to pay for childcare. We havent faced some of the challenges that others have: with big sleep issues, lack of family support or illness. I had no idea what I'd be served up on becoming a Mum (something which caused me anxiety until recently), but in the last 7 months my kid has taught me enough to know this Mum is alright.
// Quick tips for new parents' wellbeing:
- Get outside, change the scenery and move, gently.
- Embrace the changes, remember it’s all temporary, they’re all stages.
- Hand the baby over to a trusted person and go and be you occasionally/as much as needed.
- Surround yourself with dependable people you can feel comfy and bounce ideas around with.
- Recognise the complexity of the parenting journey, remember there are no magic formulas
- Never minimise or discount how you’re feeling – don’t second guess what ‘normal’ is, seek support from PANDA and other trusted sites.
UPDATE: Listen to me on ABC RN's Life Matters discuss how important connection and community is as a new Mum.