When I look back on the past 12 months, I am filled with a plethora of emotion that I’m going to try and piece together for not only those reading, but also myself. From the pain and euphoria of the birth; the fear and excitement on the day we came home from the hospital; the overwhelming love and warmth in my heart that is just so huge when I look at my girl that it brings me to tears; and the loss of my old identity making way for the new. I’m going to preface this right now by saying that I LOVE being a mum, Lily is the light of mine and so many others’ lives, but shit this is hard. I am a perfectionist. When I was at school, I was all about getting the best grade possible. Anything less than 100% showed me that there was room for improvement. Numbers ruled my life – from what I weighed, to how many calories I ate, to how many credits I had. There was always a “right” and a “wrong” answer, or result, or way to be. Being a perfectionist has its advantages in life, for sure. I work my ass off in every area of my life to try and be the best. But motherhood? There’s no such thing as perfect. It’s impossible to be perfect, whatever that is. It’s also immeasurable – you don’t get graded, there is no rule book, there is no pass or fail. When there’s no certainty on that, for me, it’s hard not to beat myself up over everylittlething I did wrong, or felt I did wrong, or could have done better. That voice in my head never, ever, ever stops.
I remember hobbling around the house a few days postpartum in pain, still bleeding heavily but trying to clean, because the house was a mess and I felt that in my new role as a stay at home mum I had to keep everything in order, especially as we were having more visitors than we had ever had before. I remember accidentally falling asleep with Lily next to me in bed when she was only a little newborn, waking up in a panic, remembering the statistic that 69% of sleep-related infant deaths are due to bed sharing. I remember putting my hand over her face, desperate for her to just go to sleep, and then demanding that Jay take her away from me so I could just get a few hours of sleep after two weeks of practically zilch. I remember having a glass of wine in the middle of the day because I was bored and lost and scared. I remember holding her down while she cried, trying to force a bottle into her mouth because I was just so done with being so needed, and being the only one that could settle her cries, fill her tummy or get her to sleep. I remember screaming at her to just go the fuck to sleep, on more than one occasion. I remember picking her up and wanting to shake her out of frustration. I remember driving in my car alone for the first time in months, and having the thought that I could just keep on driving and never come back.
Postpartum depression is a biggie, and I knew I was high risk for it due to my past, but of course, it’s hard for me not to view it as failing. Nobody talks about it. Well, they do, but nobody really talks about what it looks like. I thought postpartum depression was not bonding well with your baby, and maybe it is for some, but from day one I have loved the shit out of my little girl. I am so, so grateful for her, which I guess makes it even harder because you question why you feel this way when you have the most amazing shining light of a human looking up at you and loving you despite the fact that you aren’t the “perfect mother” you thought you’d be. Despite the fact that you let her cry for 15 minutes while you too cried outside; despite the fact that you have screamed at her when she couldn’t possibly understand why. And then you stop, and you come back to earth, and you cry some more because this perfect little human deserves a perfect mother and you just don’t know if you can keep on going. But you do.
My mum has always said to me, sometimes you cope because there is no other option. When I was 20, I fell apart because I could. I ran away to Golden Bay and had a mental breakdown and tried to become a different person because I had that option. Now I don’t. I have felt trapped at times, unsure of who I am and what I’m doing, and that there is no way out of this rollercoaster of love and guilt, depression and elation, and being needed 24/7. But we continue. We continue because we have to. But you know what has helped the most? Talking about it. I’m not alone in how I feel. To those that aren’t parents, that haven’t walked in these shoes, well, you just can’t know until you’re there. You have an idea of what it will be like, and you can’t truly know until you’re doing it, fumbling around in the dark and trying to figure out your new north. This might turn some people off, but hey, I’m being honest here because other mother’s honesty about how fucking hard this is has honestly been my lifeline at times. Maybe someone reading this will cry with relief like I have reading other’s stories. We are not alone. It is okay to admit that you’re not okay. One day you will feel okay again. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Even if it doesn’t feel like it next week – we survive, and we continue, and we persist, because that’s what mothers do for their babies.
A few months ago I finally admitted how hard I was finding everything after putting on a brave face and only sharing the good with those around me. Mental health is important, but the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety makes it hard to talk about openly. “Just go for a walk on the beach!” “What do you have to be sad about, your life is amazing and you have such a beautiful baby!” “So many mothers struggle with fertility, be grateful for what you have” “Don’t trust Big Pharma, you don’t need antidepressants, there are other ways”. But here I am. Reaching out for help, and telling those around me that actually, this is hard. I love my life but some days I am empty and lost and I can’t cope on my own. Thinking positively didn’t magically fix my brain. Throw in some heavy anxiety, and some OCD-mania, and it felt like I was suffocating. And that’s okay. I have to keep telling myself it’s okay, and I guess I’m writing this now to still convince myself that it is okay because I STILL feel the guilt and shame, but why? I shouldn’t have to. I’ve been down this road over and over again since I was a teenager, and have been so damn afraid of what people think that I’ve tried to keep up some nicely crafted image of myself but I just don’t have the energy to bottle it all up and hold it all inside anymore. My desire to share and connect and help others is greater than my fear. When I went to an event called “It takes a Village” with a friend, a mum called Anna Reeve shared her story of postpartrum depression and I had nothing but admiration that she could be so open to so many people. I guess that’s inspired me to start my own narrative on this. Maybe if more mothers speak out about it, we will feel less guilt and shame for feeling this way.
Although being a mother has been one of my greatest struggles, it is becoming my greatest strength. In the past year, I have lost an old friend by simply standing up for what I believe in. I have found my voice and I’m not afraid anymore to say what I think, and back myself up rather than shut up and be polite to not break status quo. I have cut people out of my life that refused to protect my daughter by getting their whooping cough vaccination when there was an outbreak in my own city. I want Lily to only be surrounded with strong women and men who support each other rather than tear others down, and anybody who doesn’t have her wellbeing and the world that she will grow up in front of mind can GTFO as far as I’m concerned. I have also seen my body change dramatically, going up 36KG in weight at full term, and then quickly losing a lot more than that resulting in me now being underweight and having to fight that old voice in my head telling me to stay this weight, or lose even more, when I know that I need to eat and gain weight to make good milk to feed my baby. I have become 1000x more patient than I have ever been, and I’ve learnt just how hard I can work and how much I can achieve on 3 hours’ sleep. One year in and I can safely say that the perfectionist in me has less control over me, and although this is still a daily battle it’s a battle that I’m slowly winning.
Although this has by far been the hardest year of my life, it has also been the greatest year of my life and I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I’ve become a better person, friend, daughter, partner and employee. I’ve become more open to the world around me, and started to talk about the bad AND the good, because life without either is incomplete. There’s that old, cheesy as hell saying, “you can’t have a rainbow without any rain”. Nothing more true can be said about this first year. Without all the hard shit, I wouldn’t be at the point where I am today where I can open my heart and mind to others. Although of course I’m still uneasy about judgement, and I’m still and always will be a work in progress, I’m not afraid of any of that anymore.
One year on, I want to thank my baby girl Lily for making me a mum. She truly is an amazing, clever, happy, outrageously wild and cheeky little girl. When her face lights up as I enter the room, when she cuddles up to me in the middle of the night, when she crawls up to me to give me a cuddle and a kiss, and when she laughs out loud and loses control with laughter, I feel complete. I have always wanted to be a mum, and the love I have for her is like nothing else in this world. I also want to thank my fiancé, Jay, for putting up with all my shit and still loving me. I want to thank my parents, and Jay’s parents, and all of our family, friends and acquaintances that have helped us and been there along the way. I don’t know how I would’ve made it this far without you all.
- Lexi xxx