Motherhood, Mental Health, and Self-Care: Part 1
If you’re familiar with my blogs, then you’ll know that I am not a mother.
I am not someone who is maternal in any sense - I do not find babies or small children ‘adorable’, and my ovaries are far more likely to explode at the sight of a kitten than of your offspring.
So why on earth do I insist on writing about the subject?
I’m at that age now (oh GOD – am I really using that phrase?) where more and more of my friends are having children. In spite of the fact that I have no desire to procreate myself, I have a heady fascination with the subject, particularly when it comes to giving birth. I want ALL the gory details! Give me blood, piss, shit, and vomit! Honestly, the more dramatic, the better. And yes, I admit that part of this is a means of validating my own life choices by comparison. I’m not proud of it, but if you tell me that your vagina tore in three places during labour and you had to have stitches in your clitoris WITHOUT ANEASTHETIC then I think I’m allowed to feel OK about my lack of children, thank you very much.
But (and this is an important ‘but’) part of my curiosity is me sense-checking whether I could, in fact, do what you have done. I might be happily child-free, but bloody Hell I’m impressed and inspired by your strength – both physical and emotional.
It is for this reason that I am handing over this blog and the next to one of my best friends, Rose: mother of three, and fucking badass!
Rose’s story is one that I don’t hear being told often enough. Sure, there’s plenty out there on the struggles of parenting, but it’s her unique set of circumstances that shed light on an issue that I suspect is far more widespread. I’ll let her tell you in her own words…
I'll start by talking about when I was younger. I used to be so incredibly laid-back, it was blissful! I used to be able to listen to other people's dramas without taking them on, and literally nothing phased me. I would just go with the flow and I absolutely loved life. I was the girl at school who was always smiling and always happy. I was very optimistic and adaptable.
Then I had kids!!!
Most of my mental health problems started when I became a mother. I suffered from post-natal depression and pretty much emotionally "checked out". I then spent years – first as a single parent, and then with my husband – battling to bring up my eldest son, who has Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It got so bad he now lives with his biological dad, but all the years of "techniques" and "parenting methods", along with all the violence, arguments, and meltdowns from my son have left both my husband and I pretty messed up.
I cannot begin to explain the level of tension and anxiety that those years of managing behaviours and attempts at damage limitation have done to my nervous system. One example happened only last night. I had a bath and was chilling out upstairs while my husband was cooking tea. The other two kids were happy playing. My husband dropped something and got a bit growly and frustrated (quite quietly), but that was enough to send me into fight or flight mode, with anxiety coursing through my veins and feelings of guilt because he was struggling and I was being a lazy cow upstairs!! The real reason for these feelings stems from when things used to get so out of control so quickly with my eldest, but it happens almost every day.
I now dread my eldest coming to stay during the school holidays, and I spend the whole time in a deep well of depression that it takes me a long time to get out of.
Right now my mental health is very up and down. Anxiety is a constant battle, despite attempts to meditate and relax as often as possible. The problem is, when I try to do these things, if I hear my husband downstairs struggling with the 2-year-old (or anything else) it sets me off again.
I go through long periods where I feel there is no point in life and I really don't get enjoyment from very much at all. Not even from being in a band. Depression, to me, feels like an overwhelming tiredness and sadness and everything feels like a massive mountain to climb. Depression is me not being able to cope with literally anything, which is incredibly difficult with a 2-year-old to entertain.
My most Googled search at the moment is "I love my kids but I hate being a mum!" There are an awful lot of people out there that feel the same.
Motherhood feels like having my wings clipped. I hate not having my brain to myself for five seconds, especially as my favourite pastime is now overthinking! Toddler groups bore me. I feel fat, tired and lonely most of the time. I desperately want some more freedom but most of the time I'm too tired to bother, if I get the chance at all! I have no sex drive at all, and haven't had for many years. My husband and I get the odd child-free weekend here and there, but we never fully enjoy them and often both feel worse when we have to go back to the "reality" of parenting. We both suffer from depression so often that we bring each other down.
Also, friends don't seem to understand that we can't always get out of the house because many of them don't have kids. I am extremely jealous of their freedom and often wish I could just be carefree again.
When we have friends round in the evening it is stressful, too, because I have done the attachment parenting thing with my youngest, which means that we co-sleep. Often, I end up stuck upstairs with him while everyone else is downstairs having fun. He won't let my husband put him to bed either, and he has never slept a full night so far, so I know we are both suffering from sleep deprivation.
It seems to me that there are an awful lot of solutions out there for tackling mental health and depression, but absolutely none of them are possible when you are a parent. I can’t help but feel that motherhood and self-care are absolutely poles apart!
Article by VERVE "She Said" Contributor Sarah Bradnum