The significant changes you have just gone through bringing a new life into the world play a lot on your mental and emotional states.
It’s no wonder so many people get postnatal depression – don’t forget, it’s definitely not restricted to just the mums, dads get it too but it is much more of a taboo subject.
There are many things that played on my mind during that first month. There was so much happiness and joy, discovery, excitement, confusion, fear, worry, and of course a significant lack of sleep. Here are the things I found hardest to deal with.
Almost everyone I talked to asked how I was going with being stuck inside the house so much. With didn’t want to risk our newborn catching any form of illness, so we pretty much stayed in our own house for the first month or so. My husband would go out to do the grocery shopping and things like that – I think I left the house once to go to the shops, and twice to go to the doctors.
Even though it was such a big concern for everyone else, I actually didn’t (and still don’t really) feel house-bound. With the advancement of technology, there is plenty to entertain myself with at home besides raising my baby. I don’t get bored (except when breastfeeding sometimes, but even then there is always the TV, a book, or my phone). I’m also used to being at home for days on end because of my career – being a teacher means I get school holiday time, and even though a lot of that time was taken up with working, I have become quite accustomed to being a homebody.
Rather than feeling house-bound, I found myself struggling with being routine-bound. This is something that is still bothering me now, 3 months on. During that first month, my life was one big cycle of feed-change nappy-sleep, and then it would all begin again. His naps were anywhere up to 3 hours long in those first weeks, so that was my only real break from the routine. Except that it wasn’t even a break, because it was still part of the cycle. Most of the time I would try to nap during his naps, so I didn’t get any time to myself.
In the beginning I was also feeling a bit trapped with breast feeding. I felt like I couldn’t do anything at the same time – he could be fussy sometimes, requiring all my attention. Other times he was very calm and content and I could focus on other things, like the TV or my phone. I hadn’t got used to standing/moving around while breastfeeding, so I was also feeling a bit trapped to the chair.
Working as a teacher, there is always an ‘end’ to things. End of the lesson, end of the day, end of the term, end of the year. I didn’t realise how ingrained that was until I realised part of my problem with this new routine was that it doesn’t have an end. For the foreseeable future, my life would be one big feed-change-play-sleep cycle. I know logically that it will change over time, and eventually come to an end when he stops breastfeeding, but that seems so far away. As someone who is used to distinct endings, now having any in sight is hard to accept. (Not that I would want anything to happen to my baby!)
As a very independent person, I really struggled with the sudden departure of ‘me time’. That might sound selfish, but at 28 years old, I have become very used to doing things when and how I want to do them. Knowing I now have a brand new baby who relies on me so completely was a shock to the system.
I would try to take some time to myself while he was asleep, but there’s only so much you can fit into nap times. You have to rest as well, to help yourself recover physically, and also to catch up on the sleep you lost the night before. Then there’s the housework, showering, spending time with the husband, getting yourself mentally prepared for the next cycle.
It is downright exhausting being relied upon so completely when you’ve never experienced it before.
When bub was awake, my husband would often look after him for a bit. But there’s only so much dad can do when mum exclusively breastfeeds. While it was lovely to have a little extra time to myself, it is so hard to deal with mentally when you know that time is severely limited. Within half an hour I need to be fully available to take over again.
There is so much truth to the saying that as mums we are always ‘on’, and that takes a significant toll on our mental, physical, and emotional states, including our independence.
When my husband went back to work, it became so much more intense – there was no one immediately available to take over for even a few minutes.
SO MUCH ANXIETY.
I can’t even make a list of all the things you get anxious about as a new parent. It would be never-ending.
A someone who was almost medicated for anxiety and depression in the past, my husband and I both kept a very close eye on my anxiety levels. I don’t think I ever delved into postnatal depression, but it wasn’t a crystal clear ride either.
My biggest anxiety was actually about my husband returning to work. I didn’t know if and how I was going to handle everything on my own.
One of my friends told me it is a completely different scenario that is easier in some ways – because it is just you and bub, you can work out your own routine, focus on yourselves, and not worry about what dad is doing.
I wondered if in a way I’d actually enjoy it more because of that independence aspect, not relying on someone purely because they were there. I’ve found in the couple of months since that I enjoy it some days, and really don’t others. It is definitely linked to how much sleep I’ve gotten, what mood bub is in, and what end of the week it is. I find by the end of the week I am more ready for company and a helping hand, whereas at the start of the week I enjoy the independence more.
Having to get used to a new body again is another mental adjustment. All throughout pregnancy your body is constantly changing, and that means constantly adjusting to it. Working out what you can wear, what you can physically do, what your new limits are – it’s all quite mentally taxing.
You’d think there might be a bit of relief after the birth, but no, there is a whole new round of changes to adapt to.
Firstly are the birth and surgery aspects – any surgery comes with physical restrictions, and having those on top of everything else you go through as a new mum adds one more tick to your mental health.
Then you have your stomach. All bowl-of-jelly, still-looking-pregnant, no-abdominal-strength. Even now I still have abdominal separation, and often look like I’m still pregnant. Knowing it will be a long recovery does not help me feel good about the way I look now. During that first month I didn’t even know how to dress, because every day your body looked and felt a bit different. You don’t know what your body will bounce back to, so you have no idea what types of clothes to have on hand. How long will you be wearing maternity shorts? What about dresses that aren’t super flowy, to hide the lumps and bumps?
Even adjusting to my new breasts was mentally challenging. I’ve never had huge breasts, but now I’m a D to DD in size. It’s an insane thing to deal with. I don’t even feel comfortable with how they look in clothes, because I’ve never had them like this before.
My hips are wider, shoes fit a bit tighter, rings didn’t fit at all – it’s very stressful because you have no idea how or if they will return to a resemblance of your previous body.
All of these physical things add to the emotional and mental burden.
Overall, the changes in mental state were intense. Just when you feel like you’re getting the hang of something, or getting into some sort of routine, it all changes and you go through the mental adjustments all over again. It’s tiring, exciting, and frightening all at the same time.