I didn't feel love or a connection to my baby and because of this, I thought something was terribly wrong with me.
After our local GP confirmed our pregnancy, we were given a handful of brochures. These brochures spoke about the exciting times ahead and about the joy which this baby was going to bring to both my husband and I.
After the arrival of our first child, I didn't feel the promised joy or the excitement—I didn't even feel love or a connection to my baby and because of this, I thought something was terribly wrong with me.
From the day I met her, I felt extremely anxious because I simply didn't know what to do or what to feel. There was no manual to accompany the new arrival. I didn't know how to hold my baby or how to soothe her when she was crying. What made me feel worse was that I couldn't even breastfeed her when she was hungry as she wouldn't latch on at times. But I kept trying day after day, with little success.
I suffered with anxiety and depression for two-and-a-half years. During that time, my daughter didn't have a mother and my husband didn't have a wife. I was simply a shell, a walking zombie and very, very depressed.
I was lucky I had an amazing GP who I turned to for help. He listened to my worries and allowed me to cry my heart out. During each visit, he gave me the assurance that what I was feeling was normal. He reassured me time and again that it wasn't me but the massive hormonal changes happening within my body that were making me feel anxious and depressed. He reassured me that having a baby was a huge life-changing event which needed some time to adjust to. He also prescribed some medication to help me function, as I didn't have the urge to get out of bed in the mornings.
Unfortunately, at that time, his reassurances didn't get through to me. I just couldn't understand why I was the only mother feeling anxious, depressed and scared.
What was wrong with me? How did I get to be in this position?
Speaking to many mothers, nobody spoke of the fear, the anxieties, the feeling of sadness and the feeling of depression. Nobody talked about not connecting with their baby. Nobody spoke of the struggles of not enjoying parenthood, especially being a parent for the first time. Everybody had the "perfect baby".
My experience as a first-time mum was the opposite. I suffered because I felt alone. I couldn't understand why I was the only mother who felt like this. I suffered because all the brochures said that I would be happy and excited when the baby arrived; instead I was miserable. All I wanted to know was, "Why did the brochure lie?"
The turning point was when I met that mother. She changed my world simply by admitting to the feelings which I felt. She too didn't enjoy motherhood every day. She too felt sad at times, she too couldn't breastfeed, she too felt anxious. That day, I could not believe what I was hearing and I cried. I cried because I felt relief for the first time since I had my daughter. I cried because I finally felt normal. Even though my GP continuously told me what I was feeling was normal, I couldn't accept it. I needed to hear it from a mother.
From that moment onwards, my mental strength started coming back. I started exercising again, I went back to the gym and this helped me greatly, both physically and mentally. If I was angry, I took out my anger at the gym. If I was frustrated, I trained harder. If I was happy, I enjoyed my session even more so. I continued taking my prescribed medication and I didn't feel ashamed about it—it helped me get a balance in my life.
Soon after, I started to feel strong. I was the one, not the condition I was in, controlling me again. If I felt sad, I knew what I had to do to turn it around. Most of all, I knew who to turn to for help and for support: mothers who could relate to what I was feeling that day and at that moment.
I also learned to make my heart sing. I was able to do this through losing myself in drawing and painting, reading a book, having some me-time regularly and practising daily self-care. All this while being a mum and a wife.
Now looking back, I don't resent all those brochures that I read at the beginning of my pregnancy. I simply believe that they were missing a piece of vital information. They should have included information about baby blues or even perinatal anxiety and depression. They could have included a blurb about feeling anxious, about feeling depressed, and that it's all normal and okay to seek help from organisations such as PANDA, The Gidget Foundation, Lifeline and Beyond Blue.
I learned from my experience that if a brochure contained not only the positive aspects of becoming a first-time parent, but also the negative aspects, it would have better prepared me and helped me during the journey. I would not have felt alone.
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