Postpartum Uncut: MIND

Warning: this blog discusses many personal mental health issues such as anxiety.

This blog will go through some of the areas of my postpartum journey that primarily happened in my mind. Like all my blogs, these explore only my personal experiences, so there is always so much more that can be and will be experienced by others. If there is something you feel like you personally would like more information or education about, I am more than happy to point you in the direction if resources or professionals to help you.

It’s okay to have a major identity crisis when you give birth. Once the adrenalin/oxytocin hormone flood wore off, I was left with a life that I felt had no plan and no idea what to do with. It felt like I was back to the start of the game, starting at a new life stage with no training. I was no longer a teacher. I no longer saw my work friends. My daily pattern and my weekly activities just got severely wiped out. Could I still be a lover? Can I still be fun? What if I turned into a boring woman? Can I still go get a master’s degree one day like I wanted to do?

I almost felt frozen with fear. Having a child flips everything you know about life on its head and challenges every grain of your being and every aspect of your life. It gives it a shock impact that rattles through and permeates everything back to simple. It forces you to slow down. It makes you assess everything in your life and is probably the biggest change you will ever experience. It’s also a time of contradict. It slows you down, but you’re also someone’s literal lifeline. It’s a time of intense joy but also intense depths of low. It is a time where you both feel so connected to your partner but possibly resent them slightly for not being able to do all the things you can do. This causes clashes in our minds, but it is also normal. Its okay to feel different things at different times but also to be confused by what your feeling. I would encourage you to speak these contradictions and confusions aloud. This will help you download the thought processes and often communication is the gateway to healing, understanding and fulfillment. But just know girls, if you feel like you need to do major work on nutting out your identity post birth, that’s normal. It can be at times a long journey, but the older your baby gets, the more back to normal I felt. You are always changed, but you are changed into a new version of your past self which is okay.

I remember very early on after we arrived home with Henry, I had the same thought run through my brain over and over again. It was almost like I was watching a movie, but I was just re-watching the same scene on repeat. The scene was a terrible scene. It was from a horror movie except a horror movie created by my own thoughts. Even still to this day, I can’t speak about it without going into a cold sweat. I don’t want to go into detail, but it involved Henry being stuck somewhere cold and me not being able to run and save him in time. He’d be sobbing, but I was stuck in quicksand. I later learnt this was a symptom of anxiety and that I most likely was experiencing mild post-natal anxiety. I was anxious about everything from caring for Henry, how my life had monumentally changed, if I was good enough for him and why my newborn wasn’t sleeping in a bassinet. It is completely normal, but if it gets overbearing, talk it through to someone you love or a stranger. This takes the power and hold away bit by bit. Understand what is going on in your mind is real and valid, and it is okay to sort through it. Speaking aloud is the main thing and it can be freeing once it’s out of your mind.

Why aren’t I enjoying this? I expected the first days and weeks at home with our new baby to be blissful I was ready for all the cuddles, all the blankets, all the hot coffee, all the quiet. I romanticized the baby bubble and then started to panic (anxiety, amiright?) that I was not doing it right. I liked by baby. And I did love him, definitely. He was easy with no issues. But I did not feel like I knew him. I didn’t feel an overwhelming gush for him instantly. I felt like I was handed a baby that was inside of me growing, and then suddenly he was relying on me for everything and it was a lot. I was so concerned with keeping him alive and remembering all the things that I almost forgot to just enjoy him. I also was trying to download major surgery in my mind, which is something major to heal from alone.

It took us a few weeks to find our groove, but we made it. And from then on, I adored him. I was still ridden with anxiety, but I began smiling at him more, and letting him snuggle and sleep on me was the biggest bonding exercise we did together. I didn’t care if he didn’t nap in the bassinet. I didn’t care if he stayed asleep on me for four hours, what was important was that each breath he took, my breath was becoming in rhythm with his. We were falling in love in a different way than when you bond with your baby whilst pregnant.

Not all babies are easy to bond with though. My experience is probably a good case scenario, but if your baby is particularly fussy or difficult, bonding may be even harder. Know your tribe are behind you, mamas! Crowd yourself with supports and always buy the chocolate when it’s on special. Hard babies are hard. But you will find a path to loving that baby more and more each day or as each month goes past. The first months can feel uber slow. But it does get quicker. Just take it day at a time, or even hour at a time. Understand that you are doing everything right and trust your mother’s instinct. Some people don’t believe in it, but I truly do believe when we learn too much about ‘babies’ in the broad sense, sometimes it takes away our capacity and ability to learn about our own baby. Learning about our babies as individuals is incredibly important in the bonding process.

Expectations and unsolicited advice are not welcome in your postpartum space. During those first months of postpartum its likely you will receive a high concentration of advice and people who claim to know better than you do about raising children. You will also most likely feel like you are under constant comparison between you and your other mum friends, especially if you had babies at similar times. They will share opinions or experiences, and then without them realising it or not, it sets up an expectation in your own mind about how your baby should be. There are several ways I learnt to deflect this sort of stuff that clouds and takes up valuable brain space.

Learn to listen to some but not everyone. You will probably find a very small number of women or men who share their experiences with you that resonates or is helpful to you. Personally, I found my own mum as my go to person for this. My friends all had very different ways of handling their babies and some were quite black and white about certain things concerning sleep, feeding, dummies, nipple shields, swaddles, even the amount of times per week they bathed their babies! I would often ask my mum after I had heard the 34th opinion about something to share hers. Why I really listened to mum had a lot to do with her giving me confidence in my own way. She may have said something like, ‘well when you and Lizzie were babies, I found this helped, but every baby is different, so just follow Henry’s lead’. She always assured me that what felt good in my gut was most likely the right path for us.

It sounds odd but choose to ‘switch off’ certain people who don’t make you feel supported. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is never going to work, and it is common for babies to change the rules and routines as they go through their developmental leaps anyway. What worked for a week may not work next week. Giving rigid advice can often be unhelpful and following it when it doesn’t feel right to you can be harmful to your own bond with your baby and confidence as a mother. Just because your friend’s baby is sleeping through at 2 months old doesn’t mean that yours is broken if they are still not sleeping through at 8 months. Its rare that you are to blame for things like this or are doing anything wrong, as all babies have a different ‘biological best’ as Kerry from @careitoutsleepconsultant (Instagram) likes to put it. No one is doing it the wrong way; we are all trying to figure out the best fit for our own families and babies.

Drop all expectations. Like, all of them. Life with a newborn is a lot easier to heal and grow through if you literally have zero expectations of them or yourself. If you need some order in your life, have a light routine through the day of feeding, a nappy change, and then sleeping (maybe more feeding in there if you have a baby like Henry!). Don’t set parameters on timing (the amount of times Henry has had a 2 + hour day sleep I could probably count on two hands only – not all babies do them!), or where they sleep but sometimes getting them into a gentle pattern can be helpful and you will probably do this regardless of realising it or not. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘expecting’ them to do certain things at certain ages (including milestones – this is your health nurse’s job to monitor this especially at the start, and all babies develop differently) because all this leads to is disappointment or worry which can impact your relationship with your baby. Try to relax and enjoy your postpartum experience as opposed to getting into knots about your baby not doing certain things. Choose the energy you are bringing into your relationship with your baby but also the energy you are creating within yourself.

Get on the same page as your partner. If you can keep the lines of communication open with your partner about what you’re feeling and experiencing during your postpartum experience mentally, emotionally and physically, it will be smoother. If your partner is on the same page with the basics like how you are choosing to feed, where you are at in terms of intimacy (more on this next week, lovers!) or if you are openly and willingly sharing the newborn load, this will free up your mind space. It will also give each other opportunities to rest but will also connect you as a team. When you are sharing things, the load is smaller on each of you, so having open conversations around how you would love to help each other out will benefit each of you short and long term.

I know this was epic, so congratulations if you made it to the end. Above all, if you are struggling mentally or emotionally during your postpartum experience to the point of feeling a loss of control, or if you feel like functioning every day is too much, seek help. It is nothing to be ashamed about, and contrarily shows true courage. Your GP or community health nurse would be a great place to begin your journey in unpacking your pregnancy and birth and they will support you in welcoming the better days to come.

Caitlin x