This might sound like an odd post for a women’s health and wellness website. But then again, maybe it’s something we all need to talk about more often.
I mentioned last week that I have, at times, found parenthood hard. And, I am determined to not shy away from that, not to dodge the bits of the story that are hard to talk about. They are just as much a part of the story as the fluffy bunny rabbits. I will get to those next week, I promise. But this post, this will be a little hard. I suspect, though, for some of you it will strike a chord — and that’s why I’m writing it.
Shortly after my second daughter was born, I struggled. I don’t know if I ever had postnatal depression or not. At the time, it never occurred to me, or to Bert for that matter, to get it checked out. I had been totally fine the first time around, and even after Phoebe, I wasn’t what I’d have considered desperately depressed: I was still functioning, still working and still managing to see friends now and again.
If you’d asked me ‘are you depressed?’, I would probably have said no.
However, I remember being perennially stressed, exhausted and feeling that there were never enough hours in the day. There was a strong sense of feeling permanently trapped; of my life having been taken away from under my feet. Sort of… numb. Have you been there, too? Coming from a place of ‘normal’ I can, with hindsight, see that I most definitely wasn’t entirely normal for a large part of that period.
It was only many months later when my youngest daughter Phoebe was almost out of the baby phase that I was chatting to my mum and she’d reminded me that when I was born she’d herself had severe postnatal depression.
Something she mentioned struck a chord, and I thought, “this is how I feel”.
I went ahead and checked out the NHS website. I was genuinely shocked to see that until Phoebe was, I’d say about one, I not only had 10/12 of the symptoms of postnatal depression but also several of the symptoms of postnatal psychosis. I very clearly remember thinking, ’WTF’. And then the penny dropped. Of course, it seems very obvious now that threatening to throw a carving knife at one’s husband is not entirely rational behaviour. Weirdly, it wasn’t all that obvious at the time.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time since then trying to distill what ‘went wrong’, and I think the answer is surprisingly simple. For me, it came down simply to time.
Let’s just pause there for a minute.
Say it slowly and it sounds like a long, slow, relaxing exhale. Something to soothe and calm you. Something to luxuriate in. And that had reflected my experience before kids. Even within the confines of a pretty full-on job and a steady, stable relationship, I’d had lots of time. (Of course, I didn’t realise how valuable a commodity it was yet to become so I frittered half of it away, but that’s one for another post).
But time, after I’d had my kids, disappeared from under my feet.
It had become ‘tm’. Sharp, not quite long enough, always leaving me needing more. It took me ages to realise what the studies all show – that this is not only a thing, but really quite a big thing.
A study of 2,000 working parents found morning chores takes around 10 hours and 15 minutes a week: that’s more than one whole working day. Each week. Those with school age and above kids do an average of 43 chores — 43 (!) — before they’ve even left the house in the morning (those without, average around 10). I really wish someone had told me back then to expect this, perhaps, even, that it might have been a good idea to discuss with my husband what changes we might make to make our lives easier; what had to stay, what could be dropped to take into account that we were — both — about to have far less of that most precious of commodities: time.
But, we didn’t do this. We largely carried on at the pace we’d previously moved at, I with my own business and Bert with his at times very intense lawyer job. Initially, that was okay but as one child became two, as my business began to gather a head of steam of its own, it all became a bit of a juggle.
It became very hard to not drop balls.
I’d be up at 6, race to squeeze in a gym, then back home trying to cram in precious minutes with the kids, running to the office, racing back to doing bedtime stories with them. Feeling like a slacker in the office for leaving at 5:30pm to get back for them, feeling like a failure at home for not being with them more than I was. I’m sure that this is not an unfamiliar story; but I was flailing. And I largely blamed myself for that which only made the cycle worse. And worse. And worse.
So. How did I go from there to here?
To being able to say that despite all of this, I now firmly believe that having children is unquestionably the best, smartest, cleverest thing I ever did, and raising them (sometimes grumpily, almost always imperfectly), is the thing of which I am most proud.
The answer, I realised, is obvious. At some point, I fell in love with the little buggers.
And that fundamentally changed the lens through which I saw, well, everything.
Silly and ridiculous though it sounds I believe photography was key to that; as I mentioned last week, it forced me to slow down. To start looking. The love was always there, now suddenly and for the first time, I started to see it. And other stuff, too. Reading that NHS website helped me realise that perhaps, it wasn’t just me. Talking to a few other friends who’d been through similar stuff, I started to accept that idea even more. Instead of just being really quite rubbish at this, I thought, maybe, maybe I had an actual illness for a while.
Maybe this all could — would — get easier.
Bert and I started chatting. I began to realise, over time, that I’d been hard on myself. I also, though, started to accept that for this whole kid thing to work, things were going to have to change. More to the point, I was going to have to change. I looked hard at the way I was working. We re-evaluated where, and how, we were living. We moved out of the city. In time, I started relishing time with my daughters as a chance to, in its own way, grow myself. Slowly but surely I started to embrace what, previously, I had sadly, simply endured.
I’ll leave it there, but not for long. More to come, very soon.