Today we wrap up Perinatal Mental Health week here in Australia, and the recognition of the critical care that new mothers and families need during pregnancy and early motherhood. I would argue that this care needs to be stretched from before conception to late/teenage motherhood (the one I find myself in right now). However, let’s dive into those early days of haze.
There is and there has been so much to say about perinatal mental health. I feel like I haven’t stopped thinking and talking about it since the moment I realized I wanted to be a mother.
In recent years I mostly focus on “the things I wish I knew and had in place back then”. An isolated and lonely immigrant mother, who had never touched a baby…no community, no culture of care and support, no family.
I thought I was ready reading books and setting up the best baby room, and buying all the gear. HA! I laugh today and also feel sadness and compassion for that 27 year old naive and so intellectual dreamer.
No books could have prepared me for the loss – of identity, of time, of everything I has known and especially of the rather Self-centered existence I had lead up till that November day.
No gear could settle my heart about the lack of a shoulder to lean on, a girlfriend to make it all alright by normalising “Yeah babies cry! They will eventually stop. You will eventually settle into the rhythm. Do YOU need anything?”
No books would reassure me that I am not crazy! That what I am feeling is normal especially for displaced women without their village. Thank goddess for my grandma who I used to call every day. She would pick up the phone, see it’s me and would Shush around saying “Shhh, it’s her! from America!” She would just be on the other side listening to me crying…listening with a loving heart.
I thought I was ready having married the love of my life. HA! Again, love after a baby shakes not only the individuals. It shatters the relationship and shrapnels stay lodged forever. When a baby comes I realize love is yes an absolute must but so are equality, fairness, stamina, endurance, and mostly the ability to let go of what no longer serves us – on a regular basis.
So we took a lot of hits. For which I feel today, so truly grateful! I sometimes pat myself on the metaphorical back for staying, but mostly I do for looking back and recognizing how much we have grown. We are indeed grown ups now, a little wiser, a little older, and a whole lot more respectful about each other’s space, interests, and dreams. We have learnt to be open. To stop and revisit. To talk. All night if we have to, until we reach a solution that works for both. It was not like that during early days of parenthood. If only I knew how capable we will be to change as individuals, and as a couple.
Our relationship is like a wooden spoon now – filled with all flavors, a little beaten yet indestructible, and capable of cooking up the most delicious and nourishing meals.
What I wish I knew back then? Oh so many things…
💛 the power of education – about ALL of available options. About birth, postnatal care, parenting, sleep, intimacy after a baby, breastfeeding, baby sleeping, attachment, fatherhood
💛 the power of community, support and postnatal care
💛 the power of a solid relationship – a partnership that holds it all together
💛 the power of having worked through your Inner Mother – ie internal work of forgiveness, letting go and moving towards the Mother you want to be
💛 the power of practical support- meals, cleaning, laundry, dishes, shopping
💛 the power of postnatal doula – if I ever had another baby, this is a priority for me
💛 the power of a medical/midwifery system that works for YOU and your needs
💛 the power of policies that ensure basic income, medical care, and fathers and partners taking a paid leave
💛 the power of professional support and recognition that it is available!
💛the power of no stigma to reach out when you are crumbling
💛 the power of a healing therapist that holds you through the dark tunnel of early days
💛 the power of friends who say it as it is!
💛 and, the power of dismantling a dysfunctional cultural norm of the PERFECT MOTHER. She is a myth. A powerful myth that surely serves interested parties but does NOT serve mothers. It keeps us overwhelmed, constantly tuned in our children and overdoing it. We do not actually need to do this! And our children do not actually need that either-on the contrary. Let that sink in.
As we wrap up this important week, we remember that motherhood is a non stop, no day off journey and that it is OK to find it challenging.
If you struggle, reach out, speak up, find a support group, write poetry about it, cry it out but not forever, seek help because we are all in this together. And that’s how motherhood should be done. Together!
Aleksandra Staneva, PhD is a Perinatal Mental Health specialist. She is an academic in Motherhood studies and a Counsellor in private practice in Brisbane, Australia.