Guest Post: The Beauty, Power, and Simplicity of Sharing
By Sarah Evans
"Never underestimate the power of speaking out. That has to be the biggest lesson I’ve learned on my journey into motherhood so far.
In July 2015, after an intense sixty-hour labour, this exhausted (and highly medicated by that stage) 28 year old gave birth to the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen. I wasn’t prepared for how emotional and overwhelming bringing her into the world would become, but what really affected me was how I felt in that very moment when my baby was handed to me for the very first time. I had waited a long time for that moment, longing to feel the overwhelming euphoric rush of joy and love that would wash away all of the pain, the worry, and the fear in one huge wave of happiness. That’s how people describe it, isn’t it? You forget about everything else and become all-consumed by the kind of love you’ve never experienced before? Only for me, at that time, I didn’t really feel, well, anything at all. I was numb; it was all too surreal, and I felt like an outsider who for some reason just couldn’t connect to that moment.
I didn’t realize how much those initial moments would affect me going into motherhood, and it was only much later that I was able to admit to myself how I really felt about it. I felt guilty, heartbroken and robbed of an experience I thought all mothers were blessed with. I felt I’d missed a kind of right of passage into the next chapter. I let that feeling creep into my daily life, along with an intensifying internal voice telling me that I wasn’t doing a very good job; that Emilia preferred to be with other people, and everyone could see that I was struggling. In fact, no one could see that. I hadn’t realized how good I had become at plastering a smile on my face and acting like I was ‘fine, just tired’. I was the opposite of fine, but I just couldn’t say it.
That’s the thing about postnatal depression; you can’t see it. It doesn’t shout at people from the rooftops, there’s no sign above your head asking for help, there’s no possible way that people might be able to understand why you suddenly withdraw from certain situations if you have an array of excuses ready to fire out at them in the event of a social invitation lighting up your phone. Looking back, there was no way other people would ever pick up on it when I hadn’t even realized myself why I felt the way I did. I completely fell in love with my daughter, but struggled for a long time to shake the feeling that she didn’t love me back. My understanding of postnatal depression was so little at that time that I was sure that couldn’t be what I was experiencing. I literally just thought I was just being a bit pathetic, or going a bit mad, or maybe both! I also constantly gave myself a hard time for not ‘appreciating my blessings’, and not realizing how lucky I really was.
I had a healthy, happy baby, and I knew I had fallen in love with her unconditionally, so why didn’t I feel completely happy? Why did I constantly compare myself to others, and cringe at the thought of socializing with other mums? Why did I doubt myself with every decision, and cry when Emilia wanted to be comforted by someone else? The answer to all of those questions, I’ve now come to realize, is very simple: because I’m a mother, because I put an unrealistic level of pressure on myself, and because it’s ‘normal’ to need a little help sometimes. Because as mothers, we want to do the very best we can, and can’t help but worry that we’re getting things wrong. Because as new mothers especially, we compare ourselves to others who just seem to have it together all the time. Because social media tells us that we should look and act a certain way, and anything less than picture-perfect is somehow wrong. Because there was a mountain of pre-natal information available, as well as endless antenatal guidance on what’s best for baby, but actually very little about how to keep Mummy happy and healthy at the same time. And because pride prevented me from opening up and sharing how I really felt, when actually, since speaking up, an overwhelming number of women have said to me ‘oh thank goodness, I felt that too!’.
It took some intense, emotionally draining, but hugely cathartic therapy sessions with a psychologist before I felt ready to share my own experience with postnatal depression and anxiety. (Not to mention the 18-month internal battle with myself before I felt ready to admit to needing that help). It also took the push I needed from a psychiatrist to convince me to ‘take the anti-depressants’, because they would actually help, and because they weren’t a sign of ‘defeat’ or failure.
As my treatment got underway, my first steps along the daunting path towards opening-up began with some ‘honest conversations’ with my family members, followed by some of my closest friends. At that stage I wanted them to know how I felt, to share the burden and to feel closer to them again, but also because I really felt like I owed them an explanation for the times when I may have seemed a little difficult to love. Through these conversations, I slowly started to realize that every time I let people in and talked openly about how I felt I began to feel relieved, lighter, more free, and altogether just a little bit happier. I had already started to write down notes about how I felt here and there, but the feelings I had after sharing small snippets eventually set the ball rolling to convince me to share my experience on a wider scale. So, I put pen to paper and started writing everything down. And once I started, I just couldn’t stop. That was was the birth of my blog; an outlet for pain, a release of pent-up emotion, a hobby, and a connection to some truly incredible women (and men) from so many different walks of life. It has become so many things for me, and so much more than I had ever imagined. I now make a conscious effort, especially on those ‘bad’ days, to remind myself that keeping how I felt hidden for so long acted as a huge catalyst in the downward spiral into depression. There is an unmistakable beauty and power in the simplicity of sharing, and I hope that’s something I can instil in my beautiful little girl always.