parent opinion

'As a struggling new mum, I hit rock bottom. This is what happened when I finally asked for help.'

I am a very private person. 

I’ve spent a lot of my career as a psychologist and a researcher supporting pregnant women and mums, and throughout that time I’ve talked frequently about how important it is that we share the realities of motherhood, good and bad, and that it is ok not to be ok. 

Yet, when it has come to sharing anything about my experience of becoming a mother, my inclination has been to be silent. 

I’m going to try and be brave and change that now, because I feel so strongly that we need to alter the way we talk about motherhood.

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I have spent the past week with my little boy in an inpatient parenting support unit.

I was so ashamed and saddened to be in this situation that I have struggled to tell anyone, let alone admit to myself that I needed help. 

I have had tremendous difficulty helping my son to sleep since his birth and he has struggled with allergy and reflux. 

Neither of us has slept with any quality in many months, and a great many tears have been shed. I have felt like a complete failure and often believed that my little man would be better off with another mum.

During a week of controlled crying (used despite my instincts telling me it wasn’t the right fit for us), on which I pinned a great deal of hope for success and found instead a lot of desperation and hopelessness, I hit rock bottom.

I decided to call for help. I called my GP, and put myself on the waitlist at the hospital. It is without doubt one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

In the last week I’ve had a new experience of motherhood. 

By virtue of all being in the same difficult situation together, all the socially enforced artifices about what it means to be a “good” mum fell away and we were just honest with each other.

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I found solidarity in the hallway at 3am, trudging to our perpetually unhappy and crying babies for the fifth time during the night. 

I found cheerleaders over cups of tea while our babies finally napped. I found knowing smiles while our babies played, and hugs when tears of distress and relief arrived. 

I felt sad at how woefully inadequate our care for mothers is after giving birth. I felt angry with well-meaning (probably) Instagram warriors whose advice about “natural” and drug free births left me feeling, despite all logic, disheartened about my emergency caesarean birth and wondering, again despite logic, whether somehow my difficult pregnancy was responsible for my son’s current challenges. 

I found myself thinking a lot about how desperately ideas about motherhood need to change, and wondered what I could do meaningfully to make it a reality.

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I don’t write this post to garner any sympathy or attention, and from a purely selfish perspective there’s a bit of me that hopes it disappears into the void because I feel really vulnerable.

I just want to contribute a voice against the prevailing discourse that pregnancy and motherhood should be this natural, blissful, wonderful state and that somehow, you’re defective if you don’t feel as if it comes instinctively to you or that it’s enjoyable all the time (or defective if you’re ambivalent about having kids/don’t want kids at all).

While my experience has been that watching my little boy grow is one of the best and most incredible things I’ve had the privilege to witness (and I acknowledge that that is my own experience and not the norm for everyone), becoming a mother has also been one of the hardest, loneliest, most alienating, identity challenging, exhausting and emotionally confronting periods of my life. 

A lot of the time I’ve felt like I have no idea what to do and how to do it.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling alone, or you’re finding it hard, or you’re finding it fab but you need a nap, or anything in between: you aren’t alone, and there’s a whole army of pyjama zombies out there with you. 

If we could all be a bit more honest about the unique realities of motherhood for each of us, then we might finally find the village we need to get through.

Dr Jessica Tearne is a mother of one. In her spare time, she is a clinical psychologist and researcher with an interest in women's health, and trauma.

Feature Image: Getty.