Rachel works for a digital educational publisher in Oxford and lives in Witney with her husband and two-year old daughter. She is the newsletter editor for Witney and District NCT branch. Rachel re-affirms my belief that there can be life after baby and doing something for ‘you’, something you really love, can help ensure you don’t lose your identity. This is her story….
Half way through my final year at uni it occurred to me that I had to get a job in a few months’ time, but I had very little idea of what I wanted to do. I knew I was good at correcting spelling and grammar and found it strangely satisfying, so I looked into publishing and thought that would do nicely.
Fast forward the aforementioned few months and, despite the terrible odds of finding something paid, I was an editorial assistant at an educational publisher, and loving it. Fast forward another eight years and I was still at the same company, now a manager, and still loving it. But after a long time doing the same sort of thing I felt I’d be up for a change, not so much work-wise, but life-wise. I really enjoyed my job and up until this point, my husband and I had agreed that other people’s small children were far too annoying for us to consider making any of our own any time soon! But we always knew we wanted kids at some point, preferably by our early 30s, and I had got to a point where I felt ready to do something different for a while.
When we found out I was pregnant, both my husband and I were apprehensive. We were excited to an extent, but also well aware of the magnitude of what we were embarking on and not sure how much we would enjoy it.
When our daughter arrived we thought she was absolutely gorgeous, and it certainly was a big relief not to be pregnant any more! But it soon transpired that my trepidation about motherhood was justified. She and I had to stay in hospital for a week after she was born as she had an infection. The nights were incredibly hard, lonely and full of tears. She fed with a painful latch every couple of hours, and every night at midnight I had to wheel her down to the special care baby unit for her intravenous antibiotics. I was grateful to have my husband there in the daytime and, once we were home and his fortnight of paternity leave was over, my Mum came to stay for a few weeks, which was a massive help.
But the baby blues didn’t subside. I remember not feeling any real love or affection for my little girl in the first couple of months of her life, and desperately wishing that I did. My main feelings about her were that she was awesome and sort of terrifying – the only thing I felt that was remotely close to love was a very strong sense of duty, and the all-consuming relentlessness of feeding and cuddling was overwhelming. I felt trapped. What had we done?! No one ever tells you that you might not love your child the instant they pop out – where was that instant flood of joy all mums supposedly experience when they hold their babies for the first time? But I put on a brave face in front of my friends and told myself it would get better.
Our gorgeous girl grew well and started feeding more comfortably, and I did very gradually start to feel affection for her as her personality emerged. I made some new mummy friends and saw our NCT group mums regularly. There were happy moments, and yet my overarching feelings were of exhaustion, loneliness and stress. I have rheumatoid arthritis, a condition which causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the joints, causing pain and severe fatigue. My condition is generally very well controlled by medication but it does make me very tired and low on energy. I have to pace myself, take naps when my daughter naps and not do too much, so doing lots of activities and classes in order to meet people wasn’t going to work.
After a few months of this, I realised I probably had some sort of post-natal depression, but didn’t seek medical help because I knew it was just low mood, exhaustion and stress, and in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that bad. The whole time I still felt like myself and I wasn’t having any dark thoughts – I was just struggling with life. I knew that what I needed in order to feel better was companionship and practical help, and neither of these would be offered by a doctor or health visitor. Whenever my parents came to visit at the weekends my mood would lift, only to dive again when they left.
When my daughter was eight months old I finally contacted my health visitor to ask for a PND assessment and to see what help was available. I was hoping there might be some sort of support group where you could go for a cuppa and a chat with other mums in a similar situation. I was getting a bit sick of every other mum I met telling me they were loving it and feeling that if I divulged I was finding it really hard I’d make it awkward. I did have moderate PND, but the only “remedies” I was offered were more chats with the HV and drugs, which I knew weren’t going to help.
So I just plodded on. Things were gradually improving as our girl got older, but she was (and still is!) incredibly clingy, which sapped me.
Meanwhile, one of my antenatal group friends, who had become the chair of the local NCT branch, had been asking me off and on if I’d be interested in joining the committee as they needed a new newsletter editor. I was still finding life so difficult that I had to say no, although in theory the role did interest me.
A couple of months later, my friend was desperate to find an editor, and by then I was feeling like I could probably fit it in. I was also intrigued by the conversations I regularly overheard between my other mummy friends who were on the NCT committee. It sounded fun and a great way to make friends, and I confess that I actually felt a bit left out! So my arm was finally twisted and I found myself on the committee.
Producing the quarterly branch newsletter has been a heck of a lot of work involving many late nights, but I’ve enjoyed it and have got a lot of satisfaction out of it. It has given me something good to do for myself and others and provides constructive breaks from the relentlessness of parenting. By redesigning the publication, introducing an online version and doing a big advertising push, we’ve managed to widen our readership and raise an increased amount for the branch in order to support local parents.
Being on the NCT committee has also given me the impetus to get involved in other NCT events and activities, such as helping out with baby feeding and changing tents at local festivals, gift wrapping stalls at Christmas fairs and the Christmas party. It’s provided an outlet for my desire to help other parents through what can be a really tough time, I’ve made new friends, and even got my whole extended family into BBC Countryfile Live for free in return for a few hours’ help in the family tent.
Returning to work part-time after a year of maternity leave also lifted my mood significantly, which confirmed that my PND had been caused much more by circumstances than hormones. Exercising my editorial skills again through volunteering and work has given me a chance to be myself, and now I enjoy the days I have with my daughter more.
I’d really encourage mums on maternity leave, stay at home parents and part-time working parents to volunteer with their local NCT. Branches are going dormant around the country through lack of volunteers, but in my experience you get out at least as much as you put in. It totally counts as doing something for yourself as well as for others.
As for PND, anxiety and loneliness, please don’t suffer in silence – do whatever and talk to whoever it takes to improve things, whether that be making an effort to meet people, opening up to an existing friend or talking to your GP. Mummylinks is a new Facebook group and soon to be app based around helping mums, especially those with with PND, to make friends and organise last minute meet-ups. Mush is a great app that helps mums meet other local parents.
And one last thing: whether you’re suffering yourself or having a whale of a time, please please talk to other parents at the playground/toddler group. Really, properly, ask them how they’re finding it and be open to the possibility that they’re having a tough time. Then be there for them.
For more information on NCT click here: https://www.nct.org.uk/