False Expectations, Identity Crises and Denial

Reading some of the entries on this blog may give rise to the question, did I have postnatal depression?

Answer: yes. But although it’s over now (and I can truly say I am a happy mummy) the question remains, why?

Granted, I did have some of the risk factors associated with PND. These seem to vary from doctor to doctor but have been known to include: multiple pregnancy (hello me!), difficult delivery, type A personality, pregnancy following ART / previous miscarriage, history of depression, lack of support network, unplanned pregnancy, financial worries, overbearing relatives (hello grandparents), domestic abuse etc etc.

However, I think one of the biggest factors in my personal PND (in my non-medical opinion) was false expectations of parenthood.

These false expectations came about in three ways:

a) not being properly informed about what parenthood entailed (people tend to gloss over the hard bits);

b) when (rarely) told the truth about parenthood, an inability to fully comprehend the meaning of things like ‘sleep deprivation’; and

c) having had a tough pregnancy, clinging to the idea that the safe arrival of the babies would be the fairytale ending.

I really wish someone had sat me down pre-pregnancy and made me think in detail what the first few months would be like (or even better, live it for for a few days, but who is going to give you a newborn to practice on?). We were one of the first of our peers to have children and certainly the first to have twins, so we had no idea what we were in for. Babysitting, being around little cousins, is just not the same. Neither of us had nieces or nephews. I thought I was maternal. Well, I am, and I was hugely relieved that the babies were healthy, but that doesn’t stop the exhaustion, the panic, and the fear of being overwhelmed from hitting you when you bring your newborn(s) home.

A second factor in my PND was the completely unexpected identity crisis I experienced on becoming a mum. I assumed I knew what being a mum meant, I thought I was ready to take on the label. But then I went from an independent career woman who enjoyed an active social life, traveling the world and having wonderfully controlled and ordered home and life to….what? That’s what I couldn’t put my finger on (and still have days when I’m a bit conflicted). For with two young babies it was time for maternity leave, limited socializing, very very limited traveling and general chaos in place of order. Even my wardrobe changed – gone were the heels that I was never seen without, and the cute handbags; in came flats (I am far too scared of dropping a baby to carry one in heels) and a diaper bag. And the whole new level of unselfishness that comes with being a parent meant that I was no longer a priority – to either look after myself or to figure out my new role. All I knew was that the label ‘mum’ just didn’t seem to cover all of me.

Thirdly, I believe denial and defense played a huge part. I found it very very difficult to prepare for the arrival of my twin babies. A large part of this was due to denial – I just could not imagine what life with two babies would be like. One, maybe. Two, no. And even if I did have the ability to imagine life with two infants, I didn’t let myself think about it too much as a defense mechanism – after all, multiple pregnancies are fraught with risks, what if I lost them?

How can this help others? Well, I hope by reading this you can try and avoid the false expectations (please talk to someone in the throes of new parenthood), try and establish your new identity before baby comes, and be aware of the ability of your brain to go into denial and defence mode. But if you can’t, know the being a new parent is not necessarily a picnic, and if you do have PND, you are most certainly not alone.

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