The one element I have found most surprising as a first-time mother is how we are pretty much forgotten once you’ve had your two visits from your midwife and health visitor. These visits happen in the imminent days and weeks following the birth of your baby, when you’re still trying to overcome the complete exhaustion that comes with pushing a baby out of your body and coming to terms with the fact that life will never be the same again. By week two of my son Henry’s life, I found myself calling the midwife to chase her visit that was missed because she was ‘too busy’.
Luckily, I was feeling supported and loved by my family and friends and was in love with my baby. However, I would surely have been deemed vulnerable as a single mother who had gone through a traumatic birth where I ended up on high dependency unit and then had to inject my tummy for six weeks at home to ensure I didn’t get a blood clot and die. But Henry was not thought of as a newborn anymore and we weren’t top of the list.
I’m aware that the NHS does not have enough funds and it isn’t the fault of the midwives or health visitors, but if I didn’t have a support network or financial support, I would most definitely be a sorry mess of a new mummy.
The loneliness of being a new mum can be palpable. We’re not meant to feel this because we have the constant company of our new beautiful baby. But when you suddenly go from a life of work, after-work drinks, care free holidays and weekends of shopping and cinema, to caring for a baby full-time, it does take time to adjust. There’s no time for you anymore and even having a shower becomes an almighty task of the day.
The trouble is I think a lot of us new mums are scared to admit that sometimes we struggle so we plod on and our mental health takes a beating. I think a check-up on the state of a new mum’s mental health every three months throughout the first year of the baby’s life should be compulsory. Yes, we get asked how we’re feeling two weeks in but what about when baby goes through a growth spurt and suddenly sleep has completely gone out the window? What about when teething kicks in?
At six months, teething has happened early for me and Henry. So far, apart from feeling constantly exhausted and lonely in the evenings, I have been coping well as a single mum and it feels natural to be Henry’s mum. However, over the hot Bank Holiday weekend with a baby that wouldn’t nap and crying in pain at night because of his sore gums, my mental health took a sudden decline. I fell out of love with breastfeeding because of his new spikey teeth making it painful. I felt guilty for feeling like I no longer wanted to feed him myself because breastfeeding for us has always thankfully been a positive experience for me. I felt like everyone in the world was out having fun in the sun, whereas I was at home putting Henry to bed knowing he would wake within the hour in pain and I would feel helpless.
Like any bad or good phase with Henry, it has passed, and I’m back to feeling happy and that I am enough for my little man, but I could have easily gone down a dark hill.
I love my life with Henry, but it takes time to adjust to life as a mum. You have days where you get up, put a wash on, have breakfast, bake a cake, dress the baby and yourself before 10am (very rare but it has happened) and then the next day you can barely lift the baby out the cot.
I always say, ‘I’m going to have a day at home today’ but then by 11am you’ve already been up four hours and the walls start caving in and I must get out. Luckily, I have enough money to be able to go out to cafes and attend classes where I’ve met other mums and have a structure to my week.
It’s so important to make friends with other new mums. Just to be able to text them to discuss everything from Henry’s poo habits to soothers for teething makes you feel less alone. If you’ve both had a rubbish night you can meet the next day and wallow into a piece of cake together.
When you first have a baby, you are inundated with visitors wanting to meet your new love of your life but then life carries on and the visits become less and with your new lifestyle as a mum, where bedtime is 9pm, you no longer see friends as much and that can feel really isolating.
So, my advice to any mum-to-be is to start forming your own mum tribe and do not be afraid to admit you’re struggling at any point. It’s not just those first few weeks where the blues can kick in, it can hit you at any time. We’re only human and we’re living on broken sleep with a baby constantly attached to us.