In 2004 I was that mum. I wanted my child so much and had planned everything. For the birth. Beyond that, I hadn’t wanted to tempt fate. Like many women, I didn’t quite believe the baby would exist. When he was born, I was hit by the enormity of love and responsibility. I knew I would do anything to keep him safe and loved.
I remember the health visitor who visited my flat when he was ten days old. I’d managed to brush my teeth and put on a clean top, more than I’d managed for most of the previous nine days. She asked how I was doing.
‘Oh, I’m fine. Tired, but fine…’
Six weeks after his birth I attended my post-natal check at the doctor. That’s a big ask of a sleep-deprived new mother, that she should get herself and baby, at a specific time, to a busy surgery and wait in a room full of strangers looking at her. As part of this fairly cursory health check, I filled out a form known as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.
We’re all familiar with those quizzes, once only found in women’s magazines, now all over Buzzfeed, like what sort of pizza you are, or which Marvel character you resemble? You know what to tick to get the answer you want. This form asked: Have you ever felt like harming yourself or your baby? Well, obviously you’re going to tick ‘no’ to that. And it was true, I didn’t. But then I was discharged from their scrutiny and left to get on with things.
I was fine.
Except I cried every day for the first six months of my son’s life. Was I fine? No. But I felt well enough to go about my daily business with no threat to mine or my son’s physical wellbeing.
Whenever mothers speak up in the public eye about how hard they are finding motherhood, they get slammed by the triumvirate ‘whataboutery’ brigade. What about the dads/partners? What about the women who’ve given birth since the beginning of time without all this fuss? Lastly, which stops most women from ever speaking (or ‘moaning’ as the popular verdict goes), what about the women who are not able to be mothers, or who lose their child?
The Maternal Mental Health Alliance produced a report in 2014 which estimated the cost to society of inadequate maternal provision was £8 billion every year. I wrote an Opinion piece for The Guardian and set up a petition on Change.Org off the back of this. (Incidentally, my petition is still there, being a wide-ranging manifesto detailing what I feel needs to change. It has less than 2000 signatures #mumsaren’tnews).
The reason for this astronomical sum of money was largely due to the women who end up in the few specialist Mother and Baby units, costing thousands of pounds in facilities and professionals’ fees. They usually have post-partum psychosis, which fortunately is rare. There has been considerable investment in this area, meaning less women get to this stage, and it now doesn’t cost the country so much.
Yet there are thousands of mothers who are not extreme cases but are far from feeling fine. We see them all the time at our Mothers Uncovered groups, the organisation I founded offering peer support to mothers. We give them permission to cry and they do, often riddled with guilt and shame that they are not loving every moment. Crying is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you are allowing feelings to happen. Peer support groups are essential. A place where a mother can say exactly what she needs to without fear of repercussion. And be brought a tea and biscuit.
Even if a mother seems to be managing her mental health reasonably well, it doesn’t take much for negative emotions to escalate. Also, these feelings sit within her and there are many studies about the effects of maternal ill health on the baby. So, why does that matter? Well, who reading this has a mother..? We all do, it affects society as a whole. How about we stop assuming new mothers are fine unless told otherwise and start assuming they might not be because they’ve had this huge, life-altering experience.
I am fine now. My boy is nearly eighteen. I do feel truly blessed to be a mother. But for the sake of all those mothers who claim they’re fine, things need to change.