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Director's Column - The truth of early motherhood.

We have a vision of what becoming a mother will be like. We imagine all the best bits. It is all light and laughter and rainbows and sunshine. We imagine rocking them asleep in our arms. Their first smile. Their first step. Holding their hand as we walk with them. Listening to them laugh. Sometimes our imagination even seems to roll in slow motion, like scenes from a movie, as we have visions of ourselves running through a field full of beautiful spring flowers in the sunshine and twirling our small child around as they laugh.

What we don’t imagine however, is the part where we’re crumpled on the floor by our child’s cot, crying because our baby just won’t sleep. So when the baby arrives and it isn’t all rainbows like we expected, it can come as a massive shock to the system, both physically and mentally.

Nothing turns your world upside down like giving birth to a baby. And I don’t just mean the actual act of giving birth, although that can cause its own share of trauma for many women too. I mean everything that comes after the birth too.

Suddenly there is a little person to look after, and the demands are relentless – a twenty-four/seven job, with no 5pm finish, no time off, or holidays or sick leave. You go from being an individual, in charge of your own time and pursuits and whims, to putting your child first before everything, even your own health.

The first few weeks are the hardest, the most demanding, as you try to get a grip with feeding and sleepless nights, right at the time when your body needs the most downtime to recover from the birth. Your body is hurting, your hormones are chaotic and you feel a level of exhaustion you never knew existed.

You also feel a rush of new emotions that can be confusing – a myriad of new and frightening worries for the little person you are now solely responsible for, to protect against the world and all its dangers. It is an overwhelming fusion of physical and mental stimulation and exhaustion. And through it all, there is no manual or training for how to do it.

Being a mum is hard, but being a mum with existing mental health disorders is even harder. After both my children arrived into the world, I experienced a significant decline in my mental well-being. It didn’t really come as a big surprise, because if anyone was going to experience a worsening of their mental health with a newborn, it was going to be the person who had long-term mental health disorders.

My first child wasn’t a good sleeper, my second not much better, and I hardly slept. One of the worse things for low mood is tiredness. The extreme sleep deprivation meant I was an emotional wreck and felt like just a shadow of myself. Those endless, long, lonely nights with an unsettled baby, where I would often end up sobbing from the sheer exhaustion of it felt, I think it’s appropriate to use the word, traumatic.

My children didn’t sleep well during the day either, so there was no time to catch up on lost sleep or take a break. The demands were relentless. And the relentlessness was overwhelming. I could see the hours stretching into days, stretching into weeks then months and years of this pure exhaustion and demands that there was no break from. I loved my children completely and adoringly, I had no problems bonding with them, the bond was deep, but the rest of the experience was sometimes almost unbearable. It could also be very lonely.

Not long after I began posting articles on my own experiences of early motherhood, I began to receive comments thanking for me for sharing my memories and feelings with such brutal honesty.

Mums I knew from the school playground would relate to me, with a sigh of relief, how much it helped them to hear that they were not the only ones to feel overwhelmed with everything motherhood threw at them. As we stood talking it was like seeing a weight lifting from their shoulders - the weight of thinking they were a failure for not always enjoying motherhood, that became a bit lighter when suddenly discovering that all mums feel that way sometimes.

And just as I would have said to those mums standing there with me, I say to all the mums out there now, that you are not a failure. Being a mother is wonderful, blissful even, but, give yourself permission to also find being a mother hard work. And never let anyone make you feel that you are in any way inadequate to the task.


Sarah Cutler, CWC Founder and Director.

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