There’s a deliberately inflammatory title for you, if ever there was one. On one hand, I want to follow it immediately with a desperate reassurance that of course I’m not a bad mother: perish the thought! On the other hand, though, it is precisely this feeling of guilt, of failing, of out-and-out unfitness which has, I think, underscored a lot of the bad experiences I have had around pregnancy and birth. It has certainly been a contributing factor in several years of post-natal, peri-natal and just general depression. For some time, I have contemplated writing a post, or a small series of posts, about this, the intention being in part to articulate some of the problems I have had, and, in doing so, to exorcise them. That’s the hope, anyway: we’ll see if it works. I do, however, have another motivation: at various low points, I have found myself trawling forums and blogs, looking for someone who has been in a similar situation to the one in which I found myself. Whether or not finding such testimony would have done anything to forestall or alleviate the depression, I don’t know, but I do know that I didn’t find anyone who had had experiences all that similar to mine, and that this definitely contributed to my feelings of isolation. I hope that, in writing about my pregnancies and births here, I might be able to help some other worried future reader, if only by letting them know that they’re not alone. Although these posts will inevitably be concerned with medical matters, I must preface everything with the caveat that I Am Not A Doctor (not that kind of doctor, anyway: I’ve never heard of an emergency situation in which someone shouts, “Get me a bibliographer, stat!”). These posts really are my personal thoughts and experiences, and are no substitute for proper medical advice: if you have any concerns about physical or mental health during pregnancy, please speak to your doctor or midwife.
I have come to the conclusion that neither my body nor my mind deals well with pregnancy and its aftermath. From minor annoyances like the Unexpected Pregnancy Nosebleed Epidemic, through gestational diabetes, difficult births and feeding problems, to episodes of depression which left me some pretty dark places, the whole process has felt fraught with difficulty. This is compounded by the fact that it all feels so self-indulgent: you are continually beset by a self-loathing interior monologue telling you that other people have real problems. Other people’s babies have serious disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. Other people’s babies die, for heaven’s sake. Other people suffer debilitating birth injuries. What do you have to complain about? You had a baby and you just plain couldn’t deal with it. You’re pathetic… And so on. It may be a cliché, but it seems to me that, if your mental health is being affected, then you have a problem, no matter whether or not your situation meets some vague criterion of seriousness. It’s totally normal to feel, some of the time, that you’re doing badly as a parent. It is, I would suggest, not normal to respond to a bad day by assessing the contents of your medicine cabinet and asking your child if they would be happier if you weren’t there anymore. It’s normal, when pregnant, to worry about how you’ll cope with your baby. It’s arguably not normal to be considering whether you should have your (very much wanted) baby adopted or have a late termination to save them from having to be raised by an awful person like you.
I don’t know if there is any way I could have avoided this depression, but I do honestly believe that there are ways I could have dealt better with the diabetes, the birth, and the feeding issues. It’s these three factors which I plan to discuss in my next posts: again, remember that I Am Not That Kind Of Doctor, but, if you are in a similar situation to me, I do hope that my experience (and the fact that Eoin, Ronan and I are still here and, mostly, happy) might give you some help or sense of solidarity.