I am not a massive fan of “normal” – in fact I would say that all of my friends are oddballs to some extent (especially my husband) and their quirks are a big part of why I love them. And yet I found myself thinking about this word a lot this year – was my baby ‘normal’ was I ‘normal’ and after a while, I realised that ‘normal’ has a lot to answer for. Normal can make us feel shamed, inadequate, it can prevent us from recognising when we need help…
I was given my PND diagnosis when my son was barely 4 weeks old – “well done” you say, “you nipped it in the bud, caught it early”. Perhaps, but by this point I was already questioning whether he was actually my baby, crying each night in the bath, convinced other mums could sense that I was a fraud, pitying my unloved child, plotting my escape. I remember the day 3 meltdown, sobbing uncontrollably – telling my husband to remove our son from the house because I couldn’t bare to look at him, the twisting knot in my stomach. Day 3 I rationalised, it’s ‘normal’. I remember the blank space I saw where my son was, I tended to his needs but referred to him as “the baby” never using his name, feeling he was someone else’s. Its ‘normal’ I was told, not to bond straight away. You’re tired, get some rest, it’s ‘normal’.
7 and a half months on I am like any other normal mother – I just take an extra tablet with my breakfast – my boy is bloody gorgeous and thriving and although life isn’t always a bed of roses I feel confident in my ability to handle anything it throws at me. It is only now, with reflection, that I understand why it all seemed to unravel so quickly: I had suffered from pre-natal depression but I just hadn’t realised it. We moved house, work was stressful, there were legitimate reasons for the pressure I felt. I cried a lot, I had no control over my temper, I felt mentally daunted and exhausted most of the time. I remember saying I didn’t feel like me anymore, that I didn’t recognise myself. At any other point in my life I would have instantly known that I was depressed – so why didn’t I see it this time? Because the hormonal pregnant lady is a figure of fun from sitcoms and films to books and blogs, she is laughed at and ridiculed for her irrational behaviour. And so I believed that this was ‘normal’ I put on my cheery face (I am a pro at this – Oscar-worthy stuff) and I joined in laughing at myself – making jokes about my own mental state to excuse my out-of-character behaviour.
What I realise now is that the way I felt wasn’t ‘normal’ for me and that is the only thing that I should have been paying attention to – I had been measuring myself against a mythical scale created by media and popular opinion when I should have been listening to how I really felt – I was unwell. My seemingly rapid decline had actually been 9 months in the making. I am not going to regret seeking help earlier – looking back is not my style – but I will say that I think things could have been different and there are lessons to be learned. So now I don’t strive to be ‘normal’, the term means nothing, I strive to be happy, confident and comfortable in my own skin every day and to question anything that gets in the way of that pursuit. I will not rationalise away my feelings, if things don’t feel quite right then they probably aren’t – it might not be ‘normal’ but it’s definitely okay.
33 year old first-time mum muddling her way through one nappy change at a time. Lover of yoga, music, walking, roast dinners, cosy nights in and chocolate.