Don't judge struggling mothers

20:42, Dec 14 2012

As this new mum sunk in to post-natal depression, everyone around her judged her coping skills, without bothering to ask why.

Being judged when you are a mother is a funny old thing. We are surrounded by people who question our abilities and decisions. Whether it's the source of the milk you feed them, the nappies you use, whether you work or stay at home, the method you use to introduce solids, the car seat you put them in, the way you teach them about the world, or the way you choose to cope when you have a child that doesn't fit the norms, you will always disappoint at best, or offend at worst.

On one hand, it's easy to be hurt. To let the judgments scar your heart. To hold them close to you and let them whisper in the quiet moments and remind you of your utter failure.

On the other hand, you can find the ability to defend yourself. You are a mother. Let yourself roar.

I choose to defend.

My first baby, seven years ago, is almost a distant memory, blocked out in a haze of ante- and post-natal depression - it was tough, that much is true.


But boy, my second pregnancy hit me hard and took its toll on me physically. From the tremendous weight gain (25 kilos, thank you very much) to the excruciating pains throughout that shot up my legs and back like electric shocks. The hormone fluctuation that left me simultaneously raging against the world and against the baby inside me. The brutal caesarean in March 2012 complete with a failed epidural, unplanned general anaesthetic and eventual post-partum haemorrhage that very well could have taken my life. There were so many things happened outside of my control that left me hating my body for failing me so badly.

I've always struggled with a poor body image, the result of years of sexual and emotional abuse. I couldn't have planned for the hate I felt towards my body - I was so overwhelmingly happy and content when we decided to try to conceive - I never saw it coming, and I had no plan in place to deal with it.

But people wouldn't know that, because they never bothered to ask me. They just judged me for not coping.

I started to research from day one the methods to embed good sleep habits in my newborn baby. After going through two years of sleep deprived hell with my first, I wanted to ensure history didn't repeat and that I was doing everything in my power to teach my child everything I could.

So number two would lie in his carrycot beside me in bed, so that he was safe but close. I would swaddle him tightly and shush him to sleep. We breastfed continuously and on demand throughout each night. I would rock him and pour my love into him. I was the epitome of calmness in the middle of the night as I gazed at him while he suckled.

Despite all of my work, he became more and more unsettled, arching away from my breast and screaming constantly as I rocked him for hours. I desperately tried to co-sleep with him, but he would stir every few minutes and his misery only seemed to be exacerbated. I was reluctant to move him in to his own room, but I did it because I didn't know what else to do.

But people wouldn't know that, because they never bothered to ask me. They just judged me for not keeping him close, and for admitting I wasn't coping.

I crashed badly about four months in, when the doctor had reassured us multiple times that it would get better. When we had been to the cranial osteopath, talked to the experts, the paediatrician, tried every herbal and prescription drug we could find, scoured the internet for anything that would help our child be happier.

I was working over 40 hours a week so that we had a roof over our heads and so my husband could stay at home. I was running a team of people, keeping a brave face, being ground down by the weight on my shoulders while existing on sometimes as little as two hours of broken sleep each night, pumping my breast milk at each and every break I had because it was all I could do to supply a steady stream of food for my child - the one thing that kept me grounded and attached to my son. I started antidepressants. They numbed me.

But people wouldn't know that, because they never bothered to ask me. They just saw my stress and judged me for returning to work and for resorting to medication.

My mind has gone to some dark places over the last 17 months. I've contemplated suicide a number of times, on my darkest days.

On slightly better days, I've desperately wanted to run away without looking back. The weight on my shoulders has been so great on occasions - trying to keep a professional and happy face during business hours, performing well enough to ensuring I retain my job, working enough hours to meet my deadlines, giving my husband enough support, being gripped by insomnia on the nights where my baby has slept by some miracle, pumping desperately to keep my milk supply up, being crushed when he began to reject it from the bottle in favour of formula.

Wanting to provide him with everything, but simultaneously feeling that I am failing in every aspect of my life - the darkness is easy to fall into if you know how.

I regretted having him, not so much for me (even if it were true my life would have been easier without him), but for him. Because he seemed so miserable, red-faced and screaming, clawing at his face, at mine, at the world with so much anger and desperation. I couldn't read him, not a word of his story. I couldn't speak to him, he wouldn't listen to me. We were like two deaf mutes from opposite sides of the world, speaking different languages with our bodies and minds.

But people wouldn't know that, because they never bothered to ask me. They just judged me for giving formula, and misread my anguish and sadness and anger and turned away.

After walking in front of a bus in a haze of exhaustion and nearly being hit, things changed. After months of trying to love him to sleep, we reluctantly gave in to controlled crying, desperate to give him some sort of rest so that he might become a happier child.

Both in tears we sat motionless, our heads in our hands as our baby cried from his room. We set a clock and watched every second pass, both being pulled towards him and wanting to cradle and rock him and tell him that he was loved. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and something I would never wish to repeat. But what kind of life is it for a baby who cries constantly every single day because he is too exhausted to even see the world around him?

But they wouldn't know that, would they?

Nine months on, he sleeps now, well - at least sometimes. And if we are lucky, he sleeps for an hour or two at a time, more than we ever could have hoped for some months ago. I carry him to his room each night and cover his face with kisses. We say goodnight to the entire world and the trees and the sky from the windows along the path to his cot, and I stand and rock him in a silent dance, telling him how much I love him, how much his Dada loves him, how I am trying to be a better mother to him every day, how sorry I am for the mistakes I have made and the moments of anger, frustration, depression, regret. For the only time each day, I offer him my breast, and he usually takes it, and meets my eyes with his and I stroke his face and he reaches out for mine and we are utter oneness and I wonder where this creature came from who is an extension of me.

But people, they didn't ask me about that, or let me tell them my story, which I am open and honest about. They just judged me, judged my actions and my admissions. They didn't bother to try to understand why I am where I am, and what would drive me to some of the places I have been, saying and doing some things I have done. And do you know what that makes them? Childish. And pathetic.

And that is a judgment I am happy to stand by.

This article was submitted by a reader to Stuff Nation. Who name was withheld at her request.