I was researching posts for one of my other blogging ventures recently, when I read something about mental illness that made me put down my cup of tea and exclaim: “Shit – that makes total sense.”
I’m a round-up editor for BritMums and so each month, I set a theme around the subject of health and collate some posts to share with the BritMums readers. In April, I featured a stack of posts about Postnatal Depression, and Lucy from The Parenting Game sent this one to me. In it, Lucy talks about a research study in Australia that claims a mum is most likely to suffer from depression and mental illness when their child reaches the age of four.
I get it. My eldest is four.
“The prevalence of depressive symptoms at 4 years postpartum was 14.5%, and was higher than at any time-point in the first 12 months postpartum.”
Now, the study goes on to say that women with one child aged four are more likely to report symptoms of depression than mothers who have subsequent children. I know I’m not a first time mum. But I do know that the amount of plates I’m required to spin is challenging at best, and cataclysmic at worst. Think about it: your child is four. So, either starting school (stress) or due to start school (stress). You’re probably working (stress) but perhaps only part time (stress). Because you’re probably working part-time, or school hours, maybe you’re a bit less financially secure than you’d like to be (stress).
What’s your relationship up to these days? What stage is your four year old going through, that you’ve never experienced before and you don’t know how to manage? When did you last go on a date? When did you last feel guilty because you’re desperate for a day away from your child? When did you last have a day away from your child, and spend half of it feeling guilty? When did you last consult the school term calendar, and realise you don’t have enough annual leave to cover that surprise couple of inset days? When did you last have to bail on a meeting at work, that you’d prepped for, because pre-school has phoned and your child has a dubious rash?
I think I assumed I’d be alright, this time around. Every challenge I’ve faced with this baby, I’ve faced with my eldest before. No surprises, all relatively plain sailing. So when the time romped around to go back to work, I was totally up for it. My brain was ready for something other than baby led weaning and working out a bulk buy discount on nappies.
Yet, I found myself in tears. Every single day, for the first six weeks. Not just my work days, all the days. I hated being back at work. I’ve never felt so incompetent, so useless, so behind. I panicked when an email landed in my inbox. I forgot how to prioritise and manage my time. I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. Where we’d recently moved, my commute was shorter, so I worked out exactly at what point on the drive home I needed to stop crying so that I wouldn’t resemble a puffy beetroot when I got to nursery. On the bad days, I’d have a little cry at lunchtime, then sort my face out in the toilet before skulking back to my desk for the afternoon shift.
Was I out of my depth? No, I don’t think so. I was just suddenly catapulted from one assured little bubble into a massive ocean of sharks. I eventually found my groove again, thanks to a couple of people at work who saw that I was drowning and not waving, and managed to hammer some confidence back into me. My husband helped too, picking up the phone every single time I called to say “I can’t do it, I really can’t do it today.”
Now, in the month that my eldest turns four, I still feel like I’m up against a huge wall of stress. There’s SO MUCH pressure on working families, and it’s no exaggeration when I say that I feel crushed sometimes. Each mound of worry ebbs and flows like a tide, eventually drifting away to be replaced with something else. Case in point – getting her into a school that can meet our breakfast club / after school needs. She got her first choice – woo! – but now I’m starting to worry about how she’ll adjust to school…my little baby, suddenly a big girl.
Another case in point is the financial impact of paying for childcare. Before my youngest was born, I worked three days and had one child in nursery. Now, I have one child in nursery and the other one in pre-school, but my working hours have remained the same. I get 15 hours of funded childcare, yeah, but she’s there for 20 hours and I pay for meals additionally so it doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that I’m worse off, this time around.
I still feel like I’m in limbo, basically. I’m pedalling somewhere between mum and career woman, and not really nailing either. Then there’s the whole wife thing – sometimes I catch my husband and I, sat at separate ends of the living room, looking at our phones, TV on. I’m in old faded pyjamas with frizzy hair and no make-up on. “What a bloody treat for the senses.” I think. Crying at the drop of a hat, perpetually anxious about something, having to force it day after day. Was this what we signed up for?
Where was I? Oh yes. Postnatal depression, four year old children. Four day old children, four week old children, four month old children – whatever. Let’s talk about it.
-SJW May 2017