Fourteen months after my child was born, I first felt the warmth of my love for him.
Fourteen long months of being emotionally shut down came to an end. Functional, coping well enough on a practical level, but shut down.
It wasn’t depression, I didn’t feel cack. I just didn’t feel emotions much at all. I felt stressed, tense, and worried. But not ‘down’. Maybe some medics would disagree and call it depression. But I can’t call it that, not without the corresponding low mood. No mood is not the same as low mood, in my experience.
I didn’t feel great, either. It was a strange, highly functional, highly educated coping strategy. I became a mom at 36. I’d been on a personal growth path since I was 19, perhaps even earlier. I trained as a teacher and dived happily into learning about child development. Early years development, and the impact of one’s infancy on one’s adult life, captivated me. I knew what I was doing, at least in theory.
A few months in to being a mom, and I was terrified. Terrified of fucking this amazing little child up for life. A sensible friend told me that I definitely wasn’t doing that, and that no parent can totally escape messing up their child. I relaxed, a little.
I was terrified of dying. Terrified that I’d totally traumatise this child by dying. Terrified that I’d leave this little being without his breast-feeding, totally clued-up-on-attachment-theory mom. Walking along the canal one day, I realised that lots of children are bereaved, and most of them figure it out one way or another through life. I could breathe a little easier.
That aside, I was just completely stressed. My anxieties were my stress revealing itself, rather than serious concerns in themselves.
A year-ish before giving birth, I moved my husband to the Netherlands from our native(ish) England, following his job move. In the year that followed, we had time to acclimatise to immigrant life, a new town, a new language, a new social life, and a new career for me, finally going professional with the healing-coaching skills I’d been honing for years (i.e. building up a business network, a business, getting the hang of the Dutch business and tax system and and and – all while becoming more and more pregnant and simultaneously figuring out the prenatal and midwifery systems….). And with high sensitivity in the mix, the impact of all these changes was super high. Let’s just say we’re just about mostly kind of acclimatised now, three years later. So then pregnancy, and becoming first-time parents. Not an easy ride. Oh, and our house back in the UK didn’t sell for a year, so we weren’t breaking even until after our child was born. Super great timing.
So I was completely stressed out before giving birth, and knackered, and stressed out and doing a full-time parenting gig after birth while still worrying/obsessing about how the heck to bring this thing that I do for people that’s super deep and useful and hard to describe into a profitable business. It’s not exactly surprising that I went into a kind of survival mode.
Now add into the mix a somewhat stoic family-of-origin tendency to ‘just get on with’ and ‘do what needs doing’. On your own.
Eventually, like a heavy and humid afternoon, it broke. I broke. I broke gradually, bit by bit.
I asked for help. And again. And again. I told people – including myself – just how hard it was. A series of conversations with friends, kindly and gently teasing the truth of it out of me. Conversations with my husband. Getting real about what was going on, what I needed, what was possible, and what would make things – and hence me – better.
And gradually, bit by bit, I got better. I started feeling again. Mostly anger, to be honest. But then tenderness. Gentleness. The sweet delight of your baby, your toddler.
Then came the dip. The sleep-deprivation of 4am wake ups and not going back to sleep until the next evening bedtime. The continued adjustment to our new life, new country, new family.
There comes a point in the journey when you bottom out. When you can’t see a way forward. When everything is stuck. That was me here. What a didn’t know until a little while later, was that this was the chrysalis phase. Infuriating for the wee caterpillar who now is full of food and can’t bloody move or do anything that it wants to, but jolly good for the life cycle.
I gave up. I got flu, proper flu. I gave in. I stopped pushing. Stopped pushing my work. Stopped pushing my way through it. Stopped pushing myself.
I caught up with myself. I don’t just mean the post-natal stuff. I caught up with myself. Or rather, my whole life caught up with me. It was as if I were a train that had come into a station and stopped, and all the carriages were now shunting and slamming to a standstill. Bish bash bosh. Twenty years of always anticipating a move in the next 3 years had put a lot of carriages in my train, always waiting for me to be at the station long enough next time.
I wonder if lots of women go through this kind of process on maternity leave, especially if you have a longer time like a year or so. Time to catch up with yourself, while providing milk, cuddles, changing the nappies, and maintaining your sanity without much adult interaction or occupation.
So I processed. With friends, counsellors, more friends, my husband, and a boatload of journalling, reflection, reading, meditation, and more conversations with people. In dreams, daydreams, and more.
I checked in with reality. I’d known for a while that I need 9 hours of sleep, but I’d not implemented it. So I implemented it. I’d known other things about myself too, but not taken them ‘seriously’. This changed.
The more I processed, the more clearly I saw the process and how it was working. The transition.
I came out. Out of the post-natal numb. Out of (at least some of) the accumulated ‘stuff’of 37 years. Out into myself.
And I found me.
For that, I’m truly grateful.