Maternal Mental Health - NOT JUST FOR MATERNAL MAMAS
My journey into motherhood was a little different from what I had always imagined when I was growing up. Like many young girls, I had planned to get married and have children like all the princesses do in the fairytales, however I became unexpectedly pregnant before I was married and after only being with my daughters father a very short time. I had always dreamed of becoming a mother and although things had not turned out the way I had planned I could not wait to become a mother to my sweet baby girl.
My beautiful baby girl is now 8, she’s absolutely wonderful and I feel so blessed to have her, we have the most special bond and I’m so glad my life didn’t turn out the way I had planned because I got to bring the most loving and special little girl into this world.
I had a pretty isolated first few years with my baby, I didn’t attend many baby classes or do much other than spend time with my family and close friends because I lacked the confidence to attend classes “on my own”. Despite all this I enjoyed my baby girl so much, we had baths together, played together and our bond was stronger than I knew possible. I had never experienced a love like it. My baby girl transformed me, eventually she made me stronger and made me realise I could do anything I wanted if I believed in myself. I wanted to set a shining example for my girl and so started to believe in myself more.
Then I met Paul, the love of my life, the most special man I had ever met. I guess you could say that when I met Paul, I was a little naive about what and who I was about to take on. Paul had only recently lost his wife. We’d built a real friendship when Paul’s wife was in hospital. I’d been there to listen to all of the stories of how amazing his wife was, what a wonderful mother she was and how they had been high school sweethearts and so in love. At the time I was fine hearing all this - I wanted to be there for Paul so badly and help him through the most difficult thing I think anyone could ever go through. And so I listened……..and I listened…..to all of the stories, to all of the grief, I cried, I felt like I knew Lauren, when she died I felt grief too, I felt for her family, for Paul, for all of their friends and for her babies. It had been so much easier for me to listen to all of these stories than for Paul to share them with anyone who he was close too, that also loved Lauren dearly, so was grieving too, but suddenly I felt like I knew her, I couldn’t understand how I was grieving for someone I had never met.
Somewhere in the thick of all these emotions I fell in love with this kind and caring man who had been so dedicated to looking after his wife and his children’s mummy. He really was the strongest and bravest man I had ever met, how could I not fall in love with him? I wanted someone to look after me and love me in the same way Paul had Lauren.
When I become a stepmother to my 2 boys I felt the need to protect them and nurture them so badly. The boys had lost their mummy when they were just 2 and 4. I mean can you imagine? A tiny two year old boy and his big brother who turned 4 the week before his mummy died. A 2 and a 4 year old being left without their mummy. The most important person in their whole world. It was beyond my comprehension how I could do a good enough job of raising someone else’s babies. Whilst I had the deepest desire to protect them I felt myself becoming very anxious because of peoples opinions of whether I was doing enough and whether the boys mum would approve of how I was raising her babies. I felt very alone in this journey as I honesty felt like nobody understood what I was going through. I made constant compassions and became increasing worried that I wasn’t good enough.
All of the things that Paul had shared with me that had brought us so close together were tearing me apart. I was battling with myself every single day in worry and guilt. Guilt that I was getting to read someone else’s boys a bedtime story when it should have been her there, guilt that I got to celebrate Christmas and birthdays with them. I had started to forget that I was a mother too. Mothers days had become about me remembering Lauren and doing what was “right” for the boys, I brought balloons and we made cards for her and I was forgetting that it was my day too. I worried every single day that I wasn’t good enough, that they didn’t love me as much as they did their real mum, that family members would be judging my parenting style and wishing I was doing things more how Lauren would have done them. And so I completely withdrew. I withdrew from showing people my parenting style because they then couldn’t judge me for getting it wrong. I felt like every time I was around others I showed the boys less love………because I felt they would be thinking that they weren’t mine to love. Writing that sentence just instantly brought me to tears. The realisation that other peoples opinions meant I showed these boys less love because I was so worried they would think I was trying to take their mothers place.
I have recently decided to have therapy to help me get through this. Not because I am weak, but because I am strong enough and brave enough to know that I deserve to feel good about what I am doing, that I deserve to feel like my boys mama, I have raised them for 5 years now and I know that I need to value myself more. The day I married Paul I made him a promise; here’s a little snippet from my wedding vows to him; ‘when I met your children I knew that this union would make two broken families complete, thank you for trusting me to raise your boys and for being the best step daddy to my little girl. Today I promise to not only be the best wife to you, but to try to always be the best mummy to our four gorgeous children. And that’s all I’m doing, I’m trying my very best to raise our four children, to love them all beyond measure.
My maternal mental health worries never came from my maternal children. You do not need to be a maternal mother to need to look after your maternal mental health.
I found the courage to get help after a dear friend sent me a podcast from Happy Mum Happy Baby with @mrsgiflether and @xkatefedinand and I listened to this feeling like it was me being interviewed. For 5 years I felt like nobody could or would understand. I felt like the feelings I was having weren’t normal. It helped me so much hearing all of the things I’d been through and all the feelings I’d felt had been felt by somebody else. Somebody who was “normal”. And so there it was, my light bulb moment……. I was normal, I needed help to cope with all of these emotions……and that was okay.
After just 4 weeks of therapy I realised that I really need to value what I do more and am becoming really secure in knowing that my boys need me and that they see me as their mum despite all of my worries and insecurities.
My husband and I now also have a 17 month old baby boy who is the final precious jigsaw piece that made our blended family complete. We tried for years to have Ronnie with little success. We found out that I had polycystic ovaries and the doctor booked us in to start fertility treatment, 13 days before our appointment we found out we had fallen pregnant naturally. Ronnie was so longed for and after a complicated pregnancy due to his size and lots of worry, our sweet boy was with us. As an older mother who felt more secure this time round, I had a completely different experience with my second child. It was amazing. I felt a lot more equipped to make decisions that suited our family and not do as I felt I “should” based on the advice of others. I also attended a huge amount of baby classes with my two best friends which made the experience entirely different for me.
To all the maternal mums and all of the step mamas, foster mamas and adoptive mama’s and fathers who are mothers, you are all amazing. You do not need to be a maternal mother to need to look after your maternal mental health. My biggest challenge as a parent so far has been accepting that I am good enough to raise someone else’s babies my way. I hope every single day that I am making Lauren proud, but have also realised on this journey that I also have to make myself proud. From one mama to another in whatever form that may be. We all struggle, we all question ourselves and none of us have it all figured out. Just doing the best you can is always enough.