“She’s hysterical”. “She’s sobbing hysterically”. “She’s gone a bit hysterical.”
We sometimes describe men as hysterical too, but the etymology of the word is distinctly female. In Latin hystericus means “of the womb”. In Greek hysterikos means “of the womb, suffering in the womb”.
Childbirth and motherhood brought a wave, a veritable tsunami of emotions and hormones. It shocked me. I felt things I had never felt before. All of my feelings, all of my senses felt more intense, more acute. The world seemed sharper, pointier, more fierce, more vibrant, than it had been before I gave birth. It was at times wonderful, but at times terrifying. I couldn’t control the emotions. I hated this. I’ve always been able to control my emotions.
Breastfeeding was a struggle, I didn’t have enough milk, and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t provide for my baby. But this wasn’t like the feeling of failure you get when you fail and exam or you fail to get promoted at work, this was a crushing and desperate failure. My desire to breastfeed eclipsed the sun. The failure was a feeling so deep and piercing that I don’t think I can describe it.
As a first-time mother, I was bombarded with conflicting advice from everywhere. Whatever decision I made, there was someone to tell me I’d got it wrong. Everyone had an opinion. Even the man in the corner shop had an opinion. I felt like my baby was public property and everyone else seemed far, far better at looking after my baby than I was. I’d always been critical of myself and now I had an endless supply of ammunition.
All other mothers seemed to have their shit together. My NCT friends were nailing it. Their babies fed happily: Cygnet would projectile vomit three times a day. Their babies slept: Cygnet wouldn’t settle. Their babies were enrolled on baby massage, gymboree, rhyme time, swimming classes. The mothers looked perfect. They were dressed and made up. They were doing buggy fit and mum and baby yoga to get rid of their pregnancy weight.
It is only now, a couple of years on, that the truth is starting to come out. Now that we have all had a couple of years to process the dark thoughts, to master our emotions, to feel human again. It is only now that we are able to confess that it was damn tough and that we barely maintained our “shit together” façades. What I had interpreted as new mother smugness was a thin veil of sanity.
There is no such thing as a smug mum. The smugness is merely a façade. Every new mum is protecting herself and her baby by only telling half the story.
Social media amplifies the dishonesty, or rather, the selective truth-telling. Countless times I’ve posted a picture of my son looking cute on Facebook and later that weekend, possibly even just one hour later, I’ve been sobbing with despair at what a useless mother I am. I now know that my friends, my fellow mothers, are the same.
According to the World Health Organisation, problems like anxiety and depression affect one in three people in the community and are slightly more common in women.
We are all a bit mad. I don’t just mean that all new mothers are a bit mad. I don’t just mean that all women are a bit mad. I mean that all men and all women are a bit mad. We are. No one is completely “sane” or “sorted” – it is impossible. We’re definitely not all clinically anxious or depressed and not every change in mood should be pathologised, but every single one of us, female and male, has neuroses because we all have brains.
Dear new Mum, this is hard, but you are not alone. You will get through this. You can and you will.
And, to make you giggle, this is brilliant: