We’re all a bit mad…especially after a baby

“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. 

we are all a bit mad

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.

P.S.  On real life and motherhood and How to stay sane when you  can’t afford therapy and Emotional well-being, divorce and separation.

And, to make you giggle, this is brilliant:

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com


  1. January 21, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    this is a brilliant post. It is so hard being a new mum, especially with the pressures from other people. And when you’re new to it all you take on their advice. I was much more clued up with my second child. Social media is brilliant in so many ways but also rather annoying in many other ways! #KCACOLS
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    • thesingleswan
      January 21, 2017 / 11:12 pm

      Thank you Rebecca. I am really glad you liked the post. Pen x

  2. January 21, 2017 / 10:44 pm

    I have a theory there’s always one thing you go nutty about with each child (and it changes with each child). With my first I sterilised everything like a crazy person. However, as my dr friend pointed out, I was mainly breastfeeding and my breast wasn’t sterile. Yet still I did, and then the day they turned 1 I stopped. So the dirty from the day before which was life threatening became okay over night….

    • thesingleswan
      January 21, 2017 / 11:12 pm

      Ah, this is very true. Interesting that it was a different issue with each child. I doubt I will have another, so I guess i’ll never know. Pen x

  3. January 21, 2017 / 11:02 pm

    There is no doubt having a baby is hard work for the first 2 years. I can honestly say I remember very little of the first two years with my triplets and I’d had 3 children before so should have known what I was doing but the numbers threw me! How I’d have managed with projectile vomit and struggling to feed as well I don’t know.
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  4. January 22, 2017 / 12:18 pm

    It sounds overwhelming but I think you are remarkable sane, my dear lady. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      January 22, 2017 / 8:18 pm

      Thank you Carol. Pen x

  5. January 22, 2017 / 5:49 pm

    Really lovely, honest post Pen. I think you’re right too, all of us are trying to look like we’ve got it all together but you really never know what’s going on behind the facade, how many tears are being shed. I’m truly grateful to my Mum friends who I can could be open and honest with, especially second time around, it really did save my sanity being able to admit how hard I was finding some things. x #KCACOLS
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    • thesingleswan
      January 22, 2017 / 8:12 pm

      Hi Madeline,

      Thanks for your comment. I think we all just need to be a bit more open and honest (myself included sometimes). There are loads of mums struggling out there and all thinking that their fellow mothers are getting along just fine. It’s tough sometimes and we need to talk about it. Pen x

  6. January 23, 2017 / 10:58 pm

    This a a great post and beautifully written may I add. Being a first time mother so hard and nothing can quite prepare you for it! You can read all the books, go to all the anenatal classes and take all the advice. It’s still blooming hard. I think now that my daughter is two I think I can stop worrying about her, every rash she gets, rushing to the docs for a little cough and everything else. I do know that when it comes to baby number 2! We know what to expect!!! #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      January 25, 2017 / 10:43 pm

      Thank you for your comment and your compliments. I agree now that Cygnet is 2 I worry a lot less about him and his various ailments. It does make it easier now that he can tell me, sort of, about his various concerns. It is amazing how upset he can get about a tiny paper cut – puts it all in perspective really! Pen x

  7. January 24, 2017 / 8:03 pm

    Every new mum should read this post! So well put in terms of the emotions and feelings. I felt like all my friends had their crap together too but in reality they probably didn’t. im sure they’ve had bad nights and no sleep too! its blinking tough though and nothing at all can prepare you! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday!

    • thesingleswan
      January 25, 2017 / 10:41 pm


      Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated. Pen x

  8. January 25, 2017 / 12:14 am

    It’s so sad that new mums don’t feel like they can be honest. That they feel they can’t go out with their hair unwashed, smelling of baby sick and scream at the top of their lungs “this shit is hard!”
    It’s taken me nearly a year to have the confidence to admit when things are tough. It’s hard to not feel like your failing! Im still convinced my hormones still haven’t gone back to normal but at nearly a year postpartum I think I’m just making excuses for my irrational behaviour! #KCACOLS
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    • thesingleswan
      January 25, 2017 / 10:40 pm

      Hi Becky,

      Thanks for your comment. Cygnet is nearly 2 and a half now and I don’t think that my hormones have yet gone totally back to the way they were before I had a baby. I find that my periods are different and I feel the symptoms of them more acutely. I feel the ups and downs more acutely too. In a way I quite like it, now that I have got used to it, but it does feel different. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      January 26, 2017 / 9:23 pm

      Hi Hannah,
      It’s lovely to hear from you and thank you for your comment. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      January 26, 2017 / 9:22 pm

      Hi Carol,

      You are right I guess. We put on the façade as much for self preservation as anything else. It is only once we are through it and a couple of years on that we reflect back and realise how tough it was. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  9. January 27, 2017 / 4:50 pm

    I used to say I’d rather be insane than sane and boring, Lewis Caroll probably sums it up better though. #sharethejoy

    • thesingleswan
      January 27, 2017 / 8:33 pm

      Haha, true, me too. Pen x

  10. January 27, 2017 / 11:06 pm

    I love this – beautifully beautifully written! And you’re right – we’re all the same. But why oh why are we pressured into keeping up with the pretense? Why can’t we just be what we are, admit how we feel, and just cry over each other’s shoulder if we need to? I never even managed a mum-baby group at the Children’s Centre before my first son was 9 months old.. So what does that say? 😉 Thanks for sharing #BrilliantBlogPosts

    • thesingleswan
      January 28, 2017 / 11:34 pm

      Hi Sara,

      thanks so much for your lovely comment. I appreciate it. Pen x

  11. January 28, 2017 / 3:04 pm

    I think sharing the hardships is so important, and supporting others and their decisions rather than trying to advise other new mums. It’s hard, we all need to stick together and be honest with each other #sharethejoy

    • thesingleswan
      January 28, 2017 / 11:32 pm

      Hi Kat, you are right, supporting others in their decisions is key. There is no single way to parent. The challenge that we all have is finding the right way for ourselves and our baby. Pen x

  12. January 28, 2017 / 8:31 pm

    I wish mum’s didn’t feel like they needed to have a facade of coping. I refuse to. If I’m not coping with Snappy then fuck it, everyone knows. #kcacols
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    • thesingleswan
      January 28, 2017 / 11:27 pm

      Haha, good few you. We need a few more mothers like you! Pen x

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