Motherhood and Mental Health Part Two

Turning 30 has made me think a lot about pregnancy and babies. I have always assumed that I’d have a baby ‘one day.’ That it was something I was ‘meant’ to do, wanted to do, intended to do. So I’m publishing this series about motherhood and mental health.

— As with Part One, there’s some trigger warnings for this piece. The stories shared with me are very honest, are across the spectrum of mental illness, and some include references to trauma and abuse. Please be aware of this and put your own self care first. —

It has become increasingly clear to me that my physical and mental health are probably going to stop me from being pregnant and caring for a baby. That is absolutely not a judgement call on anyone else’s choice. It’s just my feelings right now, and an acceptance of my physical reality. Those feelings include a lot of sadness, because I deeply wanted to experience pregnancy. Luckily, I have a child in my life who gives me great joy. While not the same as biological parenthood, this means so much to me.

I have several friends who are currently pregnant, or mothers to babies or young children. Some of them have talked to me about the realities of their pregnancies and the early days of motherhood. A lot of the things they said were completely new to me. They expressed frustration that the possible difficulties and complications involved in getting pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth, and being a mother are not shared more often. One said that she hated how TV sugarcoats and romanticises pregnancy and giving birth, because nothing had been like that for her, and it made her experience so much harder. She felt very alone.

“I wish there had been something, someone, there for me, to tell me how things could be in reality. I had toxemia and was put on bed 25-of-women-suffer-from-depressionrest, and no one even explained to me what the matter was, or how dangerous things were. I hated being pregnant and I wondered what was wrong with me. When I gave birth after being induced, it was very quick, I didn’t get any endorphin high or anything, and I didn’t feel the expected immediate rush of love or connection with my baby. I was devastated. I just wish I’d known everything I felt was normal.”

Hearing this was what lead me to offering writehanded as a space for women who wanted to tell their story.

This is Part Two. 

Heather’s story
I was pregnant with my first child eleven years ago. ‘Happily’ married (to a man who left me when my baby was 6 months old), intelligent, healthy and with sufficient resources to raise a child.
I sobbed and sobbed when I found out I was (accidentally) pregnant. I cried for weeks. I cried for lots of practical reasons. Like I couldn’t get my very analytical head around the fact that I would have to push a baby out through my vagina. It was a nightmare thought. I am not a fan of change.
Looking back, I was working through a huge mourning process. I was a pregnant woman. I was no longer Heather. After that, I was going to be a mother. Once again, no longer Heather. I felt like I was being pulled away from who I really was. I felt that being pregnant was weak. Pregnant women give up work, don’t lift things, get forgetful, eat crap, smile inanely at people, coo over stupid f*cking toys and baby clothes. All that sh*t made me want to vomit. That is not who I am.
I just got worse as the pregnancy wore on. Everybody else was insanely excited and happy for me. It will all work out, they said. So in addition to losing my identity, I then had to pretend that I was HAPPY about it. Fake face all over the place. No whinging allowed. I thought I must be quite a crap person if I couldn’t like babies. I felt quite abnormal.
All the stuff I was given to read by the midwife and GP was EVERYTHING BABY and how awesome and special it was. Lots of pastels and bold primary colours. Like the babies were going to read the stuff. It felt like I was in the 1950s. I don’t remember reading anything about mental health. Except to expect ‘the baby blues’ (stupid f*cking name for it) two or three days after the birth.
My response to this was to work twice as hard to prove I was not ‘just a pregnant woman’. I slogged it out in the garden, around the house, at work. Refusing to rest. I never got forgetful or absentminded. I remained sharp. I overcompensated. I am a busy person that people ask to do stuff. And I do it.
I saw a specialist post-natal adjustment nurse a few months after the birth because I was still crying all the time. There was no bonding with my baby (this happened very gradually, maybe after about a year or so). The nurse was part of a new pilot scheme being set up. I told her my story (but to be honest only touched on it, because I thought I was abnormal and was too ashamed to tell her that I didn’t feel the way the books told me to). She said I likely had ante-natal depression, and also had postnatal depression. I never saw her again though. Not sure what happened to that scheme.
My GP was great – I cried in her office when I first found out I was pregnant. I remember her telling me she cried (not in a good way) when she found out she was pregnant too. It made me feel a bit more normal. But GPs don’t really act as leading maternity carers in NZ, so I went to a midwife who was lovely, but she loved babies (probably a job requirement) so even at that level, I didn’t really connect with her. Just kept a good happy fake face.
In hindsight, I wish:
  • I had a clearer understanding of my family history of depression at the time
  • Facebook and Twitter had been invented so more of us ‘abnormal’ unmotherly mothers could have reached out to each other (I see good things in social media now)
  • The books, brochures, etc etc featured more information about mental health during pregnancy
In regards to how people could have approached the topic of pregnancy with me (perhaps providing me with opportunities to talk frankly and seek help):
  • Instead of “oh my god how exciting!!!”- “Wow, that’s a big thing to happen to you – how are you feeling about it?” would be better
  • Instead of “how is the pregnancy going?” – “do you feel like talking about your pregnancy, or shall we move on?”, or just “How is work?” is good
  • Instead of “have you got everything ready?”, “you should do whatever the f*ck you want” is a much better comment.
The pregnancy and birth of my second child was totally different. Both my kids are pretty great – but I was relieved when they started to make sense and go to school. I still don’t like babies.


Blogs by mothers

Thalia at Sacraparental has written so much about this, including a series about her postnatal depression: How It Is. I also thought her series about making parenting easier was fantastic, especially this one about ‘living in the gap’ between your expectation of parenthood, and the reality.

EmilyWrites. Emily is a mother to two young sons and has been writing about parenting for ages. She is also a columnist and has a book coming out in March.

Leilani Tamu writes about her pregnancies and the difficulties she had breastfeeding.

Australian Leonie Dawson writes about her postnatal depression, and has produced a great zine about hyperemesis gravidarum.

Resources, support, getting help

Mothers Matter, a huge website that includes stories from mothers. This has such a wealth of information, including things like what sort of medications you can take during pregnancy and after birth, lists of support services, facts and myths – it goes on.

Mothers Matter has a list of support services around the country. It doesn’t include private professionals, but it may help narrow down what you need and what’s available to you.

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Aotearoa

Help Auckland – offer on the phone and in person support to survivors of sexual assault and can help with accessing further services.


Here is Radio NZ’s series on perinatal depression.


If you have more information or links you’d like to add, please let me know. I am happy to add them in.