On new years eve 2019, I sat with my family in horror as Australia’s bushfires ravaged the country.
At nine months pregnant, the experience affected me more acutely than it normally would have done. Tears streaming down my face, I sat there wondering why on earth I had opted to bring life into a world on the brink of a cataclysmic disaster. This was a climate-related tragedy, and there would only be more of them in the years to come. They would only increase in severity. My baby would live in a world that was on the precipice of no return. And I had made that decision.
When Teddy was born, the world stood still. I loved him fiercely, but I was also instantly overwhelmed.
Of course, new parents are meant to feel that way. But my feelings of treading water in the deep end weren’t solely linked to the trials of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. I was filled with worry about his future.
Fast forward two months, and still in the depths of this worry-abyss, Coronavirus hit.
The world was thrown into lockdown within a matter of weeks, with new restriction measures coming into effect every couple of days. I was fortunate to have my partner around more and excellent support, but the world’s uncertainty heightened my feelings of doubt.
It settled deep into the pit of my stomach. A dull sense of foreboding that I could rarely shake.
It was at this point that the insomnia started. Fatigued at the end of the day, I’d go to bed anticipating quick sleep. But it evaded me. Night after night I’d lie there, mind racing while the baby and my partner snoozed peacefully next to me.
As a new mum, GPs are quick to deem lack of sleep as par for the course but I knew this wasn’t the problem. Teddy was sleeping nearly right through the night, but I was still a night zombie. I tried all the sleep hygiene advice (lavender oil, magnesium bath salts, warm milk, clean room, blue-light bans), but no difference.
Still breastfeeding, I was advised by doctors that there wasn’t anything I could take either. As long as “the baby was doing fine, that was the main thing.” It was torture.
When Teddy was about five months old, something shifted. I was regularly seeing women I’d met at mother’s group who were fast becoming firm friends. The kind of friends you can share things with without fear of judgement. I learned then, after we’d gotten past the routine chats of baby-led weaning and what to do about green poos, that they were feeling similarly anxious about the state of the world.
On top of this, they were struggling with their new mum identities and trying to wrap their heads around this ‘new normal’.
That old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is, of course, true. When we were able to verbalise all of this, things didn’t feel quite so lonely. The worry was still there, but it was usurped mostly by feelings of joy.
Our babies were thriving, they had formed hilarious little personalities and we lived in a beautiful place. We were the lucky ones. Fortune that shouldn’t be taken for granted and that came with responsibility.
I knew then, that I was meant to be a mum. We all were. But we were also meant to make a difference and instil values in our kids to not abuse their privilege and harness it for good. They would be the generation (as well as our own) that could shift the status quo.
It’s now been nine months since I had Teddy. A longer and shorter year has never been had. Nor one that has been so jam-packed with raging emotions. It has been the biggest learning curve of my life. And the most miraculous one.
I still have things to work through and sleep is still a regular challenge. But I feel at ease and confident of my path forward.
Postpartum anxiety affects one in five Australian women, and in a year like 2020, the statistics are likely higher. But it’s still taboo. I know this first hand, because as a woman who writes regularly about women’s issues, and advocates for gender equality, writing this piece still feels raw. It wasn’t easy.
But we should be aware of the signs and unafraid of asking for support. Sharing my worries with friends and family, as well as a psychologist has made the difference for me. I’m a better mum because of it.