Another unique story of parenting during lockdown, this time from Hannah who asked if I would be up for sharing her experience of lockdown whilst recovering from post natal depression. Of course my answer was yes…
Postnatal depression did a number on me during the first year of my son’s life, but things were finally getting good again. I was back working, I made fun plans for our family, I loved being with my son.
But memory of the illness remained, just below the surface, waiting to bubble up again while attention was diverted elsewhere.
When I was properly poorly, I struggled even to hold my own baby, to look him in the eye, to smile at him. My biggest fear was being left alone in the house with him. And as lockdown began, I realised that, to some extent, it still was.
To this day, I’m not sure what I was scared of exactly – many months of psychotherapy didn’t quite get to grips with it. The fear of being found out by my child, the fear of being boring to him, the fear that I’m not doing it right, the fear of being alone with my own demented thoughts. I often felt like an actor, auditioning for the role of ‘mum’, desperately seeking reassurance that I was putting on a good show.
It came from the same place as the compulsive urge to make conversations in lifts, or to incessantly ask questions of the miserable guest sat next to me at weddings. Silence is something that is ALWAYS awkward and stressful for me. Even when sat with my son looking up at me with his searching little eyes. Especially, in fact.
So a lot of my recovery hinged around being incredibly busy. My later mat leave days were planned hour by hour, and I dragged my kid in and out of the car to swimming, soft play, big Tesco, my mum’s. Anything to avoid staying in with him, one on one.
Lockdown obviously shat all over this. My husband and I were both working, and we had zero childcare. The only way to make it work for us both to take it in turns – work or childcare, on a cheery rota that went from 6 in the morning til 9 at night.
The first few weeks were horribly tough. The work section was fine, almost relaxing, but as the morning rolled on and my childcare shift approached, I’d feel something like the dread I felt in the early days of motherhood. I can’t do this. I need to escape. I’m not enough.
I’d sit in the kitchen on the floor with my toddler, keeping up a jolly stream of conversation with myself or awkwardly hovering around as he played with his pots and pans, not knowing when or how exactly to join in. In the evening I’d scour the internet for ‘activities’ to do with 18 month olds and exhaust myself sourcing pipe cleaners and egg cartons on Amazon, all the while trying to catch up with my day job. It’s ok, I thought, it’s not for long. Just keep busy.
The day after the extension to lockdown was announced (the first time) I couldn’t get out of bed. Without quite realising, I’d been powering through lockdown doing the mental equivalent of a permanent pelvic floor squeeze. All well and good, but not sustainable in the longterm. Lockdown wasn’t going anywhere – and neither was my son. I needed a new approach.
Something in me changed. I wasn’t prepared to throw away my hard fought victories and slide back into mental illness. I spoke to my work, told them I was struggling and temporarily scaled back my hours. I made time to really speak to my husband, and we drew up a new plan to make sure we both found time to exercise, to eat properly and to give ourselves a break.
But the main change I made was with my son.
Instead of chattering at him – of madly doing sheep noises – of panicking in moments of quiet, I started to allow myself just to be with him, however anxious it made me feel.
Sometimes I’d lie on the floor and he’d climb on my head and we’d start giggling and rolling around. Sometimes we’d quietly make pretend dog food soup, and I’d realise how much he was trying to communicate with me. We’d start chatting – he with his noises and pointing and whinging, and me with my words, and it would suddenly feel like I’m here, chatting with a silly friend, completely at ease, like my old self. Not acting anymore.
Everyone’s experience of lockdown has been radically different, and god I can’t wait for it to be over. But I wonder if I’ll look back in time, and realise that lockdown is what it took to finally convince me that I could be my son’s mum.
If you have an experience of parenting during lockdown that you would like to share then please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, these are not normal times so remember that there is no normal or right way to experience this pandemic. Please know that there is help available if you need it:
National Centre for Domestic Violence – 0207 186 8270
Victim support – 0808 168 9111 (24 hrs)
National Domestic Abuse Helpline (24hrs) – 0808 2000247
Mind – 0300 123 3393
Samaritans – 116 123 (24hrs)
Pandas (post natal depression and support) – 0843 28 98 401
NCT Postnatal Line – 0300 330 0773