May I call you Jacinda? I mean, I know you’re our Prime Minister, but you’re on maternity leave right now — such as it is — and I’m writing to you as one mum to another, rather than as a citizen to the Prime Minister. Although, like motherhood, your job as leader of our country isn’t one you can just set aside when you’re technically “off duty”. You’re never off duty as a mum, and it appears you’re never off duty when you’re PM, either. (Yes, I saw your video from your sofa on Facebook like the rest of the nation. I’m also in awe you’re upright and your hair looks that good.)
Just for a few moments, I’m going to imagine we’re sitting together in your lounge (not mine, as I’d never expect a mum with a two-week-old baby to leave the cocoon of blankets on her sofa in the middle of winter) and we’re having a little chat. Your baby is two weeks old. You’re well and truly in the no-sleep zone. You’re wearing stretchy pants, because ain’t no new mum in her right mind gonna squeeze into skinny jeans before she absolutely has to. On the coffee table, there’s a cold cup of tea, a plate of biscuit crumbs (ain’t no new mum in her right mind gonna turn down a biscuit or three), and a pile of work papers you optimistically thought you’d look over “while the baby sleeps”. You haven’t touched them, except to use them as a coaster for that tea you didn’t get a chance to drink.
I’ve always found that at around the two-week mark following the birth of a baby, mums are feeling possibly at their most vulnerable. The flowers all your well-wishers sent while you were still in hospital have wilted. All the casseroles your early visitors brought have been eaten. Every time you take a shower, you hallucinate that you can hear the baby crying. Everything is sore. And differently shaped. You look in the mirror sometimes and you think, “Is that me? I’m someone’s mother!” and then you really do hear the baby crying and you don’t have time to look in the mirror any more.
You might have experienced what society gently calls “the baby blues”, which is a nicer way of saying that several days after your baby arrived, you just woke up one day and started crying, and you didn’t stop for three days. Or you just felt a little bit sad one afternoon. Or you cried off-and-on for a couple of hours without knowing why. “It’s just sleep deprivation,” you might be thinking. Yeah, that’s part of it. It’s also hormones, figuring out that you’re not pregnant any more and going a little bit crazy before they oh-so-slowly settle back to normal. Whatever “normal” is now that your body’s been through pregnancy and birth and possibly learning to breastfeed.
A great number of new mums get to this stage of motherhood — this two-weeks-post-birth point — and think, I am never going to feel normal again. This, too, is normal. I personally felt this way after each of my three children were born. I still feel this way some days, after I’ve refereed the third sibling argument of the day or scraped dried-up yoghurt off the baby’s high chair seat or stood at school pickup in my own stretchy pants, eyeing up the other mums who are wearing makeup when I’m not quite sure if my own makeup is still within its best-by date. (Note to self: Check mascara before wearing so you don’t get an infection because it’s three years old.)
But here’s the thing, Jacinda — we’re still on a first-name basis after all I’ve just said, right? — after having my kids, I can’t even remember what “normal” is supposed to be any more. And I don’t care. I don’t care when I’m holding my sleeping baby and brushing my cheek against her soft hair. I don’t care when my six-year-old is telling me another ridiculous kid joke that makes him laugh so hard his half-chewed biscuit falls out of his mouth and the dog eats it. I don’t care when my 12-year-old walks down the driveway after school, waving her arm at us watching through the lounge window without caring who’s watching.
So when the flowers are dead the casseroles are eaten and the tea is cold and everything’s sore and you’re sleep-deprived and you don’t feel like anything is ever going to be normal ever again, here’s what I’ll tell you: It’s okay. Give yourself some time to recalibrate. Find your new normal. That’ll change in time, too. And it’ll be okay then, as it is now.
P.S. One last thing — if you are feeling down and low after your baby’s birth, and it’s not going away, or your partner or loved ones are concerned about you, talk to your LMC or Plunket nurse because postnatal depression can affect any new mum, at any point in your baby’s first year — and is often mistaken for “just the baby blues”. PND affects between 10-20% of new mums, and help is not far away.