Normal is Not Enough

 
IMG_0855.jpg

So you’ve just had a baby... Don’t worry, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. It’s normal to feel exhausted. It’s normal to feel anxious. It’s normal to be struggling. It’s normal to feel lost, sad, depressed, isolated, frustrated and emotional…

We are told a lot of things after we have kids. Quite often it's with good intentions from moms who've been there and are trying to provide some guidance on “what to expect." 

Speaking with other moms at the same stage as you confirms a lot of us are feeling these things. My close circle of mom friends and I speak quite openly about what we are going through, and we can agree that there is a certain level of comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our feelings and experiences. 

You feel normal, and normal is good right? But at what point is “normal” not enough? 

I was at the park one day with a good friend of mine and after a good back-and-forth vent session about kids, husbands, life, my friend finally professed that, "As much as I feel better knowing that someone else is going through this, it breaks my heart to know that you’re feeling like this too.”  

I was really struggling at that point in time, definitely more so than I even realized. 

A mantra just echoed in my head, "It’s OK, this is normal, this is normal, this is normal,” and I did my best to cope and believe that normal meant I was OK.  

The more I spoke with friends, the more I realized these were standard emotions to be experiencing, especially with multiple toddlers in the mix. 

Another friend of mine was also going through her own hard time, and one day while I was over at her house she began telling me how she had really hit her breaking point, and the various steps she was taking to fix it. This basically stopped me in my tracks. 

Part of her steps was going to see a family counsellor. 

“Wait, what? But this is normal… but we’re going through this together… if you need to go to counselling does that mean that I need to go to counselling?" 

Yes. A resounding yes. 

I quickly realized that I was in so much denial and was doing nothing to pull myself out of this spiral. How did I not even notice this spiral? 

How can we actually be so conditioned to believe that locking ourselves in a room to cry or to get a moment of peace on a weekly (if not daily) basis is anything short of dysfunctional? How is it not a blatant red flag? It's discouraging that nobody else indicated it should be either. In fact, even our parents generation could relate and chuckle remembering where they use to hide to shed tears or find solitude. "We've all been there," after all. 

The term “post-partum depression” had never resonated with me, maybe because I felt like it didn’t accurately depict how I was feeling, so once again because I didn’t fit in that box, I was fine, right? 

I realized I really didn’t need a label for what I was going through. Depression? Anxiety? Who cares, I wasn’t myself and I was struggling to cope. I wasn't OK.    

It took me a few weeks to really get up the courage to book a counselling appointment, which now seems absolutely ridiculous. I was so proud of my friend for recognizing that this was a needed step, so why was I embarrassed to do it myself?  

I felt like it would be admitting I was failing, that I had let my kids and my husband down by letting things go on this long.

I have to say, it was like a weight had been lifted at the very booking of that appointment, and I have heard the same thing from so many other people.   

I remember after my first session feeling so validated in my decision to go. I didn’t feel like a failure at all, in fact, I felt incredibly empowered and appreciative that I was being given strategies for nurturing my children’s emotional health, and for gaining a better understanding of what THEY are going through. 

Being able to parent with a different lens on tantrums and challenging behaviours left me feeling so much more compassionate and empathetic towards my kids (especially during tantrums). 

Don’t get me wrong, no still means no, but instead of being annoyed and barking at them, I can often kindly say things like, “I know it’s frustrating when mommy says no, but I’m not going to let you carry broken glass in your pocket…"   

Not only did it provide some valuable insight into understanding my children, but also my husband. And to try to see things from his point of view, or understand what he might be going through, and communicate more constructively. 

It also allowed me to examine why I got here in the first place, with feelings of lost identity, and how to cope with all of life’s changes. 

I hope that I am a better version of myself now; far from perfect, but better.  

I still go to counselling every month or so, as life with three small children (among other stressors) can still be challenging. 

Just because it may feel like the norm to be struggling as a new mom, it does not mean that it is OK. Just because you are struggling in any phase of life does not mean you have to cope alone. Talk to friends, your doctor, if you have the means, talk to a professional (some even have a sliding scale for rates based on income). Do it early. Trust your inner voice.

Kristie Sykes