RUOK Mama? We immediately hit the automated response. "I'm fine" or "Just a little tired". Because we are not willing, or feel the other person is not prepared to hear the real answer. But the answer is not always "fine", and that is okay too. It is okay to feel isolated. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is okay to feel sad or angry or fed up...or feel nothing much at all. It does not make you a bad person, or bad mum, or weak or hopeless or incapable. It makes you imperfectly human. And we are ALL that. And that is okay!
It is Okay to not be Okay, but please reach out for support
What it is not okay for you to do is to bury this hurt and suffer alone. Alone where you hurt more, become more damaged, and your family too as they anguish over you. Because there are people who love you. People who care. And people are not going to think ill of you if you ask for help. They will not think you weak, or hopeless. They will be honoured by your trust in them, and empowered by your bravery - to ask for help when you need it. What a fabulous example you are setting for your children, right from the very beginning. Even if you don't feel it.
But what if they do think you weak or hopeless? If they tell you to "toughen up" or "it's not that bad" or to "count yourself lucky" and "show some gratitude" or "at least you and the baby are healthy". What if they say all the things they think might help....but actually make you feel worse? Then it is okay to say it is not okay. Or if they do not get it, it is okay to step away from them for a while and TOWARDS someone who does get it. Please don't step away to be alone. As alone as you may feel, there are so many people you can turn to. Even if they are strangers to you.
You are not alone. There are so many other mum's out there feeling just the same as you.
And sometimes, they are just who you need to turn to. You may just find the Mama that you barely know, or have never met will get you in a way no one you know does. They may be experiencing similar circumstances. Similar emotions that leave them feeling frightened or angry or ashamed. They just may need someone to reach out and connect with as much as you do. And sometimes, if you do not feel supported or comfortable sharing with someone close to you, then a stranger may be just the connection you need.
Your in person mum groups, or Mum facebook groups can be so wonderful. So powerful as a support to you. You can even post anonymously if you do not feel comfortable putting your name out there. Simply send your post to the admin for the group you are in, and ask them to post for you - anonymously. Post how you are feeling, and see what what unfolds. You just may find yourself surprised at how many other Mama's respond and relate. From there, some may request to PM (Private Message) you, or you might request to PM them. You may just connect with the person that resonates with all that you are, you may just start a conversation that helps OTHER Mama's feel less alone. You may just instigate the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Sometimes a stranger can be our closest support
Our modern culture of Mothers for the most part have lost the magic of the traditional village and the wisdom and support that comes with that as we all move away from home and family to big towns and cities that live in each others pockets, but rarely get to know one another. We have traded- less hands on intimate support for a wider world connected with technology and social media. While it is supposed to open our societies communication, too often it leaves us feeling completely isolated and overwhelmed as we see 'the pretty' of other peoples lives, and compare it to messy reality of our own. And so we feel shit about ourselves. And so social media can sometimes kick us while we are down. While we are not okay.
Lift others up. Feel empowered by the strength in women coming together to lift others.
BUT...years of observation and experience has shown me that if we connect in with a few of the many private groups that resonate with us, mum groups within our own local community, groups tailored specifically to women in business, or mum's in business, or mum's of twins, or parents with sick children, or mothers who experienced traumatic births, or are experiencing perinatal depression or anxiety (PND&A)...there are SO MANY private groups out there, and joining a few that resonate with YOU, where you can communicate with people that you have never met, you may find yourself feeling more connected to some of these women than you do many people in your face to face life.
You may just like to observe conversation. You may like to become involved. Or you may want to bring up your own questions or comments. There are rules. Well, there is generally a code of ethics and conduct at least. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be understanding that there is more than one right way. If you have nothing positive to say, say nothing. Lift others up and feel empowered by the strength in women coming together to lift others. Women they likely have never met. I have seen real face to face friendships develop from these groups. I have made my own friendships from them. In my early years, when I did not feel completely okay, these groups helped me to feel less alone. Less isolated. And if someone is brave enough to bring up that they are not okay, EVERY TIME I see something wonderful happen. Strangers come together in this invisible space, and they surround this person, they support, they share their own struggles or fears or rage. They connect and offer to connect on a closer one on one private communication. Everyone is left feeling more supported. And it just takes one brave person to reach out first. An extended village.
If you are not feeling okay, and you don't know where to turn, and don't feel like you can speak to those close to you, why not try reaching out to one of these groups. Just maybe, as they surround and support and lift you, they will give you the strength to turn to someone closer for help. Family or friend. They will help you see that what you feel is not uncommon. Not wrong or to be judged. And if there are judgers, delete them, for they are not welcome in your life.
Self care is never more important than when you don't care about yourself
At a time when you are feeling crap about yourself, you are less likely to want to, or feel capable of finding time or energy to invest in yourself. If you are feeling down on yourself, you likely do not even feel you deserve to do anything good for yourself. If this is you, then chances are there is never a more important time to make that time, dig up that energy, and value that woman looking back at you in the mirror. And this may also involve the brave act of asking for help. Coordinating help. Someone to watch your baby and kids while you fight your guilt that you are off to do something 'indulgent'. The thing is, this 'indulgence' is not selfish. It is self care. And if you do not take the time to care for yourself, to fill your cup, then you will find yourself too depleted to care for anyone else.
How can you possibly be the best version of yourself if you do not care for you. How can you teach your children that they should grow up valuing themselves, if you do not set the example yourself.
Small daily actions - a shower and wash your hair; moisturize your face and body; mindfully steeping and drinking your tea, alone. Asking for the help you need to catch up on the sleep you need. Eating well. Regular yoga and massage are proven to help your mind and body, ease stress, anxiety, aches. A long hot bath soak. A date with your partner. Half an hour a day to read your book. Self care does not need to be the impossible. Quite the opposite. This is an activity to boost yourself. Begin with small, simple actions that can be possible, so you do not feel like you are failing yourself. As these become successful daily rituals, build on them. Focus on you. You will be a better Mother and better person for your efforts.
What if you are more than not okay?
These past few months I have read some incredibly brave stories that Mothers have shared of the EXTREME of not being okay! What I am talking about above, reaching out to your family and friends, or if that is not possible, your mama circles or even facebook groups of supportive strangers.... these are powerfully strong tools if you are not feeling okay- lost, isolated, sad, overwhelmed and/or exhausted. Resentful of your life or past life before baby, confused or flat and numb. But sometimes things can go so much deeper that these feelings, and we need so much more than just the support of family and friends and social media village support.
Sometimes the not okay feelings are terrifying and all consuming and dangerous. To ourselves and our babies. And the scary thing is, often at this point, we may not even realise anything is wrong with us. Or may not know how to, or care to ask for help. Or just may to too damned scared or ashamed. We may be beyond this point. And THIS is the time that you need to be reaching for bigger help than any of these general social support encouragements above. Or if you recognise another mama in need, THIS is the time to help them get the support they need.
A few weeks ago I read a brave Mama's story of Postpartum Psychosis, her battle, her survival, her struggle to keep afloat, her sheer bravery to share her story. It must have been terrifying for her to share, but I do not doubt she has changed lives across this globe by sharing her story. To bring understanding, and reduce the isolation and fear others may have to reach out or share their story. This Mama was beyond reaching out to anyone, and it took her family to step in and help her save her life.
In between postpartum psychosis and and general 'not okay' is such a broad range. How do you know when it is time to reach for help? Constant feelings of loss or fear or sadness or anxiety for yourself or your baby. Feelings that you cannot cope or do not want to be with your baby or not deserve to have your baby. Loss of appetite, excessive sleep or inability to sleep. Withdrawal from friends, family, your baby. (Okay, I'm a big fan of limiting friends and family visits in the first weeks while you rest and recover, but this is not the withdrawal I am talking about). Withdrawal and lack of joy, and increased fear, numbness, nightmares, terrors. Excessively busy, compulsively cleaning or needing everything to be 'perfect'. These are just a few things you may notice, in yourself or someone else.
Who can you turn to?
I am not a Dr, not a psychologist or counselor. I am just a mum, and perinatal doula - woman here to support you through your pregnancy and postpartum year. I cannot tell you what is what in your levels of 'not okay'. But I can and will urge you, if you do not feel okay within yourself, or you see another mum who does not appear okay within herself, check in. Ask her how she is, that woman in the mirror, or woman you are facing. And listen. Do not try to fix her. Do not pat her on the shoulder and tell her it will all be fine. Let her speak with you, sit silent and really listen. And urge her to speak with someone who is qualified to help or refer her on. Her doctor. Her health nurse. A psychologist. There are some wonderful organisations (see below) out there who are there to support mothers, and fathers (yes they can suffer too) when they are not okay. It is not uncommon or wrong to not be okay. But please, be strong, and reach out for help. Or be strong, and reach out and help someone. Don't wait for one day a year to ask RUOK?
Sunshine Coast Perinatal Centre - Here on the Sunshine Coast we are lucky to have a centre established to support families needing more care when they are NOT OKAY. Providing individual and group support for women suffering perinatal depression and anxiety, they are here to help you.
Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness - Brisbane based not for profit organisation offering parental support and education around perinatal wellness. This group founded and built off the backs of some powerfully strong and brave women who have experienced PND&A first hand, and have grown strong in their mission to help others. They are very much there for you. They get you.
PANDA - "Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia supports women, men and families across Australia affected by anxiety and depression during pregnancy and early parenthood. PANDA operates Australia’s only National Helpline for individuals and their families to recover from perinatal anxiety and depression, a serious illness that affects up to one in five expecting or new mums and one in ten expecting or new dads."
Admitting you are not okay may be one of the most brave and honourable things you will ever do for you and your baby. Xx