I’ve been spending a lot of nights recently sorting old photos. It’s one of those soothing, mindless projects that seems so important at the time, busy work masquerading as critical, sucking me into hour after hour of organisation without leaving the comfort of my couch.
As I sort and file, it’s a tiny glimpse into our past at that precise moment. Weddings, birthdays, smiling happy faces; the mundane sandwiched between the momentous. Bringing memories flooding back with every picture moving across the screen.
A chubby little face, eyes wide, taking in the world around her. New, perfect, untouched by the pressures and expectations that life brings. Her full potential stretching out in front of her; ready to be discovered, ready to be nurtured.
A new dad, holding his precious new bundle, completely taken with the responsibility now presented before him. Life changing in nine months and a heart beat.
A new mum, a little bit of worry in every smile. Was she going to be good enough for this, her biggest role? Joy and pride, tinged with fear and confusion consume every moment. A feeling that you never really feel again. Or actually, maybe we never really stop feeling it.
I don’t remember those days well. Does any mum? Maybe. Maybe not. For me it’s mostly a blur, with a few images sticking out like a highlight reel.
Deliriously happy moments, the golden memories, the ones that stare back at me from the walls of our home and the frames alongside my bed.
Then there’s the other ones. These memories don’t have a smiling photo. There’s no prints hanging on the wall. It doesn’t make them less real.
I remember not being able to breastfeed; crying down the phone to one of those new mum hotlines while blood dripped from my nipples and spilled out her mouth. I remember being so sick from mastitis that I passed out in the shower.
I remember desperately wanting to go back to work, to be with the grown ups. To wear pants with a waist and shoes with a heel. To talk about something other than my boobs and her poop.
I remember crying uncontrollably at 3 AM, desperately wondering if it was ever going to get better. If the cloud of overwhelm was ever going to lift.
I remember looking into my baby girl’s face and feeling with every single fibre of my being that I’d failed her.
Flick forward a few photos. More memories.
Walking slowly with my neighbour in the sunshine, listening to her wise words and basking in the fresh air. Laughing and catching the smiles; treasuring them for the middle of the night.
Giving up breastfeeding. Swapping to bottles after months and months of tears, which was both harder and easier than I could have expected it to be.
Listening to Husband, who’s patience and support was a constant reminder that I wasn’t alone; letting me know it was ok to ask for help, to admit I couldn’t do it all.
With hindsight, I can see it wasn’t simply an adjustment period; that there was something more causing my tears and intense anxiety. And it wasn’t because I was a bad mum or failing at parenting or even, failing at life.
In fact, I now know that as many as one in seven Australian mums and one in ten Australian dads struggle with similar (yet very much their own) experiences when they first become parents. That’s a lot of people wondering if they’re failures.
This week is PNDA Awareness Week. It’s a great time to pick up the phone and call a new parent. Or even a not so new parent. Check in and make sure they’re ok. Let them know they’re not alone.
While we all have ups and downs in life, sharing open conversations in a judgement free zone is critical to finding more smiles, more moments, more memories for the highlight reel.
If you or someone you know needs support, please call PANDA’s National Helpline on 1300 726 306 Mon-Fri 10-5pm AEST or visit www.panda.org.au