When I was on the cusp of becoming a mother for the first time I had quite a rose-tinted view of what impending motherhood would be like. I assumed it would be all snuggles and naps with my newborn. I expected nighttime wake-up calls from the baby but I thought I would roll over in bed and feed the baby before we both peacefully fell back to sleep. I imagined a cosy “baby moon”. The reality of course was a rude shock.
In the weeks after, I felt like screaming - why didn’t anyone warn me! Hormones ruled my body and mind, my baby didn’t sleep nor did she breastfeed like she was supposed to. I was anxious and stressed I was doing it all wrong. It was a raw, emotional and messy time. So I can deeply empathise for what it must be like for new mums like Meghan Markle.
Markle of course has a whole other level of stress to add to the woes of new motherhood, especially as the British tabloids have taken it upon themselves to hound her, whether she is performing Royal duties or editing a special edition of British Vogue. And while she’s tried to maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’ as British culture dictates, sometimes the mask drops and we see the vulnerable woman underneath.
This happened when she recently spoke about how she was coping with the intense media spotlight she’d been under as well as new motherhood.
“Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable and so that was made really challenging,” she said. “And then when you have a newborn, you know. And especially as a woman, it’s a lot.” she told the interviewer.
She also went on to thank the reporter for asking her how she was coping: “Thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I’m ok.”
The fact of the matter is most people don’t really ask new mums whether they are OK. And when they do, they don’t really want to know the ugly reality of the situation. Mostly they’re being polite and expect an uncomplicated answer in return like - “yes I’m fine” - even though that’s far from the truth. No one wants to know about the pain in your stitches, or how you’re so sleep deprived you sometimes see stars, how yes you love the baby but you can’t wait for when they are asleep so you can finally get some moments of me-time, or how your relationship with your partner has changed in a myriad of ways and you wonder if things between you will ever be the same?
We are taught not to complain. “You can’t complain when you have a healthy baby,” we are often told. And it’s true, you feel you have no reason to complain. Except that the more you bottle things up the worse they become.
Seeing Meghan Markle talking to the ITV reporter drew a lot of sympathy from people across the world because it looked like she had been bottling things up for a while. For someone in her situation it seems she had no other option but to do that. Similarly many women, and especially new mothers feel they have no option but to keep things to themselves until of course things become unbearable.
As many as one in five pregnant or new mums will experience anxiety or depression. This is of course a worryingly high figure. Many new mums believe that feeling depressed or mentally unwell is just a normal part of having a baby, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many services available to help you get through this time. Your first port of call should be your GP or you can call services like PANDA.
The fact is, having a child changes things in so many ways and it should be ok to say you’re finding it hard, because it actually really is so hard.
A few weeks after having my first and subsisting on little sleep, with a diet of microwave meals and takeaway food, I made the call to my mother - I need help! Thankfully she was able to move in for a few weeks to help us adjust to parenthood.
Meghan Markle may have a lot of help in place but at the end of the day she’s just a new mother like many of us have been. The important thing for me is the more she talks about the pressures of new motherhood, and brings it out in the open, the more it normalises it and breaks down the stigma around saying, yes actually I’m not OK. For those who say you can’t complain when you have a healthy baby it’s worth remembering, for a baby to be truly healthy and thriving, they need a mother who is doing the same.
Saman Shad is a writer. You can follow Saman on Twitter @muminprogress.