Some common causes of unhappiness and depression in mothers:
- The overwhelming responsibility of being a mother and having a baby to take care of.
- A husband who is often not available to help, leaving you emotionally and easily upset.
- An unnecessary and/or unwanted medical intervention such as induction or forceps during labour or bottle feeds after birth.
- Learning to breastfeed, which is made to feel like a problem rather than a learning process.
- A variety of negative comments made by hospital staff, health professionals, family, friends, and strangers. These comments may be in relation to baby, the way you cope, your parenting style, the state of your house, decisions you make such as staying home/going to work, bottle or breastfeeding, etc.
- A distant sense of feeling that you are not quite yourself.
- Being unbelievably tired and exhausted.
- Thinking that it should be different, since others are coping and there is something wrong with you for not having it all worked out.
Here are some ways to identify if you are at risk or are suffering from depression:
Depression is one of the many emotions experienced by normal and healthy mums. Being a “mother” is enormously overwhelming, especially given the lack of acknowledgement by others for our experiences.
Mothers are likely to experience the full range of emotions including frustration, anger, resentment, anxiety, guilt and worry, helplessness, hopelessness, and depressed or sad feelings.
You need to realise that all these feelings are valid in case you believe you’re feeling any of them. If you feel any of these emotions are getting on top of you or are not normal for you, you can get help - it is not forever and doesn’t necessarily need medication.
Some suggested strategies mothers could use to deal with everyday situations:
- Get some sleep - it is only something that you learn when you are really at the end of your tether, however, it is far more proactive and sensible to sleep well during the night. Get to bed earlier if you are waking for night feeds or to children who are unsettled at night; have a 30-minute catnap during the day.
- You can try and have a discussion about how you are feeling with close family or friends, or professionals who would listen to you and not judge you.
- Ask friends and family to share their experiences with you regarding motherhood and everything that comes with it.
- Identify your feelings during the day. Quieten them down as you would a young child who is upset. Do not shut them out or ignore them - this is not recommended but often practised in our society.
- Choose how you want to feel. Vividly imagine it and make a 100% conscious effort to feel that way. Ensure that any stressful feelings have been quietened down and are not being repressed, ignored or shut out.
- Accept that it is normal and expected that you feel this way. Avoid negative self-talk or comments that could seem harsh.
- If you 'fail' in your mind, start again. Don’t make it seem like it’s impossible to do so.
- Being a mother does not always come naturally even though you obviously love, look after and protect your children. We can, however, create the way we want to react and be as mothers.
- Focus on how you want to remember yourself in 50 years' time. This can help you in the long run.
- See your emotions as having a dial that can be turned down a little. It helps.
- If you are feeling depressed, soothe yourself and focus on what you are good at. Resist the urge to switch back instantaneously to negative chit-chat. This will take about a month to practice every day!
- If you are feeling anxious or worried, write things down on a list, turn down the dial and feel that you can get over this situation. Focus on a high energy task such as getting dinner ready, walking in the park, or tidying the house.
- If you are feeling frustrated or angry, focus on the fact that only you can change the angry feeling. This isn’t good for you, so try and act upon it in a positive manner.
Here is a list of tips to help you maintain a happy relationship with your child:
- Remember to focus on the positive. Keep a ratio of 5 positive experiences for every one negative. It is easier said than done, but try to make it your mission.
- Think of all the really nice things about your children and your relationship with them.
- Get on the floor and play with them along with giving them enough time with undivided attention.
- Look at your children with your eyes and create a memory of them to remember for a long time to come. It’s precious.
- Understand their feelings. Remember that when we think they are being 'naughty', uncooperative, annoying or whatever, it is often us getting annoyed at them not doing what we want them to do. However, being the mum or the dad, we do need to make the decisions, but we can make better ones if we quieten down our anger.
- Find two positive things per day to enjoy with your children. This can include things like looking at them, hold their fork during dinner and watch their fingers curl around the fork; play a game of hide and seek with them.
Remember that the day will still pass, that children will do lots of things that potentially annoy or please us. Even if we are wired to be agitated or stressed, we can still do all the things we do in the day with more happiness and satisfaction and less yelling and stress, if we calm down the chaos in our minds and quieten down our strong emotions.
It is after all, the smallest things that make life worthwhile. The rest is filler. We can learn from this wisdom and life experience.