Will becoming a mother improve my mental health?

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between mental health and motherhood ever since I realised nine years ago that what I was experiencing was depression.

I’ve worried that depression would make me an unsupportive friend and wife, and a frightening mother. But I’ve also known I don’t want it to determine how I’ll live my life.

These fears surfaced again when I had my first appointment with a midwife who asked about my mental health history, including what meds I’d been on and for how long. She reassured me that it was just routine and that women who’ve suffered from depression do not necessarily develop postnatal depression. I wasn’t that concerned about postnatal depression though. I just wondered about my depression in general.

motherhood-depression

For the last nine years, I’ve experienced at least one extended bout of depression each year except the last. The greatest change has been that I got married. I can’t say whether this would have been a time of mood stability for me anyway but marriage has been a powerful motivator for me to address my swings.

Knowing that someone else depends on me and desperately wanting to be fair to him, I’ve been a lot more watchful – quicker to take a step back from life, rather than characteristically waiting for crashes.

Whether it’s coincidence or improved coping, the absence of long months of debilitation has decreased my fears about what my depression might mean for my children.

Yet, this issue always lingers somewhere towards the back of the closet. So I found it refreshing to read Viv Groskop’s article Having children helped my depression in the Guardian when @imperfectpages tweeted about it.

I loved someone taking a positive view of the relationship between motherhood and mental health. And, because I do think that marriage has helped me on some level (at least for now), I was encouraged by the idea that having children might improve one’s sanity.

I do worry, though, that Groskop may be writing from the perspective of mild depression, without making the distinction. When I’ve been in the depths of depression, it’s not been a matter of not wanting to get out of bed in some purely self-indulgent way but of literally losing the grip that enables me to.

I’ve forgotten how to use the washing machine, lost track of where I’m walking and found that conversations don’t make sense anymore. I’ve kept the lights on all night because I’ve been convinced that there were malicious spirits lurking in my bedroom.

Depression last hit me in 2009, almost challenging our engagement and nearly wrecking my MA thesis. Though I’ve experienced low moods, especially in times when work has been hard to come by, it’s been nothing like that since.

While I appreciate the optimism in Groskop’s article and am glad she’s found being a mother has helped her, I can’t help but find it a little unrealistic. How does she know depression won’t hit her again? Not that I wish it on her and, perhaps, it won’t.

But I can’t blindly hold on to that optimism for me. While I do think that the role of mother will help motivate me to self-manage better, just as the role of wife has, I just can’t imagine that the creature will automatically fix things for me – and I don’t think I should put that kind of expectation on her, anyway.

Obviously, I can only speak from the perspective of someone waiting to have a baby. Perhaps things will radically change. As far as I can see, though, motherhood will mainly ‘help’ in the sense that the intense responsibility will remind me that I am not just pursuing wellness for me but for my family.

Image: Laurence Jarrett-Kerr


Want me, Britain, want me

So as I mentioned before, I left my purse on the bus earlier this week. Stupid. Lucy told me to blame it on pregnancy brain. I will. It took me a little longer to realise that my Foreign National Identity card from the UK Border Agency was in it. Crap. Stupid by a gazillion. I don’t normally keep it in there but it happened to be in there because I’d used it for something.

For those who aren’t all that familiar with the British immigration system, that’s a biometric identity card now issued to foreign nationals applying for leave to remain here. I got it a few months after I married my lovely British husband and decided I should probably stay in the same country as him.

And I don’t have a problem with it. I understand that immigration needs to be controlled – though one might argue that the government has more to be worried about with immigrants from other EU countries who can claim certain benefits than with non-EEA nationals like me who have no access to public funds. But alas, that is another topic.

What I always find hard, though, is feeling a little bit like a criminal going through the process or at least like I’m begging to stay here – just a teeny weeny bit.

This is how it feels when I come through border control on my own. When I’m with Laurence there’s absolutely no problem. But come through on my own and I get interrogated, even though the papers are there, intact. A nice way to come back from honeymoon in Italy, I might add.

I felt this way when they took my finger prints for my first biometric card and I will feel this way again should I have to resubmit my finger prints for the replacement.

I understand why it has to happen and we were aware of all this when we made the decision to marry. To be honest, this is low on the list of difficulties involved in a mixed nationality marriage. Knowing that wherever you raise your children, they’ll be far away from at least one set of grandparents is a tad trickier.

I eventually calmed down from my initial reaction to having to wait 30 minutes on the phone to the UK Border Agency yesterday. Listening to the same music they’ve been playing while keeping people in a cue, for at least the last six years, made me shout into an empty room: “This country doesn’t want me!”

Once that bit had passed, I settled down and thought about why I was so upset. And I think it’s just that this is a blatant reminder that I don’t belong. Not yet, anyway. It’s not that I think belonging is that important generally but clearly, on some level, it is.

And I wonder if it’s because after six years of living here, getting married here and now preparing to have a child here, I want to belong somewhere. Existing in the space between isn’t as easy.

Image: Javier Micora


Choosing childlessness

As a younger teen I often bragged that I would never get married and certainly never have children. Mostly, I got a kick out of making controversial statements. I also considered myself a feminist (still do) and naively felt that this was at odds with pursuing family life. But mainly, I saw marriages suffering all around me, with children caught in the middle, and it scared the hell out of me.

It was safer to make the joke and scandalise friends and family than to admit that wanted to be a wife and mother – as well as a writer, speaker and advocate, in whatever forms those roles would take.

But while my assertion was a more of a joke that ended up falling on me when I got engaged at 22, I know a number of women who actually do not want children. One told me that she’s sure she’d mess things up, having had a traumatic relationship with her own mother. Others have simply decided that it’s not what they want for their lives. Whether that’s because they doesn’t want to lose independence or freedom or for some other reason, I don’t know.

I’ve always had a certain admiration for women who choose childlessness. Even if they don’t stick with it further down the line, it’s a decision to be honest with themselves and the world about their lives.

And I think it’s a bit unfair to dismiss their views with: “You’re young. You’ll change your mind.” Surely this goes both ways – except that women who choose to have children can’t change their minds.

Still, I found myself saying exactly this to a friend who admitted again the other day that she didn’t want children. I said it off-hand, without much thought, as we passed the cake around. In fact, I’ve found myself saying it in a few conversations with friends who view things this way. It’s surprised me even as I’ve said it.

It’s almost as if I’ve developed some pregnant woman syndrome that makes me want to see others join me. It’s like a Jane Austen thing where married women are compelled to match-make others.

I realise it could just mean that I am happy and want to see my friends happy. But when did my idea of happiness shrink? To say that motherhood is what truly fulfils a woman is insulting not only to women who choose childlessness but to those who cannot have children. It’s also a pitiably small view of what “woman” is.

I’ve wondered too if I’ve said “You’ll change your mind” just because I want company. At 24, I’m the first in my circle of friends to be pregnant. I’m stepping out into the unknown and maybe I just want someone else to step out with me.

But even so, I know I’ll meet other women in my situation and I’m confident enough in my current friendships to believe that my friends see my having a baby as an experience they’re participating in too.

What I don’t think is going on is me suddenly imposing some ill-defined sense of morality on the situation. I don’t think that women “should” or “should not” have children. I don’t think maternal instinct is innate. I’m not even sure what it is.

Image: Joseph Francis


These are but a few of my mental blanks…

I thought I’d better not come anywhere near this space today. Otherwise the moaning (not the good kind) would be shocking. It started with anger towards my body as I pulled my stiff pelvis out of bed, which only continued when the physio, effectively, bandaged me up so my ligaments would stop playing footsie. The support belt is not as sexy than it sounds.

Then it morphed into anger at my entire being when I realised I’d left my purse on a bus, something I’ve not done since I was an undergrad. I’m sure I’m learning lessons here and when I’ve calmed down enough to get some perspective, maybe they’ll become apparent.

But Lexie at motherporridge distracted me from self-indulgent self-loathing by tagging me in a lighthearted “fill in the blanks”. I’m generally not sure what I think of memes but, what the potroast, it’s a bit of fun. After canceling my bankcards, I read her post and now that I’m getting down to answering them in return, I actually feel far less negative towards myself. Thanks, Lexie!

I am…. a young woman, so young that I still struggle to remember not to refer to myself as a “girl” but I’m constantly worrying that maybe I’m running out of time to start the things I’m meant to do, even if I’m not sure what they are yet.

The bravest thing I have ever done…. is probably to move to another country on my own and stay there. I’m not sure if this is brave but I was 19 and scared but did it anyway so perhaps it counts.

I feel prettiest when…. Laurence looks at me a certain way. I’m cringeing with embarrassment as I admit this. I’m blushing at my laptop screen.

Something that keeps me up at night…. is my own thinker. Not necessarily the worried kind of thoughts. I just seem to be perpetually incapable of switching off automatically. I don’t think this is a problem many men have but that could be because I’m sexist.

My favourite meal is…. curry goat in dhalpourie roti with pumpkin and bodhi. I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve been pregnant I’ve wished I were in Trinidad so I could eat this. Dhalpourie is a kind of bread made with split peas powder and flour and fried. Oh mama!

The way to my heart is…. an hour or two of your time. There’s nothing I love more than sitting with a friend and chatting uninterrupted. These things can’t be bought.

I would like to be… more even tempered. I wish I could spend more time existing in some sort of calm rather than almost always being extremely happy, sad, frustrated or enraged. What is the secret?

I haven’t attempted to be witty. I almost feel like I should apologise for that but I won’t. Go check out motherporridge’s answers and her lovely blog in general.

So, now to tag a few (not all of them mums) of the bloggers I’ve been reading recently so I can mind their business. If any of them have done this Q&A already or don’t “do” memes, I’m sure they’ll not mind you taking a look at their blogs anyway:

Mama – and more, The Dos, The Mom Blogs, Making a Home, My Shitty Twenties, Housewife Confidential


Hands (and heads) off the pregnant lady

I’m not sure where people get the idea that a pregnant woman’s belly is an open access area. It’s almost as if they think that now that there’s a baby visibly in there, it’s no longer actually attached to rest of the body. My bump might as well have a “Touch me, love me, lick me” sign posted on it and marked spots for randomers to stick their territorial flags.

Whenever anyone startles me by touching my bump uninvited, I wonder if pregnancy has somehow desexualised me in their eyes. Because, if I wasn’t carrying and they touched me there without warning, it would be umm….a touch inappropriate?

Now, I’m not talking about girl friends I know fairly well having a playful pat. There’s something sweet about them acknowledging the creature and how she’s growing. My “beef” is with strangers and people I’ve just met, and anyone who thinks it’s OK to full-on grope or rub my belly. What. The. Chicken wings.

What they’re touching, whether they believe it or not, is not all baby. They’re touching me. That’s my skin. It’s sensitive. I can feel them.

[To be fair, I’ve never really been down with the whole touching thing. Touching is peer pressure issue for me. The choice between shouting to you in a noisy room and drawing close depends heavily on how well I feel we know each other. Hugging, though something I enjoy, is a learned practice. I’ll revel in Carnival but endure the crowds. Wining* is something I did as a teen because I was supposed to. I would likely never do it now, mainly because a) I was never comfortable with it b) My British husband would never get how rubbing up on some guy friend was not necessarily sexual and c) I’m fast losing hope that my pelvis will ever again be that flexible or pain free. You get the gist. I’m not a toucher by nature.]

Sometimes belly-gropers have put a hand or head a little too close to my lady bits, though I know they didn’t mean to. Those are still there, somewhere… even if I can’t see them from my vantage point anymore. I promise I didn’t somehow lose them when I gained this protrusion.

Again, the point is not that people can’t touch. I’d love to share the kicks and movements – once we actually know each other. Though, even then, a little eye-contact couldn’t hurt. I’m just saying that if the gropers don’t start asking first, they should be prepared.

I am going to touching back.

Inappropriately.

*Wining is basically Trini gyrating. A travel author whose chapter on Trinidad I helped proof described it as “erotic” but I’ve never found it much of a turn-on.

Image: Henna by Heather


A distinctly Trini dilemma: scammed by my school

Waking up in a hurry is not one of my strengths as Laurence could tell you. There’s lots of moaning, groaning, dozing, jolting and complaining involved. In between all of that, I start checking my iPhone (bad habit, I know – it prolongs the process!). But yesterday, a Facebook message is what got me out of bed, fully alert and energized with a heady mix of confusion, amusement and righteous anger – make that rage.

The offending article? I found this message in my Facebook inbox:

hi adele congrats on ur wedding u look good. do u remember the trip to norway? well we still owe some $for it and the school board would like u to pay something to lessen the cost”

Sounds like a scammer, right? It’s got all of the characteristics of a scamming message, complete with a total disregard for grammar.

It’s actually a message from a teacher from my secondary school in Trinidad, St Stephen’s College, Princes Town. Now, this is not really aimed at the teacher. I’m sure she’s under pressure from the school board. But to give this context, she’s asking me to “pay something” for a school trip that I took almost a decade ago when I was 16. On Facebook.

Well, I get vex like a Trini one time. The text Laurence get from me was so mash up in dialect, I surprise he even understand what I was saying. If yuh scrunting, ask for ah lil alumni donation or something. Doh come here assuming I have some big setta money to throw away so you could work out someting you shoulda work out nine years ago.

It doesn’t matter how long we live in England, my children will learn some Trini when mama gets mad.

Basically, we weren’t informed of any additional cost we were expected to pay for this trip. This either means: a) it didn’t exist, b) the school intended to subsidize it, in which case they can’t change their minds about that after the fact, or c) the school is so disorganized they took out a loan without working out how to repay it.

My husband thinks it’s hilarious. He calls it a distinctly Caribbean dilemma. “Only in the Windies” were his words.

It’s true. This would never happen up here. This is not to say, that this would happen in every Trini school and I’m sure that Trini readers will be as appalled as I am.

But it’s just so informal, so laid-back, so unmannerly, so outside of any recognisable system that I can’t help but call it a product of cultural or at least infrastructural difference.

I find it funny too but in a tragi-comic way. What I feel is humour laced with disappointment.

So I responded formally, firmly and courteously, asking the school to contact me in the future by post. And I told them just what to do with their unethical, unprofessional and ridiculous request.


Watching “One Born Every Minute” while pregnant

Whenever I mention that I obsessively watch One Born Every Minute, someone wonders if this is my way of masochistically preparing myself for the inevitable.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it (i.e. you live in another country, you don’t watch television or you’re too high brow for this base form of entertainment) the Channel 4 “documentary” series – Ok, reality series – follows two women giving birth in every episode.

Some women are all about the drugs, others are really committed to natural birth. All go slightly mad at some point in the ordeal. With interviews before and after, the crew behind the series manage to mould stories that are strangely compelling in their simplicity.

So we watch…and we cry. The crying may just be me. I do a lot of that lately. Television commercials, parents with babies, the mention of the word “family” – hormones are a scary thing. And my family could tell you I was a cry-er before (in private, mostly) so now I’m am absolute blub-fest. Especially when I watch One Born Every Minute though I know it is manufactured reality rather than the real thing. I don’t mind. I love fiction.

Of course, it holds special interest for me since I’ve got the birth on the brain. Doesn’t it scare me? Not in the slightest, really. Childbirth hurts – who knew?

But I do find myself over-identifying at times. When that guy yelled at his partner this week, blaming her for saying from the outset that she didn’t want a C-section, I identified too deeply and wanted to take Laurence’s head off – even though he wasn’t around, would himself have been appalled and wouldn’t do the same (of course, I don’t know what he’ll be like but that kind of thing would be bizarrely out of character).

I made him suffer through the program with me once. I could see his stress levels rising with the opening scream. When the head popped out of the vagina in the intro, he literally jumped. Later on, when a woman gave birth to a purplish-grey child, his response was: “Blurrh! I’m glad you’ll be holding the baby first. I don’t want to touch that.”

Charming.

But I’m sure he’ll rise to the occasion when it’s his own little creature, covered in guts and unmentionables.