When I was pregnant with my son, I turned to online baby groups and motherhood websites for support and to learn what I was in for when he finally arrived.
While some of the experience was positive, and some a little negative, there was always one thread that stuck out to me: Mothers who called themselves failures because they stay at home and look after their children.
Traditional gender norms are ingrained in us, if you’re in a straight relationship. The mums stay at home and the dads go to work. I read these threads and didn't see them as failures – I saw them as inspirational. What wonderful women to take on that responsibility, stay-at-home mums don’t get enough credit for what tremendous pressure they are under. I always felt sad when I saw these threads.
I’d never thought much of it, until I had my son, right at the beginning of lockdown, in April 2020.
I had planned to take a long maternity leave and perhaps write freelance from time to time to top the bills up; for my partner to work while I looked after our baby.
But because I am vulnerable, my partner has been home for the past five months (as he works in a high-risk job), and we couldn’t survive on my maternity pay alone. So I started to work.
Now, I want anyone reading this to know that the feelings I’m about to talk about aren’t a reflection on anyone else or their parenting — it’s words from someone who was — who is — postnatally depressed.
Working made me feel guilty. It made me feel like I was failing my son and horrible thoughts told me that he wasn’t going to love me and that he was going to resent me. That I wasn’t a good mum. I looked at other new mums I knew and longed to be on maternity leave like they were, constantly comparing myself and thinking that I wasn’t good enough.
I didn’t open up about this to anyone for a long time because I was scared. I think I was scared that they would agree with me and that my fears of being a bad mum would be confirmed.
I suffered in silence for months, just trying to get through the days and pretend everything was okay. Spending every opportunity I had with my son and making out like I was totally happy with what we were doing.
But after a really bad experience with postnatal depression, where I was constantly tearful and trying to hold back that horrible lump in my throat that I get when I’m trying desperately not to cry; I just couldn’t hide it anymore.
And so, I finally decided to open up to my partner about how I was feeling. The first thing he asked me was: “Would you think I was a bad dad if I was working?”. I looked at him and thought it was a ridiculous question; of course not. And then I realised that my thoughts were ridiculous, too.
I don’t think I was ridiculous in having the thoughts. I have postnatal depression and these thoughts are part of it. But I realised that just because I have them, it doesn’t make them true.
Being a working mother does not make me a bad parent — it makes me a good one, as I am the one responsible for providing for our son.
I make sure that I spend time with him, play with him, sing to him — I still do all the mum stuff, but he is lucky to have two parents who are at home to spend time with him.
I realise now that my bad thoughts were my PND talking, and I wasn’t thinking with a sensible head. But these thoughts and feelings do still creep up from time to time.
If you’re a working new mum feeling that mum guilt that is so common, I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you’re a stay-at-home mum feeling that same guilt, I want you to know the same.
No parent is the same — we all need to do what works for us and our children the best.
What I try to remind myself now is that I’m doing my best for my son and my family. Just like my partner is. And my baby is happy, safe and healthy, and that’s all that matters.