Christmas 2016 is one I will always remember. My baby boy was born on 4th December last year and so you might imagine that’s the reason why it will be unforgettable.
But it’s not quite what you think.
I can remember family members gushing at me over the festive period saying things like;
‘Oh this will be the best Christmas you’ve ever had!’
‘What a Christmas present you got this year!’
‘Best Christmas ever, am I right?’
No it wasn’t.
In fact, it was probably the worst Christmas I’ve ever had and saying that out loud still makes me feel like a monster.
A year on.
Knowing that what I was feeling at the time was not something to be ashamed of. I was feeling completely overwhelmed, anxious and under a haze of postnatal depression. Those cruel, unwelcome, unnatural feelings were tearing me apart. I had lost all sense of myself. I was literally drowning in something that was beyond my control.
A year later, I now understand all of that.
And yet, when I think about last Christmas I still feel immense shame that I was unable to cope. That I was ultimately a failure.
It was the loneliest Christmas of my life. I was surrounded by family, yet I felt zero connection to this newborn in my arms. I couldn’t have felt more isolated if I was in the middle of the ocean. The truth was, I wasn’t ready to face in-laws, great aunts, second cousins and a dozen other members of my extended family, let alone be quizzed by them about whether the baby was sleeping, ‘are you breastfeeding?’ ‘Oh you look great,’ even though I was still in my maternity jeans and the over the top gushing about how this was obviously going to be the best Christmas I’d ever had, wasn’t I lucky, etc, etc.
What was wrong with me? Why was I feeling like this?
Why wasn’t I feeling these overwhelming emotions of joy everyone kept throwing at me? Why wasn’t I walking around with a permanent smile on my face? Why wasn’t I cooing over my newborn and agreeing with all in sundry that this was indeed the best Christmas I’d ever had?
I didn’t know at the time.
I just knew that I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to be anywhere else but in my own skin. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t know who was looking back at me. It wasn’t Niamh. It wasn’t the person I knew. She was someone else, with a tiny stranger in her arms. I tried desperately to paint on a smile, to laugh along with the well-meaning comments, to go through the expected motions and just get through Christmas Day. But then there was Stephens’ Day and the day after and the day after that, but the hot unwelcome tears always came. I’d somehow manage to run to the bathroom or turn away before they broke the surface and rained down my face.
I just wanted Christmas to be over. I wanted to stop being the centre of attention. I wanted my life to get back to normal.
But it didn’t.
I couldn’t cope and it took another full month before I hit rock bottom and only then did things very, very slowly began to improve.
It’s been a long process with plenty of hurdles along the way. So as this Christmas approaches I once again feel apprehensive. There’ll be lots of challenges. We’ll be out of our routine, which for me can be problematic. There’ll be sleepovers in relative’s houses and potential for sleepless nights. They’ll be those same old inquisitions by extended family, only this time with more intrusion –
‘Is he sleeping?’
‘Is he walking yet?
Is he a good eater?
‘When will you have another one?’
All of it feeds into those unconscious expectations placed on me, by both myself and by my family. And I know that all of these things have the potential to tip me over the edge.
Last year I was drowning. This year, I’m by no means swimming… instead, I think I’m just treading water.
But it’s an improvement. It’s a step in the right direction and my hope is that I can overcome the potential speed bumps Christmas will bring. I hope that I can find my way to deal the anxiety, to look back on what I’ve managed to achieve this year and to continue on this road to recovery.
Ultimately, I just want to be a good mum. I just want to be able to put this terrible time in my life behind me. I want to be able to express to my baby boy just how much I love him. To let him know, that he’s changed me for the better, that’s he brought great joy to my life and that I’ll always put him first. That holding him in my arms is the most magnificent thing I’ve ever done. That his laugh does something to by brain. That his smile is warmer than a million suns. That his big blue eyes are the proudest achievement of my life.
To let him know that although we had a rocky start, our relationship is not going to be defined by my experience with post-natal depression.
And to all the mammies (and daddies!) who've supported me along the way with my blog, I want to say thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I started the blog as a form of catharsis for myself and to help other mums who might have been feeling the same way. I think ultimately, we've helped each other and I want to wish all of you a truly happy Christmas xxx