Annie was a member of our Mummyshock Spring 2018 group in Brighton, and she writes here about her experiences as a new mum.

Since I was really little I have always wanted to be a mum. I had the weird pregnant Barbie where her belly clips on and off and there’s a little plastic baby inside and she was my favourite one. I made her have so many babies my sister had to stop the game and say - ‘you're not allowed to have any more babies this time!’. Before I was pregnant I was desperate to experience pregnancy. I thought it was something I was made to do and I would absolutely love every second. My sister joked that I would be one of those glowing pregnant ladies and I secretly hoped she would be right. She wasn’t right. For a number of reasons, both physical and emotional, my pregnancy journey was not what I had imagined at all.

I did not glow, I developed adult acne instead. In fact I was miserable the whole way and developed a really high level of anxiety that was actually really crippling. Most of all though I felt lonely. My husband and I decided to start a family quite young I suppose and the more pregnant I became the more apparent it was that I didn’t have many other people around me that could relate to what I was going through. My friends are utterly wonderful and showered me with lovely baby gifts and took me off to a spa, but at the end of the day everyone was still only in their 20’s and once the civilised elderflower cordial fun was over, the party continued without me in it and I would go to bed alone. My husband was working in an incredibly stressful job at the time and it consumed him completely and utterly.

The birth was approaching and once again I had the very naive view that I, of course would handle it rather well. ‘ I think I have a fairly high pain threshold after all,’ I kept on saying. I didn’t handle it well and things went wrong. It was so traumatic to me when the nurse told me to ‘have a feel down there’ to see if everything was healing nicely, I couldn’t bring myself to touch my own body and I cried because it gave me flashbacks and I still get them 14 months later. Something I’ve been trying to deal with and maybe over time I will get better at accepting my birth story. Anyway, we were all OK and it was time to tackle the world as a mum. Here was my moment to shine. The time I had been waiting for since I made Barbie a mum of 27 kids. I thought it would be easy. I thought being ‘good’ at something was the same as finding it easy, and when i found it really, really hard, I thought I wasn’t any good. Not good at being a mum.

I’ll be completely honest and this isn’t something I have ever really admitted apart from whispering it once though tears to my sister, there were times in the first month when I wondered to myself if I would really mind that much if something happened and I suddenly wasn’t a mum anymore. Even writing that now makes me feel sick to my stomach because the thought of anything happening to my daughter slices through my heart. Like even thinking about it hypothetically breaks me inside. But I did have those thoughts. And I couldn’t tell anyone because I wanted to be perfect. The house had to be perfect, my makeup for the first three months of my daughter's life was always perfect!? (I don’t even bother wearing it now), I had to dress her in perfect little outfits and take perfect little photos and do perfect little baby classes so I could tell everyone just how perfect motherhood is. But inside I was so anxious I couldn’t stand it. I felt constantly nauseous with worry. Despite wondering if I really wanted a baby after all, I also felt so unbelievably overwhelmed by the responsibility to protect her that I didn’t know if I could cope. Our baby never took a bottle despite our best efforts and so was reliant upon my body to ‘do its job’ for months to come. I know it sounds crazy but I was so excited about the prospect of getting pregnant I didn’t give too much thought as to what was to follow. Breastfeeding was vaguely mentioned in an NCT class and I said I would do it and probably express and my husband could share the load of the night feeds, but I never expected for that just not to be possible. I thought all babies took bottles and by 6 months you could just stop breastfeeding. That wasn’t the case and I was tired and my husband said he felt redundant As our daughter wouldn’t even let him hold her. The relationship between my husband and I was in a dark place and I missed the days where we could go to the pub at 12 noon and stubble home whenever we wanted and then lie in bed the next morning eating breakfast with both hands. Life had become tense, and limited and exhausting and scary and sometimes quite boring!

I thought that I needed to save myself by going to as many groups as possible and making some mum friends. Which I did and I have ended up with a couple I think will remain my friends for years to come but mostly the baby groups consisted of other harassed looking mums who also were trying to remain as perfect as possible. We would go to coffee shops and one person would order a de-caff latte because ‘they didn’t want caffeine in their breast milk’ and the rest of the tribe of new mums would follow. Everyone dying for the first caffeine hit of the day but not willing to be judged by decaf Susan. Then one day my neighbour and friend who is a mum of two told me about a group called 'Mummyshock' which was for new mums to talk about how they really feel about their new role. By that point I really felt like I was doing just fine ordering decaf coffees every Tuesday with Susan whilst I tried to wrestle my daughter back into her pram suit. I had it sussed now. Lie enough and you’ll start to believe it yourself. Yep, that was my technique and I was happy sticking to it, but I’ll give the group go. Why not?

I have to say that writing all this now, it seems mad to me that I didn’t ask for more help. But as I always say, hindsight is a marvellous thing. You often don’t know how deep you’ve gone until you're above ground again looking in. That’s how it feels. Like I never really knew what was ‘normal’ because I had never done it before. Was it normal to feel this anxious? Who knows!? Somebody please tell me, without me having to ask! And then Mummyshock came along and did just that. I discovered that I was probably dealing with some post traumatic stress disorder after the trauma of birth and my body’s way of coping was by feeling rather numb and then feeling super, super anxious and stressed. I was on red alert and I needed to talk things through and come back down again. Which I did, over three months and as my daughter grew and time passed, with a little additional counselling thrown into the mix, I started to feel like me again. My mum said she was so relieved when she heard my husband and I laughing together for the first time since our daughter was born and I realised how long it had been since I had felt relaxed enough to laugh. Now we laugh again everyday. Even through the sleep deprivation, we have found our way as a family and I can hand on heart say I have never been happier or more grateful for what I have. My husband is growing into his role as a dad brilliantly and the love I see he has for our daughter is something I fantasised about before we even planned to have children. We both couldn’t love her anymore. We love her so much it hurts.

I don’t want to write this to scare anyone and I know if my friends and family read it they will say or think- ‘ it wasn’t THAT bad though was it? You seemed to be coping really well!? ‘ But that’s the point I suppose. Just because it looks like you're coping and maybe even when you really are coping, it’s ok to say, I really need you to come over and bring me biscuits. Or as a friend or family member, just do it anyway because it’s those moments that make new mums re connect with who they are again. Don’t just accept what you see of other people’s lives on social media as you being caught up with them. Just because you’ve seen then smiling on a screen doesn’t mean they are smiling off it. Don’t let yourself or others get lost in the hole!

An analogy I picked up somewhere likens life to a dance. To recognise that it isn’t about the ending, it’s about each step in the middle between the start of the dance and the finish. The point is not where you end up on the floor but how you got there and I think that is true of motherhood too. There is no need to strive towards this idea of being the perfect mother. Accept the challenges, the good and bad bits for what they are, a stage, a temporary stage that will pass and then you're on to the next step! Take joy where it’s due, enjoy love, admit when things feel shit and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Some of us are doing the waltz, some of us are doing the jive, some of us are doing the bloody hokey cokey, but we are all moving together, on the same floor. If you fall over, let somebody help you back up. You’ll be doing just fine.