This one is an emotional one for me, as i talk about the down days that most men and women will experience. There's down days in pregnancy, down days through the newborn phase, the infant phase and toddler phase. There's down days as your children grow older too, but i'm yet to experience those as my son is still only a toddler, and my second child is still inside cooking. I have experienced a few down days, that doesn't make me a bad person and that is essentially what this blog is about, teaching myself and others that down days are apart of parenthood and pregnancy, and they're nothing to be ashamed of.
What are down days?
To me, they are a day where you just don't feel like anything is going right, where you feel defeated or low, or you might even be questioning yourself as a parent. That is what a down day is, and they can occur often, or they can occur sometimes, or even less, it really depends on you and how you handle pregnancy and parenting. I'd like to believe that every mum or mum to be, goes through these little moments where things just feel off, and you just don't feel like you're doing as well as you could be. To me it seems like a normal part of pregnancy or parenting. So many questions are constantly flying through your head, and you're almost always worried about whether your child is okay, safe and happy. Before having children and falling pregnant, i never really thought about this type of stuff because I'd never really experienced what it's like to be fully in charge of another little life. I can't imagine what my mum and dad have gone through when it comes to this. They have raised five children together, and i can't imagine how many 'down days' they may have had during my childhood. But as a child, i never saw them coping through anything like that, because it's like an underlying job for a parent not to show their children what they could be dealing with. They are the strong parent that we are supposed to turn to when we are feeling down. So i know that more often than not, parents mask what they're going through, and put on a brave face for their kids sake. Obviously we don't see them as weak, just because they are having a 'down day,' but it upsets kids just as much to know that their parents are feeling the same emotions they are. Which is why there is a massive underlying switch that parents have, where they just flick off how they're feeling to hide it from their kids, and it's not a bad thing, but it's not healthy to bottle emotions and feelings.
Do i believe that children need to see their parent crying? No i don't, but exposure to emotions won't hurt a child. I firmly believe that i won't always have to switch off my emotions to spare my child from seeing them. Emotions are real, and they're normal for everyone who's feeling them, and i think it will be important for my son to see that i am not a superhuman, that i too feel sad sometimes, just like he does. I want my son to know that feeling emotions is not bad, that it is not weak to have 'down days' and that my mental health is important too. Even though i may be feeling sad that day, my son will know that i am still his mum, i still love him, and that what i am going through is not his fault, that i need him just as much as he needs me. That's what i deem the most important when it comes to down days. Some will say that i'm silly for thinking this, but i don't think it is. The importance of down days is not how you're going to get through them, not a bunch of people telling you things will be okay, the most important thing to me about down days is that i am still human, that i am not detached from the world, that i am allowed to feel these things, and still be a good parent.
Down days during pregnancy have seen me at my lowest. I could sit there and ask myself, Am i going to be a good mum? Will my child love me? What if i can't do it? What if i do something wrong? What if i'm not growing the baby properly? Am i eating correctly? Am i drinking enough water? All this stuff can really stress a woman out during her pregnancy. It can take away the joys of pregnancy, and make you feel like you are not going to be good enough for this baby.
I have had many moments during my first and current pregnancy, where i have broken down and cried because i didn't think i could do it. I didn't believe i could be a good parent, or i didn't think i was doing the whole 'pregnancy' thing correctly. Couple these emotions with all the physical stuff that comes with pregnancy like; hormones, weight gain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, cramping, etc. And it can make you feel like pregnancy is not meant for you. Even a woman, who had been trying for years to fall pregnant, and when they do and they experience this stuff too, they feel the same as any other pregnant woman. It doesn't matter how much you want a baby, or even if your pregnancy came as a surprise, its hard to escape those down days. It doesn't mean you'll love the baby any less, and it doesn't mean you're going to be a bad parent. It just means you're human and you have every right to have these moments.
How you choose to deal with them, well that's up to you. For myself, i like to sit down with my husband and air my worries or feelings. He will air his too if he has any at the time, and we talk it out together. Having support during pregnancy is super important for those down days. Speaking out about it is even more so.
If you feel like you can't reach out to those around you about how you might be feeling. See a healthcare professional. Midwives are some of the best women to talk to about this stuff with in my opinion. I currently have an assigned midwife for this pregnancy, and i can ask her anything, and she will never judge me or make me think i am not good enough to be a parent. Most midwives have had kids of their own, so they also know what its like to feel down days. You could speak to a councilor, a GP, a nurse any of them really. There are hotlines you can call which will have professional healthcare workers you can speak to if you need it. Being open and honest about what you're feeling is the first step to a healthy mind. Always remember you're not a bad person for having down days. And even though it may not seem like it, you aren't alone. Reach out, if you feel like you're situation is much more than those negative feelings, reach out, find help, because you're mental health is just as important as the baby you are growing. Don't think that just because you are pregnant you are no longer important, you are.
This was by far the hardest stage for me when it came to down days. Immediately after birthing my son, i had a week or two worth of just straight down days. They call them 'the baby blues.' And honestly it was hard. I was up while my son slept, worrying about how much i was going to mess up. Worrying about how i couldn't possibly take care of this baby as good as i wanted to. Worrying about whether or not i was doing everything right for him, and especially worrying if he was safe, breathing, in pain or happy. All this stuff was constantly on my mind and i know that my husband copped a lot of it from me. There was no fighting between us, but he had to watch me cry continuously over things i couldn't control. I found myself constantly asking him if he still loved me, if he wanted to leave me, and if i was still good enough for him even though my body was now pretty wrecked. I felt a great sense of insecurity in my relationship with my husband but also, i felt as though because our time was now completely taken up by our new little addition that we were going to fall out of love. And that scared me, a lot. It brought on all those new feelings of, if he doesn't want me, can i do this alone? Can i raise a child by myself? What would i do for money? How would i cope? I really hope this time around when i give birth, that i don't deflect a lot of my emotions on my husband because even though i personally couldn't get out of my head, or control the emotions i was feeling, he was doing nothing wrong, he was an angel, so helpful and hands on. And he was constantly reassuring me that he loved me, no matter what and that he loved our son too. He was so patient with me, and he allowed me those moments of crying, he allowed me that time to vent, to air out my problems because if i had of bottled them, i don't think i would be in such a good head space today. And i think i would have grown to resent him if i had not been able to have those moments.
Speaking, communicating, reaching out are so important in my opinion. Bottling emotions, especially so soon after labor and pregnancy is going to make it really hard to get through those hard times with your newborn. Because, and i know some people hate to hear this, but a newborn is not always easy. And some babies, pose challenges. My son for example; was quite a sick baby, vomited heavily after every feed. He also had colic, and was a larger baby. So ensuring he had enough food was hard. I had to go through several different feeding methods and bottle types to decrease his vomiting. I saw his GP a few times to seek help. He used to scream in the afternoon for hours even though he was well fed, changed, dry, warm but not too hot. There were quite a few times where i had to call my mother, with him crying in the background begging her to tell me what i should do. I had to switch formulas, because i couldn't breastfeed, and his current formula made him constipated. I had to increase his water millage to try and help with his constipation, but then he was hungrier because he was getting less formula. It took us months before he settled into a good routine and we had worked out all his little ticks. The amount of low points i had was astounding. Join all this with high emotions, tension, and a severe lack of sleep, i am quite surprised my husband and i managed to make it through.
Not only did i struggle with down days, but so did my husband. His mental health as a new dad is just as important as mine, and there were plenty of days where he also found it difficult to cope with everything. We would both sit there and cry in the afternoons during our son's colic fits, trying desperately to comfort him and help him, but having so much trouble doing so. We found it difficult to spend any time together, which was putting a lot of pressure on our relationship. We both needed closeness and intimacy, but were struggling to find time to accommodate that. My husband just wanted our son to be healthy and happy, and he just wanted me to be okay. And even though he tried everything he could to ensure this happened, he often would tell me how hard being a dad is. He loves our son to death, and our son loves him, but like me, my husband had his moments where it just seemed like we couldn't do anything right. I did what i could to encourage him to be open with me, to talk it out and try to release some of the pressure he was holding onto. But he found it harder than i did to be open. Men have a different mindset to women, and sometimes feeling emotions and showing vulnerability is seen as weakness to men.
Or at least that's what i've always been told by the men in my life. If you are a man reading this, please don't think you are weak for being vulnerable, or feeling emotions and showing your feelings. Things are just as hard for dad's as they are mum's, and i encourage you, to open up in any way you can to someone important to you or someone who will listen. Call the hotlines, speak to a GP, or councilor. Open up about your mental health, talk about how you are feeling. I think if my husband had of opened up even more than what he did, he may have been able to deal with things a bit differently. He may have been able to keep some of his qualities that he had before becoming a dad. Don't get me wrong, he is still a beautiful, kind, caring and sensitive man. But he is no longer as patient as he used to be, and he will tell you that himself. He and i have both lost any ounce of patience we used to have before having kids, and we are both working together on getting that back. BE OPEN! I can't express that enough. I have seen too many good men lose a bit of themselves when they became a dad. Don't let that happen to you, don't lose yourself because you think you have to be the strong one. You can be the strong one, and still be vulnerable and open about your own mental health. It won't make you any less of a good partner or any less of a good father.
I have less down days as my son has grown. He has learnt to walk, chatter, crawl, express his needs, let me know when he is hurt or upset, and this has made a big difference on the amount of down days i have had. Knowing that i was able to teach him these things, shows me i am a good parent. But his independence brings new territory that i didn't think about. As he gets older, it's no longer about what he can see and touch, patterns and shadows. It's now about his mental growth as much as physical growth. He's learning how to deal with his emotions. He's learning how to handle being a bigger boy and having to do some things on his own. He's learning independence and no longer needing me or his dad for things as much as he used to. And this brings some sad moments for me as i realise my son is growing up, and growing independent of me. I've done a good job guiding him so far, but it leaves me wondering if he will need me again? If he will still love me as much as he used to as a baby? He no longer laughs just looking at my face, he no longer lays in my arms and sleeps. Now he is more grown up, he doesn't need me to give him toys, he does that himself, he doesn't need me to lead him somewhere, he does that himself.
And so far out of all the down days and sad moments i have had in parenting and pregnancy, this is probably the hardest to cope with. As a mum, i grew that child for 9 months and i welcomed him into the world, I taught him to walk, crawl, sit up and stand. I taught him to laugh, smile and i showed him that i will always be there when he needs me, when he's upset and when he cries. But losing those little moments where he wanted a hug just for the sake of wanting a hug, or when he wanted me to read him a book, or show him a picture, when he wanted me to pick him up so he could see the world because it seemed so big and bright to him, losing that makes the saddest of all. And i often think, could i have been more patient with him? Should i have pushed him to learn at the pace he did? Should i have slowed him down to savor all that he was as a baby? That's hard to think about. And no amount of slowing down, would have changed that, even if i did, i'd still be thinking he's grown up so fast, why didn't he slow down?
Do not get me wrong though, i have down days not just because my son is independent and growing up. But also because this new level of independence and exploring brings, tantrums and new emotions he hasn't felt before. Like irritation, anger, sadness. There are days where my son is just having one of those days where he wants to be big, wants to do everything himself, but forgets he still needs help with some things. But he doesn't want that help, he wants to do it himself, and that brings on tantrums, and crying fits. Patience is the only thing that gets me through those moments, Patience and chocolate.
On those days where i feel like i can't parent properly because i don't know how to help my son through his emotions as well as i'd like to, they're hard too. I want him to be happy and experience what he wants, but its hard when sometimes what he wants and what i can give are two very different things. And trust me when he wants another cracker but there's none left, because he's eaten them all, its hard to get him to understand where i am coming from, and it just makes me feel low. Like my parenting, and my guiding isn't working to help him understand. I wish i had more patience sometimes, i wish i had all the answers sometimes, but i don't and that's okay. I am still a good mum, i always have to remember that, i am still a good mum at the end of the day even though i may not feel it.
Don't be afraid of what's to come with parenting, if you're a first time parent, or not, parenting for everyone is different and its hard. There may be those parents who tell you 'its easy don't stress, i've never had any troubles with my kids,' well you can choose to take on board that kind of advice, smile politely and say "yeah you're right," or you can smile politely and think to yourself, lies. Because it is lies. Everyone has trouble with their kids at some point, whether its as newborns, teens, toddlers, infants, or even adult children, they will experience some kind of hardship with the raising of their children. And if they say they don't they may just not be ready to be open about it. Parenting is hard, pregnancy is hard, all you can do is find solutions that suit you, work through whatever comes your way, and be open, talk, communicate, because you aren't alone. We all have our parenting woes, we all need a little help sometimes, and we all have those days, it's completely okay, you are still a good parent and you will still be a good parent, sometimes you just need a day to feel those emotions and remember that you don't have to be a super parent. You don't have to be strong all the time.
Please visit Parent helplines and hotlines | Raising Children Network for a list of Australian helplines if you need to reach out.