The theme for PANDA week 2018 has been; ‘I wish I knew’
1. understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed."with hindsight, I should never have gone"
If I had the benefit of hindsight as foresight-I’d be pretty perfect! I’d always have a clever come back for some snarky strangers rude remark, and I’d never eat one too many chocolates to make me feel sick...
That’s not how learning/ life tends to go. Hindsight only comes into play afterwards, usually after we have tried a few different approaches to things and learnt from our ‘mistakes’.
I don’t think it’s fair for parents, especially those suffering with mental illness to beat them self up wishing they had done things differently. Becoming a parent wether it be for a first, second, third or more time is always going to be a learning curve. Just like all new things we learn there will always be things we can look back on with the benefit of hindsight and reflect.
I believe the real issue with perinatal mental illness is not with parents rather, with our society.
There’s information to show that societies in the developing world have significantly lower rates of perinatal mental illness than in most western countries. Why? Well the main reason anthropologists give is because of support given to the new mother. You’ve heard of the saying; ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ ? More accurately with babies it takes a mother with the support of her village to raise one. There are complete support systems in place in these societies to ensure that the new mother is nurtured and cared for by those around her in much the same way as she is nurturing and caring for her baby. Support comes in the form of physical ie; care for recovery from child birth, practical ie; caring for older siblings and/ or doing housework, and emotional ie; cultural ceremonies that celebrate the woman’s
transition to motherhood. This level of support is far better than the majority of western mothers can expect.
So back to the theme; ‘I wish I knew...’ I think that PANDA chose this theme to increase awareness, to get people thinking and talking/ sharing but most importantly LISTENING.
During this week I’ve been listening to parents who have suffered, or are currently suffering with mental illness share stories about what they wish they’d known. From these stories, I’ve come up with a few ideas about what I wish OUR SOCIETY knew about the transition to parenthood;
•That having a healthy Mum and baby is not the only thing that matters when it comes to birth.
•To understand that parents, especially mothers aren’t just adjusting to life with a new baby, it’s about adjusting to a new body, a new way of relating to others- friends/ family/partner, adjusting to having a new and very different job, making room for a third person in the relationship, adjusting to less sleep...
•The importance of encouraging flexibility, to try new things, know that there is no one right way to do anything, and that figuring out what works for you can take time.
•To understand the emotional aspects of breastfeeding and it’s many complexities and provide support and understanding.
•How to empower parents with encouragement rather than rushing in with advice or ‘rescuing them’.
•To treat parents with the same level of love, care and respect deserved by a newborn. After all they are newly born parents...
•To know that difficulties can be experienced at any stage- there’s no magic window for perinatal mental illness. Not to think it can’t be because ‘the babies too old’ or ‘but she’s still pregnant’.
So much of what needs to change is at a societal level, yet if there was one thing I wish new parents struggling with mental illness could change about themselves what would it be? Their understanding that they’re not broken, much of our society that should be there to support them is but thankfully there’s still much needed support available.