Blog Takeover - The Instagram Mum Club
The Instagram Mum Club – For the shit they don’t teach you at NCT by @abbiejaynebrown
When I cast my mind back to the weeks before ourbaby arrived, I was consumed with filling his wardrobe with cute outfits, spending all our money on the must-have gadgets and cleaning our house from top to bottom in eager anticipation of two becoming three. Daydreaming of a maternity leave filled with lazy morning brunches in cute coffee shops while a newborn peacefully snoozed in my arms. How naive I was to the reality of what the next few months would bring and the toll it would have on my mental health.
Fast forward to the moment my baby boy entered the world at 7am on 13th December after a gruelling labour, following an induction (let me tell you, being stuck at 9 centimetres for 8 hours is NOT fun), I just couldn’t believe it was over and he was finally here. I’d imagined the moment I met my baby so many times, tear filled and full of love but instead it was a haze of exhaustion, shellshock, and awe at this creature that I had just produced. He was SO big! As I looked down at Otto, all I could think was ‘thank fuck it’s over, I am never doing that again’. Little did I know, that was the easy part!
We both had to stay in hospital for five days due to complications during labour, and as the kind midwife showed me around the ward I remember asking ‘is there a nursery for him to sleep in overnight?’ Images of cute babies lined up in their little incubators came to mind, seen countless times on pretty much every American movie or TV programmefeaturing labour. For a second I thought she was going to laugh in my face. Reality hit like a ton of bricks; he was staying with me. Surely I couldn’t be expected to look after this child all night on my own having already been awake for the most physically exhausting 36 hours of my life? When was I supposed to sleep? Welcome to motherhood!
The next five days passed in a blur on a busy ward where I was kept up by four screaming babies, barely able to get a couple of hours sleep every day. Despite this, I was glad to be in hospital with the support of the midwives to help with breast feeding, wind (cue screaming baby in the middle of the night after I had downed a can of 7up with my KFC earlier that day – how the fuck was I supposed to know you shouldn’t drink fizz?!) and the contents of nappies ‘should it really look like that?!’. It was clear I had no fucking idea what I was doing and to have gone home on day one with no family close by to support us I’m pretty sure I’d have had a serious mental break down, so I will always be grateful for those first few days in hospital. When we were finally discharged, I felt excited. I was ready now; it felt like I’d had an intensive training course and I was really starting to understand my baby. Bring on our own bed and those long-awaited family brunches!! (Still so naive!)
It was about this time the baby blues arrived at my door, ready to take full hold of my emotions. Coupled with ZERO sleep those first few nights at home and the reality of a newborn, I cried to my husband ‘he hates sleeping, he hates it here, what are we going to do?’. One week on and I found myself shaking and hallucinating from the sleep deprivation, asking myself some of the hardest questions ‘why did we do this? What would happen if I dropped him back off at the hospital and told them I just couldn’t do it?’ It hurts me to admit that I remember thinking that the only way out was to die. And at that time, I really did think I WAS going to die of sleep deprivation. Withno more than an hours sleep at a time, and maybe three hours sleep in total every 24 hours thanks to constant breastfeeding, I hit rock bottom. I would sob every time I fed my baby. Why did no one tell me it was going to be like this? It’s funny really, now I think back to my pregnancy people would joke ‘make sure you get your sleep while you can!’ But it was a joke, a passing comment said in jest. Sure, I knew I’d be tired and up occasionally in the night, but this felt so extreme. This is the shit they should be teaching you in antenatal classes!
I realised that even if people had warned me, I would never have truly understood. It’s just one of those things (like labour) that you just have to experience for yourself. It’s why colleagues drop off lasagne on your doorstep and friends of friends send you their second-hand clothing just to save you a few quid, why strangers send you messages of support and family offer to clean your house for you. Having a baby means you are suddenly a member of an exclusive club, the Mum Club. You never knew it existed but suddenly there’s a whole community of friends, relatives or complete strangers there waiting to offer help and support. Why? Because they’ve been there, they know just how hard it can be, and they know the difference a small act of kindness can make in those first few weeks and months.
The act of kindness that I was desperately in need of was someone to talk to. With few ‘mum friends’ and no relatives nearby, I turned to Instagram to voice my questions and worries, and the Mum Club answered. There, on that little app I found hundreds of kind strangers, members of a community that understood exactly how I was feeling and what I was experiencing. Their support and guidance helped me to grow in confidence and talking honestly about the hard parts of motherhood helped me to cope with my feelings. Social media has a bad reputation where mental health is concerned, and I get it. But becoming a mother and being a part of the Mum Club community online has shown me the kindness of humanity. The ability to connect so easily to a group of people who understand and selflessly want to help is a beautiful thing. It sounds strange to admit, but I don’t know where I would be without it now.
Luckily for me, after three weeks the baby blues lifted, I stopped crying countless times a day and those dark thoughts questioning my existence seemed to evaporate. Andy and I found a way to work together in shifts so that we both got some sleep, and it felt like an emotional weight had lifted. The awe I felt for Otto turned into unconditional love, a love that has grown stronger every day of his life. I hadn’t believed people when they had said ‘it gets easier’ but it did. Otto is the best thing that ever happened to me and he has given me a happiness and love that I could never have dreamed of. You really do have to experience that too, to really understand it.
Six months in and I still have hard days (and I’ve still not been for that bloody brunch!!). I’m exhausted, at times I find myself crippled with loneliness and crying in frustration. Seeing and experiencing my baby’s constant growing and changing is completely magical but it also means there is always a new challenge taking up my headspace and keeping me up at night, my brain constantly whirling with responsibility and self-doubt. And on those dark days, when I am feeling hopeless and frustrated, I turn to social media and the strangers I now call friends. I know the Mum Club has my back to offer support, encouragement, guidance and love. If you are reading this and you need to talk, laugh, vent, cry or moan, you’ll always find my inbox open and ready to repay the favour.
Your mental health matters. Never be ashamed to talk about how you are feeling, never fear being a ‘bad mother’ for your honesty. You have battled through birth, hormones, sleep deprivation and the million other things that make motherhood a shitstorm, and you have the right to find it hard. It has no reflection on how much you love your baby. Speaking up may help you, and it may help someone else too ashamed to admit they are struggling too. Let’s show people that Social Media can be a positive space for mental health.