It’s Maternal Mental Health Week this week. A really important thing to keep drawing attention to. I didn’t think much about my mental health when I had my daughter, because, aside from the usual shock of new parenting, I was really, actually fine. Twins, however, has been a different thing entirely. Parenting twins has not been at all the journey I imagined it would be. There have been surprises, happy ones, along the way, and there are moments of real wonder and joy. But there have been some very, very dark days. And, I suspect, there are more to come.
I’ve vacillated about writing this post. I don’t know if it’ll be helpful to anyone. Or whether anyone really wants to hear any more about the harder side of parenting twins (I pretty much saturated Instagram with my mum-misery for the first part of the year and even I got bored of my complaining in the end). But, then, this is motherhood, for better for worse, and writing things down, getting them out of me, is part of my process, part of my sanity. I find comfort, clarity and sense in words. And so these are mine. Plus, I think honesty is important – I’m as happy as the next person to share lovely images of my life sometimes, because sometimes, it is lovely. But sometimes, it is not.
And the truth is, the real truth, is that I have never been more uncertain, more frightened, more alone, more exhausted, more emotionally wrung out, more stuck, more disappointed in myself, more doubtful and more broken than I have in the past six months. Full disclaimer, I am sure some of this is down to a bit of post-natal depression – or at least ‘sleep deprivation blues’ – and to that end, rest assured, I am doing something about it. But truly, that aspect of it aside, I have been shocked at the depths and lengths that motherhood in these extremes can push you to.
Screaming – screaming so, so loud and not feeling any better. Crying – all the time, at everything. Fighting – fighting with my husband constantly. Shouting – at Elsa, at the twins, at R – all the time. And through it all, an overwhelming feeling that we are really, truly trapped by circumstance and that our lives will never be the same again. That the days are impossible, that getting through them, doing anything, is impossible. The thoughts swirling around my head are some of the darkest and lowest things I’ve ever thought. “I wish there was only one of you”; “They’ve ruined everything”; “I wish we hadn’t had twins”; “I want to run away. I want to close the front door behind me and run and run and run and run and run…”; “I hate them. I hate twins. I hate my life”.
This makes for sobering reading. I know that. We all make jokes about the hardships of parenting, but phrases such as: “I hate my life” are only funny when you don’t, actually, truly, hate your life. This was a really hard list for me to write, and an even harder one to read. Especially as I can’t say for sure that I won’t think some of these things again. But reading it back also makes me realise how dark it got. How low I was. And how determined I am to keep moving upwards.
And, in all of this, of course, there has been some learning. This is what I’ve taken with me from this journey so far…a journey that is far from over…here it is, in case it helps you too…
Accepting Help…And Asking For It Too
This is really about pride. And strength. Because it seems shameful and weak to need help. We all want to cope – I pride myself on being strong and capable – but sometimes we all need help to simply cope. Asking for help, and accepting people who want to give it, in any form is really really important. Some people can help financially, some people can help with their time, some with their advice. Take what they give, but learn to ask for it too. I am a pro at accepting help now. People stop by for coffee and tentatively ask if they can help. I say yes, without hesitating. And then – and this is the most important thing – I tell them how they can help. Sometimes, people simply don’t know how to help – so I suggest things to them. I ask them to babysit for two hours while I do some essential shopping; I ask them if they can cook me a couple of meals to pop in the freezer; I ask them if Elsa can come and play for the afternoon; I ask them to come over and take the boys for a walk while I finish an article that’s on deadline;I ask them if they can watch Elsa while I go to a baby group. A friend came to stay recently, and held one of my babies pretty much constantly for 48 hours. “I feel like I’m not helping,” she would say as we nattered about our lives while I loaded the dishwasher. ” But you ARE helping,” I replied. “Because I’m not alone, I’m not bored, I’m getting things done, and my babies aren’t crying.” This is helping.
And a note to friends and family of mothers with twins, or small babies. Keep asking. Keeping checking in on someone. Even if it’s been months. Keep asking. You will always be of use, there are always ways to help and help is always needed.
Don’t Tell me I’m a Rockstar…
It’s really important that you let yourself be in the struggle. It is, indeed, real. Glossing over the cracks isn’t always a good idea. I am grateful when people tell me how well I’m doing and how amazing I am to be looking after twins/breastfeeding twins/caring for twins and a toddler/surviving on no sleep/getting out of the house. It means a lot. BUT – the tendency to tell people they’re ‘smashing it’ sometimes puts pressure on them to keep going and keep being a rockstar – when they really don’t feel like one. Sometimes, we need people to acknowledge our fears and worries too, to give space to our struggles and to just listen when we say we’re a crap mother or a bad parent and that we’re fed up and feel like we’re failing. This is part of the journey, as hard as it is to hear. It’s great to buoy people up, but you must also let them break down.
Breaking Down is Good…
On that subject, breaking down is also a vital part of the process. As someone recently said to me, it’s in the exhaustion of parenting that you find your soul. You have to let the pain out somewhere. For me, the breakdown came one morning when I least expected it. Another nap fought, another morning of tandem crying after a night of no sleep. It was no different to so many other days but somehow, that day was the day that saw me give into it all. It was hard to sit sobbing on my bed, repeating over and over again that I couldn’t do it anymore. That I just wanted to stay in bed, and not get up and not do it all over again. But the time was right for some real honesty and – as they say – once you open the cracks, then you can let the light in.
So, however you choose to do it, get proper help too. Whether you speak to a health visitor, a doctor, a therapist or someone else, speak to someone who can actually do something. For me, the someone, was my cranial osteopath – someone I really trust, who speaks my language, who honours my choices and supports my challenges. When he asked me if I was ok, I realised I couldn’t fake it anymore. And so I told the truth. All the pain and sadness and fear in my heart came flooding out in a space that was so safe, so free from judgement. He listened, he empathised, he understood, and then he helped.
…And Change is Even Better
Someone said to me recently: “These tough times are so tough, but you will rise from it….you need to let it change you, then you gather your strength and build a new life that works for the whole family.” This is crucial. Everyone described twins as being ‘life-changing’ – and certainly, our lives have changed beyond measure – so why did it never occur me that we would need to change along with them? I can’t say for sure what that change looks like yet – but I’m trying to be open to it. I know I’m trying to be softer, to sit with my babies more instead of rushing around trying to do things all the time. I know I’m getting used to a different rhythm, busy mornings, quieter afternoons, I know I’m trying to hear what they need, rather than decide for them. And I know I’m trying to accept them for who they are and what they bring with them, all their challenges, but also, all their joy. It is slow, the pace of change is certainly gradual, but we will get there – and the fact that I now know that, when I didn’t before, is change enough for me.
“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.”