I was born with a wandering soul. I could never stay still. I was always ready to go explore. By the time I could I read, I read about distant lands and dreamed of seeing them one day. Now my role as mother sometimes feels at odds with my wanderer’s spirit. When I left my native Trinidad for England in 2001, I never imagined it would become my home. I wanted to study and travel but the longer I stayed, the deeper my roots grew. Once I married, I knew it was unlikely Trinidad would be my home again. I felt at ease in England and it was my launching pad to travel Europe. Eventually, my journey included my children. Motherhood changed me and my life. The things that once thrilled me became scary.
None of my family was able to visit. So, as a new mum without family or friends nearby, I felt isolated. It didn’t help matters that I was afraid to go outdoors with my baby. I had postnatal depression.
It was a bad winter when my son was born in November 2010. We never saw the Health Visitor until he was ten days old, by which time I was sleep deprived, hearing white noise and a tearful wreck. The Health Visitor suggested that I go on walks with him. I told her that I was scared to go out. She asked, “would you say that you are of an anxious nature?” to which I honestly replied “Yes.” The next thing I know she was noting something in Angelo’s personal child health record (sometimes called the red book) When she left, I checked the book and saw she’d noted I was an “anxious mum.” After that I kept quiet about my feelings and the red book became a badge of shame. I was so fearful of being put on some “bad mums register” somewhere, I suffered in silence. I was paranoid because I didn’t know the rights of mothers and children in England. I’d heard stories of police checking in on parents if a child was crying loudly for long periods because a kind neighbour had notified them. My son cried and screamed a lot. I found joy in nothing. Smiles were reflective actions. I experienced life through a thick mist. Sometimes it felt like walking underwater. I went into autopilot.
In some black communities, mental illness is often swept under the carpet, perhaps in the hope things will work themselves out.
I’m not certain why that is, but I think as a people we can be quite proud and private. Health and well being is not something we usually openly discuss. As a mum, it’s expected that we cope. My comments were received with silence, a side step or transition to another topic. In one instance it was inferred that I should get on with it. I took that to mean that mother’s cope. I just had to cope. In the midst of it all, I decided to have a second child. Crazy, I know, but “they” said it’s easier with two. I was desperate for better and ease.
My son was almost fifteen months when my postnatal depression was diagnosed. I’d read a blog post from a sufferer and realised I had similar symptoms. I sought help. I can’t remember what I did first. However, the same Health Visitor I referred to earlier came to see me again. She was very kind this time. I completed a questionnaire for her. The result meant I was put on mild antidepressants to start. By the time I became pregnant with my second child I’d joined a support group. After she was born I was offered the opportunity to join a parenting support group.
It wasn’t easy being a first time mum and an expat. I had a normal healthy happy pregnancy. I was not prepared for after my son was born. Prenatal support was good but I think postnatal could be improved. More compassion is needed. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had experienced postnatal depression. I had only one fellow expat friend who also had a child but I never went into depth about how I felt. I didn’t want to be a bother. I think it’s vital for expat mums-to-be to establish a support network as soon as possible. Before my baby was born, I could not have anticipated the emotional toll the event would have on me. It did not occur to me that baby may not comply with routines suggested in books. (S)he would not have read the book or received the memo. If I could speak to my expectant self, I would tell her “Don’t be afraid to ask for help; the General Practitioner is a good place to start. (S)he can point you in the right direction. Most important, go easy on yourself because you are good enough.”