Thereâ€™s always that one person that trips during a degree ceremony. In our cohort of 2013 someone did fall, but Iâ€™m proud to say it was not me.
I had given myself a mental pep talk. One foot in front of the other, head high, shoulders back. I was simple enough. Beyond that I just hoped that they didnâ€™t mispronounce my name â€“ a common problem with exotic names. Why? Because the past 4 years of my life boiled down to this one live-streamed moment. I didnâ€™t want to be remembered as the one that tumbled down the stairs in a heap of black fabric, like a dishevelled curtain yanked from itâ€™s rails. I wanted to be the one that kept it together gracefully. And so I patiently waited my turn, contemplating whether I should have forgone the heels and worn my Little Miss Piggy Stan Smiths (the gown would cover them, no?), and reminding myself of the reasons I couldn't fall.
As I waited to climb the stairs to the stage, I had an epiphany moment. I was different. Not by means of superiority: just different. I was a tired young mother who was refusing to let motherhood offset my goals. That's why when my son was born after my first year at university I went back and settled my unfinished business; even though I knew it was going to be no easy feat.
I wasnâ€™t disgruntled about my plus 1, in fact, I cherished the early morning cuddles and bedtime stories. These rare moments had become the balm on the cutting wound of incompetence that lingered like a rotten smell. Not just as a parent, but as a student as well. I was so immersed in getting through the day that nothing was getting my 100% attention. I was shamefully edging towards the Iâ€™d-be-more-use-as-an-upside-down-mop tangent and I knew it.
We've all heard of the 'baby blues' lasting a few days after birth, but my baby wasn't a baby anymore. He was a toddler so what was it? Was it handing in the dog-eared essays covered in highlighter scribbles at the eleventh hour; or dashing from the university campus to nursery at 6.00pm, only to skid into a closed door that was making me feel a bit rubbish? Perhaps it was a combination. It was certainly the pang of guilt I felt looking into those mummy-please-donâ€™t-leave-me eyes.
Would I go as far as saying I had postnatal depression (PND)? Perhaps, I hadn't really given it a name. I embarked on the motherhood journey at the age of 19. I first knew something wasnâ€™t right when, 6 days after my son was born, a family member took my son downstairs for half an hour and I felt like he had been taken. I wanted him back and I wouldn't settle until he was with me. Then again a month later when I shed a tear walking down the chilled meat aisle in Waitrose and feeling sorry for the poor headless chickens. And again when I was sat in the corner of my sonâ€™s room tears rolling because I had realised my mortality and it haunted me.
There is a misconception that people that suffer with PND are constantly miserable, unable to bond with their baby or non-responsive and detached. In fact, from talking to people, the spectrum ranges from a slight 'wobble' down a grocery aisle to attempted suicide and, in some extreme cases, harming their child. It is not to be taken lightly.
The NHS suggest 1 in 10 women suffer from PND (young mothers being at greater risk) and according to NCT that statistic is also true for new fathers. Poor body image, isolation, and social pressure are but a few of the issues highlighted to cause PND. Buzzfeed have recently released a video where mothers discuss their experience with PND (watch here). What is initially interesting is that each mother has a unique experience with PND. Although there are tell tale signs listed by the Royal Collage of Psychiatrists, it can be so subtle that you only recognise it in retrospect. So the best way to notice it, is to start talking about it.
As a young mother, I know that things can seem lonely when all of your friends are out having a great time and youâ€™re chewing the remnants of a soggy rusk, wondering why you were no longer invited. You no longer fit in with your own age group and you donâ€™t fit in with the NCT mothers. There just doesnâ€™t seem to be a place where you feel accepted: cue isolation.
The first step was to acknowledge how I felt, so from that point on I decided I would talk to my husband. He did what he always does when Iâ€™m upset, he brought a big tub of Ben and Jerryâ€™s Cherry Garcia with two spoons and let me have the lion's share. It didnâ€™t solve my problem, but it made me feel less alone. I realised that whatever it was (Ben and Jerryâ€™s or my emotional welfare) I wasnâ€™t alone.
I also managed to find a friend my own age, a real nugget of gold, who had children of her own and we both felt the same. But together we didnâ€™t feel alone. Weâ€™ve been pivotal in keeping each other afloat. Just a simple â€œI understand youâ€ or â€œI canâ€™t adult todayâ€ is a real game changer. Sometimes all you need is someone to listen and offer up ice-cream every now and again.
I credit a positive attitude and a great family (not necessarily related) to getting myself out of a rut where I felt like other mothers were doing a better job at mothering. I thought that they were able to provide a better environment for their children because they were older and were able to cope with juggling 5897 tasks in one day. But as my mother always said 'you can't look at someone else's house and throw rocks at your own'.
I did fall at my graduation eventually: it was inevitable. My poor choice of footwear was bound to let me down. But I was fortunate enough for a private location without the audience: the carpark. I tumbled into a massive flappy cap and gown heap. I like to think was akin to a â€˜batman descendsâ€™ moment. The Mr. says it was more Michael Crawford. Ultimately, I realised in my early escapades of motherhood; from my carpark gymnastics to the â€˜thingâ€™ that has no name, you're not alone.
Everyone deserves to enjoy the postnatal period and have a safe environment to bond with their baby.
Show your support and grab a Mama Squad Tee and help PANDAS, a charity aimed at offering advice to new mothers on postnatal depression. For a daily dose of positivity check out the YESMUM cards.