Joy or Jealousy after Maternal Mental Illness?
About four months ago a friend (on Facebook) posted photos of their new baby girl. She looked adorable, Mum and Dad looked delighted. I did the usual Facebook congratulations and “liked’ the photo. Then I did my usual routine – I’ve come to realise that a picture might paint a thousand words but it doesn’t always tell the whole story – so when I see a new family emerge, I pray. Very simply, for a moment or two, for the baby but also for mum (and dad) and their emotional and mental wellbeing. And then I go on my way, seeing what the rest of my social media world is up to. This time I did the same but I noticed a little ‘niggle’, deep down within me. I brushed it off as nothing and continued on.
Fast forward a month or so and another picture popped up, for a far away friend and their new addition. And I followed the same routine again. This time, however, the feeling was stronger. I realised that it might not be able to pass it by so quickly. I knew this baby had been long-awaited and had not be an easy process for the couple, in some ways I could relate. So I felt joy for them and their beautiful smiling faces and the new chapter they were about to begin. But the other feeling that I could not shake? Jealousy. Pure and simple.
I do not count myself a perfect person – far from it – but I like to believe that I can be kind and generous. This feeling shamed me. But there it was, clear as day, strong as the wind in a storm… JEALOUSY. The green-eyed monster ragging inside of me, desperate to get out. I’ve no idea what lies ahead for this wonderful little family, but like I said, I pray it’s good health – emotional and physical – and that they can weather everything together.
I now realise that I felt jealous because there’s the hope, and the chance, that this mummy won’t face what I have faced. Not that I would ever wish this on anyone, please do not get me wrong. But I felt jealous of the potential and the hope that lay ahead. As much as I wished her health, I also wish that it had been mine and ours. I questioned again, “What did I do to deserve severe PND?”, feeling very sorry for myself.
I got angry at the world (and possibly God) for allowing this to cross my path, once again, weighting everything ‘good’ I’ve ever done against the ‘bad’. But my faith/belief system doesn’t work like that either. I wasted time trying to decide why this was something I was ‘chosen’ to face. I re-lived the early months and first year of Reuben’s little life, wishing and praying for the ability to turn back time. I stamped my feet (internally), cursed the world and tried to bargain my way out of the situation.
I have come to understand that these feeling and emotions are very clearly part of the grief cycle – which is an important tool in understand and processing PND.
This article from Postpartum Progress is really helpful in explaining that process.
And then, on top of all of this, I was left feeling disgusted and disappointed in myself, for my reaction. But I know I have to allow it to rise and feel its full force, in order to move forward from it. For me, it’s a great window into my heart and soul and the damage that PND had done, but also where I still need to allow myself to heal or be healed.
Please hear me correctly – it’s not that I don’t wish you immeasurable joy, when your little one arrives, I just wish that joy had also been mine – there must be enough of that to go around, right?
It’s not that I would wish anything less but the very best health and wellbeing on you and yours – you deserve that and very much more – but I am jealous that was not mine too. I so wish that it was. I very much long, in the depths of my soul, for it to have been different for me and for us.
So the truth is, I am coming to understand that (for now) I live with the tension of joy and jealousy, that rumbles inside of me, when I see a newborn baby and a mummy together. I don’t like it – it doesn’t ‘sit’ well with me. But I have to work my way through it. It’s something I am yet to master…but I hope someday I will.