I turned up at my friend’s house blurry eyed, after yet another wakeful night due to children who have little to no regard for sleep. “I’m having a cry day” she greeted me with as she opened the door, her 6 month old happily kicking on a mat. “Me too” I said, my gritty eyes pricking with tears.
The next day I hauled both children, two bikes and enough bags to rival those under my eyes, to meet friends with similar aged children for a playdate. I asked one Mum how she was going. Barely coping, was the response.
I went home that night and saw a social media post from another local mother (who, from the outside, looks like she is rocking this mothering gig) writing about her post-natal depression.
It is everywhere.
There are mothers of young children here, in Queenstown, who are not happy. Mothers who are, by all accounts, intelligent, caring and resourceful. The more I open the door to this conversation, the more I hear about their stories of struggle. On paper, these women shouldn’t be unhappy. Most of them have supportive partners, are educated and had stable employment pre-children. But here we are, struggling every day with our own battles at home. Of course, it’s not everyone. Maybe 90% of you are cruising down Motherhood Lane without a care in the world. Maybe it’s 50/50? 40/60? Heck, maybe it’s 20/80. Whatever the statistic, it feels too high, and if I could help 1 Mum, on one bad day, I’d like to do that.
So why are mums struggling in Queenstown?
Queenstown is a beautiful place to live, but given the rapid increase in population over recent years, most residents didn’t grow up here; their roots are planted elsewhere. In our antenatal group, none of us have close family that live here. Distances being what they are here, none of us have family that can pop over and hold the baby while Mum showers.
Given a lot of residents have been here 5 years or less means that friendships have not been deeply formed prior to becoming pregnant. My husband and I, for example, moved here when I was in my early thirties and my husband pushing 40. Those that grew up here have their long-term friends, and those that are recently arrived haven’t had enough time to connect and make networks before new babies come along.
My husband would say to me when I was having low days to “call so and so, she’s always great” . But he wouldn’t understand that yes, this friend was great, but great when we were wearing something other than baby spew-stained pyjamas and we were drinking wine, not cold coffee. I hadn’t broken through the superficial to really bond with these woman. We were certainly not at the bleeding nipples and a screaming child part of friendship when my kids came along.
So would a lot of the issues be solved by restoring the elusive “village”?
Sure there would still be the money troubles, the increase in house prices, the medical issues. But would you/we be better prepared to deal with these “big” issues if someone was there for half an hour a day to hold your baby while you had a shower and maybe bought round a biscuit and put the kettle on?
Or do we need more than this?
Is it a directory of ‘helpers’; a network of people within your suburb (or thereabouts) who are willing help and in the process to build some relationships? I’m not talking about some of the amazing services such as Baskets of Blessings, Bellyful, Plunket etc. I do not want to take anything away from the fantastic work that is being done here. But it would seem there is room for more. More mother to mother connection.
Can we link likeminded people in similar situations?
Can we link the elderly who are often isolated and have time on their hands?
I feel like it’s something that needs to happen offline too. When I was a new mum it was hard leaving the house, and yet, when I did (screaming car-ride aside) I always felt much better. It was the interactions with other people that could reset the mood, and provide a sense of normalcy that I felt was slipping from my life.
Nowadays, I would happily make an extra smoothie once a week and drop it around to a new mother within the neighbourhood. I would enjoy taking another family’s dog for a walk when I take mine. Perhaps their new baby hates the pram like my eldest did and this would be such a weight off her mind. These are things that you can ask family and long term friends to do but things that can seem like the hugest hurdle if you do not have this support network physically close to you.
I don’t know how. I really can’t join the dots in my sleep-deprived head at the moment, but perhaps the first step is by being honest when talking to a new mother about your own struggles. Being a mother IS the hardest job in the world, so if you’re out there struggling, know you’re not alone. And perhaps someone reading this has had a lightbulb moment and can make a plan to drive some change on a larger scale, because I desperately think this is what is needed here.