I was one of those ignorantly naïve people who thought that Mental Health couldn’t touch me with a barge pole. I was confident, outgoing, and secure in my own skin. That is, until I had children.
Then, my, oh my, did it all change. With my first I didn’t realise that it happened almost immediately; I didn’t recognise what was happening to me mentally. We had moved to my husband’s home town because of his new job – six weeks prior to me giving birth – which didn’t really leave a lot of time to secure my own personal network. Our boy arrived in September and our world took a slight shift to the left whilst we figured out how to conduct ourselves as a family of three.
At this point, I had made a handful of good friends, through antenatal groups who I saw on a weekly basis. These ladies had only known me for a grand total of three months when I started to struggle and my pride prevented me from portraying anything except a smile on my face pretending, ‘I’ve got this’.
But two weeks after Leo was born, once my husband had returned to work, I felt an overwhelming rush of emotions that needed categorising. So, I turned to poetry. I would attempt to express, organise and release my emotions into a cohesive block of black and white letters, filling the page with, what I now realise was, the residue of post-natal depression.
On the outside, I attended the classes, joined the swimming group, went on buggy walks and met up with my new mummy friends. Anyone might be forgiven to think that I was winning at life. It wasn’t until I got home and hid in the corner with my pen and tear-stained paper that I really opened-up. My husband was supportive; he listened to my poetic ramblings and did everything in his power to help me. But seeing as maternal mental health wasn’t his area of expertise, it was challenging for him to fix the problem, especially as I wasn’t even aware which part needed fixing.
Ignorance, pride and naivety prevented me from seeking help. I did not want to admit that my poetry was a form of self-therapy, and that I probably would have benefitted from sharing those emotional words with a professional, but at least it was a step in the right direction.
Luckily, Poetic Therapy, among other alternative therapies, is on the rise. It develops an increased sense of self and interpersonal awareness, a sense of validation, and allows you to “capture and reframe significant life stories.” ¹ It permitted me to reorganise my emotions, almost like playing Tetris with the words, trying to fit them together to make sense of it all. Some of my poems are just block paragraphs of writing; others are too raw to see the light of day again. As the letters formed on the page, the lead weight inside of me reduced, the thoughts were on the outside ready to meet the world.
With full support from my husband, two years later, over 85 poems deep and on maternity leave with my little girl, I started Postpartum Poetry, sharing some of my inner thoughts from my darkest times as well as documenting the moments of comedy gifted to us by our children. It has been the making of me, giving me the opportunity to regain part of my own identity and giving me a sense of purpose. And the response has been overwhelming; one reaction to my poetry read, “your page makes me feel less lonely”.
So, why not try it yourself? Start small. Grab a pen and some paper. Remember that no one needs to see your poetic ramblings; it doesn’t have to rhyme; it doesn’t even have to make sense:
Refine your poem with a thesaurus, or a rhyming dictionary. Read it aloud to yourself and see your situation from the outside. Note how you feel. Keep your poem to yourself or share it with someone you trust. Remember, poetry like everything, takes time and practise so please do not feel disheartened if you can’t produce a sonnet that Shakespeare would be proud of.
If you need a laugh, some solidarity or an ‘oh, me too’ moment, or you want to share your own poetic ramblings, then see what Postpartum Poetry can do for you. Served best with a glass of chilled bubbles… and I don’t mean lemonade.
Leander, A.K.A Leo’s Mum/Postpartum Poet
1 – https://poetrytherapy.org/ 18-10-2019