Sarah-Jane Crawford is a radio and TV presenter and DJ. We chatted with her about her postpartum journey with first baby Summer.
My postpartum journey was incredible, euphoric, devastating, heartbreaking, unimaginable, tiring, beyond scary, joyful, painful, anxiety-inducing...and the steepest of learning curves.
I also think it was the birthing of a new me. I think you’re just this new person, you don’t go back to the old you. I think the postpartum period is one that never ends. Yes, there’s an initial 6 to 12 months that’s accepted as the postpartum period, but I think that once you become a mother, things are never the same. You’re forever changed.
It’s so unexpected
The most unexpected part for me, was just how difficult it would be, the fatigue is on another level. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I just had no clue. I’d spent so much time with my partner during lockdown that as soon as he went back to work I didn’t know how I would cope and I didn’t understand how intense it can be when you spend an entire day and don’t even get to put the baby down because she’s crying, and you have to take the baby with you to go for a wee – or you literally don’t get to wee – or you can’t get a glass of water or find the time to eat, but you still have to muster the energy to breastfeed.
I think the extreme tiredness of postpartum is linked to your emotional state. You can feel like the world is ending and you want to die just because you’ve not had enough sleep for a week. Then, the next week you’ll feel super optimistic because you had one good night’s sleep. The first time I got a good night’s sleep I remember waking up like ‘I feel incredible, I could take on the world’.
The postpartum period was the first time in my life I’d ever been home all day, not working, I’d always put my career first and I’d thought, ‘how hard can it be to stay at home every day, just me, the dog and the baby?’ I was so wrong.
I remember putting in emergency calls to my partner about 4 o’clock each day asking ‘how long until you get home, please help me’, and I’d be counting the minutes until he’d arrive so I could go to the bathroom, or shower, or just lay on the bed and look at my phone for a minute.
One day, my wonderful neighbour came over to walk the dog and I was still in my PJs, and so thankful, then I looked in the mirror and saw these two damp patches where my milk had been leaking, I don’t even know if I was wearing a bra, and I didn’t even feel human, even though it’s a normal thing. I just felt like an animal in captivity falling apart at the seams. Another time a delivery man arrived and asked me when the baby was due, and I told him I’d just had her. He’d obviously seen my pregnant-looking postpartum belly, but I didn’t even care. It was just another example of the slightly mortifying things that happen postpartum that I’d never experienced before.
Fear, anxiety and postpartum OCD
When my partner went back to work a few days after I came home from hospital, I became extremely fearful, almost scared of my own shadow. When I’d try to push my baby in the pram it was extremely scary, I kept thinking cars would drive off the road onto the pavement and mow us down. When I walked with her in the carrier, I’d worry I’d fall over and crush her. Walking the baby in the pram and the dog at the same time seemed virtually impossible.
I’d never worried about cars driving off the road before, but now I had this new precious tiny ball of life with a beating heart who was on the outside of my stomach, and my fear just reached fever pitch. I was diagnosed with perinatal and postnatal OCD, which means doesn’t mean you’re super neat and tidy – I'm not – it means sometimes you have intrusive thoughts, like ‘unless I do this a certain way something bad might happen to my baby’, and it’s actually a relatively common type of anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum. Fortunately, my therapist really helped me through it, and I no longer experienced it like I did in the first months postpartum.
It’s also miraculous
There were so many positive experiences too. I felt overwhelmed by euphoria and joy and just felt like Summer was and still is, the gift that keeps on giving. Every single day you have this new present to wake up to, this evolving gift, this ever-changing life you’ve created from scratch.
I’ve spent my whole career doing things I thought were different and special in the entertainment industry, then I became a mum, which is a lot more normal and common than what I’ve done in my career, yet it’s the most miraculous thing I’ve ever done.
I was so set on becoming a parent that when it happened it satisfied a real hunger, it was like crawling around in the desert hoping to find water and then suddenly you’re in this incredible oasis where you feel ‘wow, I’ve made it to the promised land’.
Overall, I just think it’s important to remember that the beginning phase is really hard, but it won’t last forever, so if you’re in a relationship, just try to stick together and get through it, tension is normal, but the more united you can be, the better. And if you’re on your own, setting up a support network is vital.
Advice for new parents
On the one hand, I’d say to people that the more help you can get the better, but on the other, I know often as a new mum even if you do have support there’s a side of you what still wants to oversee what’s going on.
That’s the thing, you can have all the help in the world, which is of course much better than not having help, but there will still be part of you that’s thinking ‘is my baby alive?’ and checking their breathing during the night. And for me this lasted until my baby was old enough to roll over and sleep on their front and it doesn’t matter, that stage when you finally get used to them going to bed and waking up the next morning.
The first time I went to record a TV show when Summer was 8-months-old was the first time I’d spent a night apart from her and I had this feeling I was neglecting her which wasn’t true, but that mum guilt, it’s exhausting.
Postpartum in the media
I do think there’s still a perception through the media that you have a baby, the bump disappears, you go back to being a bit skinny, you maybe complain about lack of sleep, you pose with the baby, push your eye-candy pram around, but I do think that’s changing as more influencers, celebrities and people are being more honest about they feel.
We need to be confident and show more solidarity to other women about our mental health. If we’re feeling depressed, we need to be able to share that without judgement. You can be so in love with a new baby and so happy that you’ve created a family whether it’s your first one, second one, or third, but still feel so down, and I think that’s a really important dynamic to share - that you can feel both at once.
I wanted to be part of Modibodi’s Embodied: Postpartum Unfiltered campaign as an opportunity to share real images of myself that, at one point in my life, I wouldn’t have dreamed of sharing socially, or publicly because the more unfiltered, and raw and real we are, the more we connect with others and give them confidence to do the same.
It’s important for women to see other women looking tired, with bags under their eyes, lines, wrinkles, stretch marks, scars, wounds, you know. Because for so long we've been bombarded with these images of perfection. But it’s not just images, we need to stop filtering our testimonials too and start telling the truth...about fertility, postpartum and motherhood.