I was standing in front of Parliament House in Canberra in February of this year.
It was early in the morning and my teeth were chattering from the nerves and the cold. My alarm went off at 5am but I hadn’t slept. I’d breastfed and soothed a 12 month old through the night. I was due to be on live TV any moment. I was in Canberra after being selected as a Trailblazer as part of the ABC Heywire program. It was already an epic adventure - and to have this opportunity to talk about The Postnatal Project on primetime TV was massive.
I knew I’d struck a chord when some bigger names in media followed me on Instagram straight after the broadcast.
But there’s a question that they asked me at the end and my answer will kind of haunt me forever. I wish I’d said more - and done more justice for the category of parents that was discussed.
I’ve been interviewed on TV before - but never live. When you’re interviewed off-air, you can mix things up or ask to repeat your answer if needed. They cut, edit and make it look good and fit the bill. Live TV is a different ballgame.
After this experience, I spoke with a journalist friend who couldn’t believe that I wasn’t given any questions prior. She said that she’d never done a live broadcast without doing a fair bit of prep work prior. She wasn’t outraged but impressed.
This made me feel better.
But the question that they asked me was about how younger mums struggled with postnatal depression more than others. I made a brief comment about how it can be isolating when you’re young because you may be the first person within your circle of peers to have children, absolutely. But this isn’t necessarily the whole truth - merely a factor.
I didn’t even remember fully how I’d answered any of the questions until I watched it back. There is so much adrenaline that when we were done, I felt like ten seconds had passed when I’d actually been on air for 2 minutes or more. But I do remember the feeling that I'd had when I was asked: I was in a vulnerable position already but I felt small. Here I was, a young mum, what did I know?
When I had my first baby, I was 22.
I experienced trauma in birth and trauma in adjusting to motherhood. But the most traumatic thing of all, was being told that my age was a factor. As if this somehow created this experience because I didn’t understand what was happening around me.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve been made to defend the way I parent - and professionals are dismissive due to my age.
I’ve been asked: “well, what did you expect?! All mothers go through this. Motherhood is hard.”
I’ve been in situations where I’ve expressed my trauma and the extent of the postnatal depression that I was experiencing - and my age was, again, in question.
I’ve been told that I don’t understand breastfeeding or sleep or wellness because of my age.
I’ve been told that most mothers “my age” were bottle feeding and therefore, I shouldn’t worry about the unique and rare pain that nobody even bothered to investigate until I was pregnant with my second baby. (I had a very small tumour in my breast.) Like, what does that have to do with anything anyway?! If anything, it highlights the lack of support and education provided to mothers of my age-group.
I’ve had women twice my age with zero children tell me how to parent my child.
I’ve had professionals look down on me.
I’ve had it all.
To undermine a mother’s instincts based on their age does parents a huge disservice. Women are being told to blindly trust. Yet to disregard the most innate experience of their lives.
Motherhood can be brutal, heartwarming, heartbreaking, blissful, exhausting and uplifting. Your experience of this wide range in emotions and transitions is not different because of your age.
Matrescence does not begin at a certain age - it begins when you birth a baby.
And to dictate who can struggle more based on age, is ridiculous. It’s like telling a 35 year old mother that she should know better - despite never birthing, breastfeeding or parenting before. It’s like telling an 18 year old mother than she doesn’t know enough about the world yet to act on her hormones, instincts and love.
We are telling women that they don’t deserve to feel their emotions because they haven’t lived long enough yet. We are telling women not to trust themselves because of a number of their birth certificate.
There is literally no difference in the way that motherhood shocks your system and rocks your world. Age is not a factor.
So, in answer to your question ABC News Breakfast (sorry that it’s 8 months late):
Yes, younger parents do have unique struggles. This does put them at risk of developing postnatal depression. Many studies back this up. But so do many things and no one is immune. To place age on a pedestal in parenthood does nothing to empower women and their families. It does nothing to reduce the stigma surrounding following your instincts, loving your children fiercely and parenting as you so wish. It discriminates and places value and worth upon a mere number.
Let's ditch the term altogether.
I am not a “young mum”. I am a mother.