It seems that no matter how much a woman reads about birth or parenting, or how much time she has spent with children, very little can actually prepare her for becoming a mother.
It is not at all unusual for women to have thoughts of “What have I done? Where has my life gone? Why do I feel like a different person?” in the days and weeks following the arrival of their baby - in fact, I would hazard a guess that most new mothers have some similar feelings at some point in the early days. It is very possible to feel like this even whilst feeling huge and overwhelming love for the new baby at the same time! It is estimated that around 80% of new mothers experience the ‘baby blues’ and this is linked to the drop of progesterone as the placenta is born as well as the major adjustments that many women felt unprepared for.
What I find interesting, however is that studies show that depression also affects parents that adopt a child. In one study, the majority of the adoptive parents who self-reported having experienced depression after a child was placed in their home, would often describe “unmet or unrealistic expectations of themselves, the child, family and friends, or society.” It seems that it’s not only hormones from giving birth that can play a part in developing depression, but the complete identity crisis that happens when you become a mother plays a huge part.
Being a mother is the most challenging, guilt-inducing, intense job that most women will ever have. I have written before about how overwhelming it can feel to have to look after a new baby 24/7, not knowing if you are doing a good job or not. I think on some level all women understand that things will be different once they have a baby, but I’m sure that no one truly realises the profound change that they will go through once their baby is in their arms. The weight of responsibility that comes with having a small child utterly depend on you, the sudden awareness of the most minute risks and hazards which could pose a threat to your precious baby, the amount of yourself you have to give. Perhaps some friends with children do try to explain what their own experience was like, but this often falls on deaf ears to pregnant women. The focus is on preparing for the birth of the baby and thoughts of the postnatal period extends to how the baby is going to get fed as well as what items are needed for the nursery.
Many of us have this romanticised picture of strolls with the baby in the pram, meeting with friends for coffee and play-dates in the park. The expectations of what constitutes ‘normal’ newborn behaviour are often quite unrealistic and new parents are dreaming of the imaginary goal-post when the baby will “sleep through the night”. Does anyone actually sleep through the night? The fact is that all of us will wake several times each night to turn over in bed, perhaps go to the loo or drink some water. Newborn babies need to wake up to eat regularly and it is very important that they don’t sleep through the night.
It is common for women to feel as though their partner doesn’t understand what an enormous impact having a baby has had on them, a feeling which can be quite lonely. As women, we often expect our partners to see and work out for themselves that we’re unhappy about something. We might slam the kitchen cupboards a bit and roll our eyes, but most men aren’t able to read these signs very well. Sometimes, new mums can be quite particular about how their baby should be looked after and everything has to be done a certain way. When the partner tries to help, doing it in a different way, women can get quite irritated with them and take over, showing how it should be done. After a while, the partner will simply let the mum get on with it, as she seems to know how it should be done and seems so confident and qualified.
In both cases, communication is vital! When you’re a new mum, tell your partner how you are feeling, using ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I feel quite lonely being at home all day and really want to chat with you when you come home from work.’ Rather than scolding and accusing your partner of not understanding or not seeing how difficult it is for you. It can be tough on dads too! Not knowing how to best support their wife and feeling like whatever they do, it’s the wrong thing!
Becoming a mother actually happens as soon as the woman becomes pregnant, while for dads, being a dad develops with practise and experience. A mother’s impulse to love and protect her child appears to be hard-wired into her brain. Recently, neurologists have discovered that, even before giving birth, pregnancy changes the structure of a woman’s brain. Activity increases in the regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction. These changes, brought on by a flood of hormones, help the mother bond with her baby. In other words, the feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in her brain, and are perfectly normal and healthy. The same process does not take place in the father’s brain. It is like women have an extra room in their brain that opens up when they get pregnant, a kind of blueprint for motherhood.
Being a mother is a job for life, and the journey a woman takes with her growing child(ren) can be one of the greatest and most fulfilling work she will ever undertake. It is the best and biggest experience, as well as probably the most challenging! We have so much to learn from our children. They show us all the things that trigger us as adults, they certainly know how to push our buttons, but there is nothing like a mother’s love for her child(ren)! When my children tell me that they love me, my reply is always the same, “I love you more!”
Happy Mother’s day!
To celebrate and normalise motherhood in all it’s guises - the good days, the bad ones, the days where you wonder what your life has become as you scrub crusted on Weetabix from your baby’s highchair for the fourth day in a row - I’d like to invite you to share your daily experiences of motherhood using the hashtag #sharingmotherhood. I’ll be tweeting @doula_kicki and posting photos on Instagram, and I’ll also be sharing and re-tweeting some of your experiences. Let’s come together to show that motherhood is messy, beautiful, difficult, wonderful, and life-changing
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.