Birth can be awesome – it can leave us feeling strong, with super-woman like powers or it can also leave us with conflicting emotions, we can feel battered, bruised and in shock.
For some women birth and becoming a mum brings only positives, for others there are a range of mental health issues to deal with. There may be pre-existing mental health issues or there could be anxiety, panic, depression, stress or rage caused by shifting hormones, change, lack of control, lack of sleep, lack of support, isolation and loneliness. This mum thing really isn’t easy but so many of us put on a mask and tell everyone we are ok.
Some of this is to do with our expectations about birth – reality can come as a shock, especially when we have our first baby and nothing to compare it to. And then there are the expectations about life with a baby. There can be and is so much joy and love with our babies but the day to day reality can be tough – the responsibility, meeting their needs, the maternity leave bubble, the lack of routine, the pressure to get it right, the guilt that we are not getting it right.
Maternity leave is so different for women – some thrive within it, others really struggle at times within it. I can see women who look lost and lonely – life is very different for them and they might miss work, or the routine of work and they might miss adult conversation. It’s what drives me in my practice, to provide small groups and a welcoming space to chat with other mums, to ask questions and to seek reassurance when it is needed. In all of my postnatal groups – Mother Cuppa, Baby Massage, Weaning & Baby Sleep – we talk about babies and being a mum but we also talk about relationships, support, work, what’s good on Netflix – it really makes a difference.
In addition to therapy, The Royal College of Psychiatrists makes these suggestions to keep you well…
- making friends with other mums
- talking about how you are feeling in a safe place with people you trust
- see your GP /health visitor if you are concerned about being depressed
- do something for you
- don’t try to be superwoman
- accept offers of help
- go to antenatal classes
I still remember very clearly the early overwhelming days with my baby – I thought I was doing everything wrong, there was no support and I feel very alone. I loved this tiny new creature but I felt like I was failing her – she could only sleep on or near me, she wanted to feed all the time, feeding hurt, there was absolutely no routine, I was overwhelmed by the responsibility to keep her alive and I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I had had a straightforward ‘easy’ homebirth – on paper it looked perfect – but I was still left shaken by the intensity of the pain and by the length of labour that I simply wasn’t prepared for.
I feel really strongly that we should be talking more about how hard and knackering it can be after birth, when we are recovering and healing, when we are looking after a new baby. And that mums don’t have to enjoy every minute of it – it doesn’t mean they don’t love their baby if they are having a tough day, if they are frustrated at the lack of sleep, if they feel like the responsibility is mainly on them. It’s about more support and understanding and it’s about more honesty and reaching out for the bad days.