"Image: Cosmaa/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/Sheknows."
The coming of a new baby - especially the first one - is bound to be a trying time for parents as they struggle with the life-turning event of welcoming a new little person into the world. A new person who depends completely on them to survive and thrive and one who has opened their heart beyond anything they could have imagined. These powerful new feelings (both good and bad) combined with the probability of less sleep, uncertainties of a completely new situation and the pressure to do good by the child can wear down on parents.
It’s safe to say that, although a very happy occasion, the coming of a new child can be difficult for parents. For mothers, it can be even worse, as they try to recover from pregnancy and the strain of childbirth, not to mention changing hormonal levels and exhaustion of the postpartum period, on top of juggling the requirements of their new life with the responsibilities of the previous one.
As we can see, the postpartum period can be a difficult time for mothers both physically and emotionally, and it can prove detrimental for the mother’s mental health and overall happiness. As mentioned earlier, the mother’s body has changed, and will continue to change and readjust. Add on the lack of sleep, the challenges of adapting to new life patterns, feeling the weight of pressure from society’s expectations… all these can wear a mother down and result in feelings of uselessness, guilt and failure.
When a woman gets pregnant, it can feel like her body is no longer her own. A pregnant woman often receives unsolicited advice on what she should eat and how she should exercise, be it from family members and friends, or even strangers on the street. Some may not even hesitate to physically touch or rub her belly. Suddenly, everyone seems to know best what’s good for mom and baby, and this can be a big source of stress.
Mom’s guilt is a phenomenon that refers to the feelings of anxiousness, guilt, doubt and uncertainty that women experience when faced with the immense expectations of entering into motherhood. If these feelings persist after a certain period and/or become impairing to the mom, it can result in a serious mental condition.
The list of expectations can seem endless: they should breastfeed, because it’s good for the baby. Are they spending enough time with the baby? But they are still working, right? Are they able to juggle their work and personal life? Did they physically recover soon enough from pregnancy and delivery? Are their bodies back to normal? Are they going to leave their child with a nanny? Are they really going to quit their job to take care of their child?
It’s easy to see how the first few months-or even years-may be a very stressful time for mothers. Besides taking care of their newborn baby, which is in itself an enormous role, some mothers also have to juggle household responsibilities and jobs. All the while, they are expected to be “superheroes” who never complain or feel bad.
Faced with such pressures, mothers may feel like they have ‘lost’ themselves, that they have forgotten who they were before they had the child. Where are their hopes and dreams, their passions and hobbies?
Here are some tips for mothers on how to overcome these feelings of mom’s guilt and try to make the best of the new experience.
Tips on how to overcome mom’s guilt :
● Remember that nobody is able to do everything on their own and don’t feel guilty for needing help or asking for it. You are not failing if you need help with certain chores or just want a break sometimes. As the saying goes: it takes a village to raise a child.
● You are not alone, even if you may feel like it sometimes . Seek out those in your life who truly care and are there to help: your partner, your family, close friends…
● Things are going to change, and that’s okay. As best as you can, try to make time for the things that you had in your earlier life (whether that be meeting with friends, dedicating time to your work, or your hobbies and passions), but remember that some things may have to be sacrificed or become a lesser priority in the new lifescheme . You have the power to decide what you want out of life and how you plan to do it.
● Trust your instincts, because you know yourself best. The usual rule of thumb is that a happy, healthy mother means a happy, healthy child. If something doesn’t feel right by you -even if it’s the trend or what everyone is saying you should do-it’s probably not going to be good for your child. Nobody knows you better than you do, so “you do you”!
● Be selective about the kind of advice that you will listen to. Not everyone who has an opinion regarding your child’s upbringing or your life choices will be right. Consider the source: is it coming from someone who knows you well, like your partner, mother or a trusted family member, or a random acquaintance who simply feels entitled to contribute their two cents? Your body and your life are not public property just because you became a mum.
● Nobody is perfect and you don’t need to be either. You will fail, you will make bad decisions and you will regret things. Just don’t let those experiences bring you down. Accept them, try to learn from them and move on. Nobody is born knowing everything, and you will learn along the way.
● Refrain from comparing yourself to others. Every life is different, every circumstance and every child is a completely different universe. What works for one may not work for the others.
● Set aside time and space for yourself. Now you are a mother, but you are still you: a human being, a woman, a daughter, a partner and a friend. Take some time to explore your interests and maintain your independence. This may mean different things to different people: maybe it’s taking a relaxing bath once a week, maybe it’s having a night out with your best friends every few weeks, maybe it’s just taking the time to read a book that you enjoy every once in a while.
● Share your burdens with other mothers, be it friends, sisters or your own mom. Chances are that they have gone through something similar before- in fact, the things that you are feeling are probably more universal than you think. If it’s available, you even try joining offline or online support groups for moms or something similar- Facebook ‘mum’ communities are a good place to start.
● Take some time to breathe and remember to enjoy the journey. As crazy and hectic as the few first months or years with your baby will be, they tend to go by very fast and they never come back… so try to live in the moment and enjoy it as much as possible. One day, you will look back and wonder where all the time went.
The take home message is this: it is common and normal for women to experience uncertainties and extreme feelings, both good and bad, following childbirth. With that being said, if feelings of sadness and/or guilt persist, to the point of losing interest in the things that used to bring you pleasure , it may be time to seek help, whether that be from a friend, family member or a certified mental health practitioner.
Bringing a child into the world is a beautiful and unique experience that will change your life, one way or another. As we have said, nobody is born knowing everything, so do try to stay calm and enjoy the process exploring a new life with your baby, like the amazing adventure it is.