Motherhood comes with a lot of expectations. The image that so many women have is of a content and happy mum cradling a sleeping baby. When somebody hears that you are pregnant they congratulate you and tell you how wonderful it is. Every baby product is sold with an image of a mum gazing adoringly at her baby, the love between them so apparent.
We hear talk of falling in love at first sight with your baby and being overwhelmed with emotion, of forgetting all about the birth when you look in your baby’s eyes.
We know that there will be sleepless nights, we know that it will be hard to have ‘me time’. We are assured that all the love we feel will mean that we get through that and that it is all worth it.
So when your baby arrives what happens if this is not your experience? What happens if you’re totally overwhelmed with the monumental change to your own life and your identity? What if you’re feeling exhausted, anxious, fearful and worried you can’t adjust to this new life with a baby? What if you can’t connect with those feelings of love for your child? What if it all just feels so difficult and impossible?
We feel guilty, ashamed and alone.
We believe that the thoughts we’re having mean that we’re a bad mum. We believe that we must be the only person who thinks like this which then increases the feelings of shame. We may cut ourselves off from other people because we’re too afraid to talk about ‘the bad stuff’.
We need to talk more openly about the challenges of parenthood, we need to make mothers feel safe to talk about the difficult, unwanted thoughts. We need to create a space where we can be honest and realise that having thoughts and feelings of regret, wishing that we could have our own life back, resenting our partners, longing for days from the past are all valid. None of these mean that you don’t love your baby it just means motherhood is hard.
So what can we do?
Find someone you can talk with honestly about how you’re feeling. If there is nobody in your life you can open up to then there are organisations that can help and are there to listen.
We hurt where we care –
Recognise that these thoughts and feelings are so intense because you care so much about being a mother and getting it right. The sense of responsibility (and often wanting to run away from that responsibility) comes from wanting to be the best you can be for your baby.
Acknowledge that this is really difficult, life changes so much when you have a baby. Notice what your self-talk is like, no doubt it’s critical. Consider what you would say to a friend in the same position and how you would treat them? Notice any harsh rules you are setting yourself. Approach each challenge with gentleness towards yourself.
Unhook from your thoughts –
Our thoughts are always present, our mind broadcasts thoughts continually. However, we don’t have to give our thoughts the importance and level of attention that we often give them.
Start to notice your thoughts, let them come and go. Acknowledge what thoughts are there then shift your focus to what you’re doing right now. Bring your focus to that instead. Notice what it’s like not to give your thoughts so much attention.
Share the difficulties –
When we have only heard the positives about motherhood we have not been prepared properly. It’s hard to put motherhood in to words, it’s hard to describe what it’s actually like. Nobody wants to be the person to tell a mother to be that it’s going to be difficult. However more of these conversations would create a culture of honesty and more acceptance of the difficult experiences when they do arrive.
Talking about some of the things you’ve found difficult as a mother (without being scary) may result in the lessening of feelings of guilt and shame for all mothers. Becoming a mother is challenging and overwhelming and it's OK to talk about the difficult parts of motherhood.
About the author
Kathryn Di Virgilio is an occupational therapist who specialises in perinatal mental health. She supports new parents and those planning to have children to overcome the difficult thoughts and feelings in relation to parenthood. Kathryn is dedicated to helping her clients become the parent they want to be and build confidence in their own decisions.