Updated: Sep 4
Imagine someone saying to you when you have a newborn that you will not have time to text or email someone back all day, even if you wanted to or were determined too. This may be hard for you to consider or contemplate. You may question how that is possible.
For the most part, we have lived a life of freedom. Texting others when we feel like it, meeting people after work, going out shopping at a whim etc. We often live routine, organised lives where we are in control, or at least think we are.
All of this changes in a heartbeat. Once we become mothers, our sole focus at first is our babies. We can’t just nip to the post office, or meet a friend for a coffee at a moment’s notice… This focus is a natural response, but also needed, as babies cannot survive without us. What we may not take into consideration though is how this huge shift may impact.
Some of us may be able to handle this change with ease, whereas others may struggle. Some of us may become depressed.
Nothing can really prepare us for having a newborn, yet our expectations and our narrative around having a baby can hinder our ability to cope.
Many times I have heard new mothers say “this experience is so far away from what I expected”. Often these same mothers have high expectations or idealistic views of how it will be. Possibly because they want it to be that way as they need it to be that way. There is a lot riding on this, and having this baby has to make us happy. Perhaps they can’t face it being hard. It will be too much. They won’t be able to cope.
As humans, it is impossible to not have expectations. This is what we do. However, something we could get better at is reflecting more on these expectations. Why these ones and not others? How realistic are these expectations? If unrealistic, why do we have them? What are we trying to say about ourselves with these expectations? Digging a bit deeper can help us to understand ourselves more and prepare us more for the huge transition we are about to encounter.
The pressure on new mothers is immense. Just look at the following statements:
I need to be a perfect mother.
I need to get everything right.
I need to do it all myself – I am the baby’s mother after all.
I need to be able to read the baby’s cues all the time.
These all or nothing statements which are after all expectations can play havoc on our wellbeing. We suddenly become critical of ourselves – I am useless, I can’t do this, I am such a failure. These critical thoughts can then lead to feeling depressed about ourselves. Being able to reflect more on these statements though can help us to see that failure is inevitable. We can’t live up to these expectations and nor should we.
Donald Winnicott, an eminent psychoanalyst and paediatrician, stressed that the mistakes and ruptures that happen when we interact with our babies are part of the process. It’s how you mend them that is important. In other words, we need to make mistakes to help our relationship with our baby.
What is Postnatal Depression
Perhaps we should be looking at all of this from a different perspective.
Paula Nicolson argues that postnatal depression should not be defined as such, and that it should be assumed or expected that new mothers who go from independent, working, freedom loving women to the opposite, will at times struggle. This should not be a surprise, it should be a given.
If we are able to think more along these lines, maybe it will be easier for us to accept when we make mistakes or feel we can’t cope at times.
Too often new mothers suffer in silence, wondering why they are not functioning or managing, when they feel they should be.
I wonder if we can be kinder to ourselves, acknowledge this is difficult and breath a sigh of relief that we are getting through this.
If not, therapy may be able to help you get to this point.
Dr Helena Belgrave – Psychologist specialising in perinatal issues
Paula Nicolson (1998) ‘Post-Natal Depression’
Jan Abram (2007) ‘The Language of Winnicott’