OF A MOTHER
Emotional changes after having
The birth of a
first child will probably be the biggest change you will undergo in your life.
It involves more changes than emigrating to another country
everything changes your body, your mind, your relationships, your career,
your financial status, your responsibilities.
It can be quite overwhelming initially to know that you are responsible
for a helpless little baby 24 hours a day.
At the beginning, nothing is automatic one has to think about each
moment the feeding, sleeping, burping, changing.
If you are feeling exhausted and confused it's no wonder.
All these changes would be stressful even if you were getting 8 hours
sleep a night and that is most unlikely at this stage!
It is important to remember that The Birth of a Mother may not
happen at the same time as the birth of the baby!
That may sound strange, but many first-time mothers do not feel like mothers immediately.
All they know is that they feel very different almost like a new
person, and that is true. This is a
new you, and it may take time to adjust to your new life.
Coping with all the
The first two
months are nearly always the most difficult things do get easier and more
familiar as you get to know the baby and the baby gets to know you.
It is easier to deal with all the hard work that is involved once they
start smiling and responding at about 2 months, and once one is getting more
sleep. One way of getting through
this very early time is seeing it as a very demanding project one puts one's
head down and gets through it. Knowing
that the intensity will not continue for ever and that it's worth making the
effort to give one's child a good beginning.
The baby cannot say thank you for all you do for it but your reward
will be to see it develop and grow. There
is nothing more important in life than enabling children to grow up healthy,
happy and secure. It's much more
important in the long-term than career promotions and even financial security.
Exploding the Myths
In 1998 a
research project was undertaken in England to identify women's expectations of
birth and the period following. They
discovered that there were five myths that were commonly held:
1. That bonding is automatic
Most mothers before birth felt that they would feel a surge of maternal
feeling the moment they saw their babies. This
is the exception rather than the rule. Most
women get to know their babies and to fall in love with them, as they care for
them and as each gets to know the other. Many
mothers feel awkward in the first weeks caring for their babies.
Some mothers enjoy the new baby stage and other mothers enjoy the later
stages more. Each of us has a
different personality and preference.
2. That they would feel happy
all the time
The birth of a baby is very stressful for the mother and there are many
times when she feels exhausted, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated with the baby
when he or she will not feed or sleep - especially in the middle of the night!
3. That breast feeding would be
natural and easy
Once the baby is born there are some mothers who feel that they do not
want to breast-feed. Some babies
are very easy to feed but very often in the beginning there are various
hiccups until a routine gets established eg. sore breasts, a lazy feeder,
etc. These are temporary problems that can be solved with
appropriate guidance from a breast-feeding counsellor.
What is surprising is how emotional one feels about everything to do with
the baby, including feeding, especially when there are important decisions to be
taken, e.g. whether or not one should continue breast-feeding.
There are times at this stage when one's peace of mind seems to revolve
around how many grams one's baby has gained or whether one has managed
successfully to burp the baby.
4. That one would be able to
manage the baby on one's own a one woman show
This is not possible or wise. For
the first two months one really just needs to concentrate on getting to know the
baby, establishing its feeding and sleeping routine, and getting rest for
oneself. Ideally, one's partner, mother, domestic or whoever else,
should be doing cleaning, shopping, cooking, visitors, repairs, washing.
Its best to get help with housework and not the baby.
Whatever one's financial situation, it is enormously helpful to get the
help you need over this initial period. For
the last few months of pregnancy and the first few months after birth one
usually feels vulnerable, dispersed and not at all able to deal with tasks that
require concentration and assertiveness. It
is probably part of the process of getting in tune with the baby's needs. At this time one needs practical and emotional support from
one's partner, mother, etc.
5. That after six weeks your
sex life will return to normal
mothers take much longer than six weeks before they feel ready to return to a
normal sexual relationship. Apart
from feeling exhausted, the babys demands may take all your energy, and your
partner needs to understand that your possible lack of libido does not mean that
you no longer love him. You and he
may need to explore other ways of showing your tenderness and love for each
other. (This was not reported in
the research mentioned above, but it is such an important issue that it must be
Taking Care of Yourself
In order to do
this very important job you need to have regular and dependable breaks from
the baby to sleep, to have time to yourself, to visit a friend, to go to
gym, to go for a walk, to do whatever is nurturing to you. In order to nurture the baby, you need to see that you are
nurtured and happy.
Caring for a
baby is incredibly physically and emotionally demanding. It also takes time to get used to yourself as a mother and to
combine that with the non-mother side of yourself, the lover, the friend, the
person in the workplace, whatever. In
the early months you will be mostly conscious of the mother side of yourself
but you need to keep a balance and remember the other sides of yourself.
Developing your Relationship
with your Child
Even if you
feel incompetent sometimes during these early months there is no one that
your baby needs more than you. He
or she has been inside you for the past nine months and the two of you have been
exchanging thousands of non-verbal messages so on one level no-one knows
better what one's baby needs than you. Sometimes
it takes a while to trust this intuitive knowledge, but don't underestimate it.
Babies need to
sense from you that they are doing OK, even when they cry and wake at
inconvenient times. They need you
to look into their eyes and say "Hello I see your unique little spirit
there and we're going to do fine together." Everyone needs to be affirmed in this way, by his or her
parents, even from early on. When
they are tiny, babies really respond if you copy what they do, so that they know
that you have noticed them and their actions.
Sometimes they don't need to feed or sleep but just need to be
cuddled and smell and feel your skin. Each
mother-child relationship is unique and you need to discover what feels right
Taking Care of your
Relationship with your Partner
You need to
have time alone with your partner (without the baby) on a regular basis so that
you can keep in touch with each other. Breakfast
or a walk at the weekend is good, as it is hopefully at a time when you are not
too tired. Both of your lives have
changed drastically, but in different ways.
You have the intense responsibility and connection to the baby night and
day. Your husband's work-world has
stayed the same, but his emotional life has changed completely.
He was probably made a fuss of by you and cared for night and day. Now you are totally focussed on the baby and he has to learn
to get used to that its necessary for the baby's survival but not easy
to be on the outside. It is not
easy for you if he does not understand about the baby absorbing all your time
and energy 24 hours a day. You need
to be cared for, encouraged and supported by him rather than the other way
round a complete reversal of roles. All
these changes need working through. You
are now a family and that is a wonder and a miracle that is difficult to
describe, but wonderful to share.
Am I suffering from Post-Natal
Having a baby
is exhausting and disorientating, but you may have PND if you feel that things
are getting worse rather than better, or if you are feeling very anxious,
panicky, irritable, angry, withdrawn, forgetful, tearful, if you are feeling
that the baby would do better without you.
Get help immediately by phoning PNDSA.
They will be able to help you.
Having a baby
is a basic human experience, and as such is shared across cultures and
centuries. It makes one feel a part
of the world in a way that nothing else does.
Each mother and baby is unique and each one of us needs to find her own
style of mothering. You will discover what special gifts you and your partner
have to give to your baby. Each
stage has its own blessings and pressures but a baby can help us to love
unconditionally and spontaneously, if we just follows the cues.
It is a huge growth experience that changes your life and your values
It makes it
easier to go through this period if one has the support of other mothers.
If there is a mothers group in your area, try to join it.
Explore with your partner ways of getting more help for yourself.
© Hilary Rosenthal
INFLUENCES ON THE WOMAN AT THE TIME OF GIVING BIRTH
© LIZ MILLS