Having a baby is a joyous occasion but for many women, the joy can be interspersed by difficult feelings of confusion, loss, anxiety and depression. Most women experience elements of these emotions in the days following a birth (sometimes known as “the baby blues”) but for others, these emotions can continue and may begin to overshadow the joy of a new baby.
Feelings of loss can emerge for both parents as they struggle to acquaint themselves with this new addition to their family. Parents have to say goodbye to parts of their old life style; the freedom, their identity as individuals and their ability to set their own timetable. New mums can feel this particularly keenly as they struggle to welcome a new sense of self. Questions such as “Who am I now?” and “How do others see me?” can seem overwhelming.
Our own experiences of childhood can be brought to the fore once we have a child and this can be very confronting as we try to cope with a lack of sleep, little time to ourselves and an expectation that we’ll be able to “cope”. For many women, a new baby signals a need to explore old issues from the past.
The hormonal changes which take place during pregnancy and the birth can usher in anxiety and low mood. When coupled with sleep deprivation and irregular eating these emotions can really take hold. Many studies have concluded that poor sleep not only exacerbates existing anxiety but can trigger anxiety for the first time in many people. When we add our own expectations of motherhood and our perception of others’ expectations it’s not surprising that many new mums find themselves being crippled by anxiety.
Depression is another mental state commonly experienced by new mums (and dads). We try so very hard to measure up to society’s expectations of parenthood (often fuelled by the media) only to find that our own experience of looking after a young baby is very different to how we imagined it would be.
There are some great websites around for parents: Mumsnet, Netmums and Baby Centre. The internet can be a great place for mums to discover that it’s okay to feel the way they feel and, importantly, to find out that postnatal depression is very common and highly treatable.
Counselling is viewed as one of the best methods to treat postnatal depression. Having a safe space in which to explore difficult feelings is enormously helpful. Just being able to admit that you don’t feel as joyous as you think you should do is the first step to getting better. It can be immensely empowering to be able to rant and rage against the enormity of parenthood without judgement. Part of being psychologically strong is the ability to acknowledge the positives and negatives of a situation and to hold them equally with acceptance.
An excellent, empowering book on this subject is “What Mothers Do – Especially When It Looks Like Nothing” by Naomi Stadlen.
A refreshingly mindful perspective can be found in “Mindful Motherhood” by Cassandra Vieten.