Expectations when you’re expecting
When you imagined becoming a parent you expected to feel joyful and contented. Everyone does. After all, every advert or social media post has an image of a happy mother looking lovingly at their contented baby. This expectation is also perpetuated by the silence about how motherhood really feels. Other new parents don’t talk honestly about feeling unhappy because it’s still taboo.
So your left imagining you’re the only one not enjoying every second of looking after your baby. You are not. And (spoiler) it’s not because you’re not ‘doing it right’ or ‘trying hard enough’.
After reading this article you should have an understanding of possible reasons why you’re finding this period difficult. Along with strategies for each which you might find helpful.
I’m overwhelmed by the demands of my baby
Small babies don’t have small needs. Small babies have HUGE needs. Meeting these needs might have looked ‘easy’ before – feeding, changing and helping them sleep. But now you realise there is also masses of unseen ‘work’. Not only practical things like laundry, cleaning and life admin, but emotionally demanding work. Like trying to work out what your baby wants. Soothing them when they cry. Constantly worrying about them. It’s easy to feel trapped in this new role.
Plus what about your needs? Don’t you also need to eat, wash and rest (as a bare minimum)? In early parenthood there are so many infringements on you. You never go to the toilet alone. Certainly never get uninterrupted sleep. And only eat whilst also feeding your baby. (I’ll never forget dropping curry on my daughters head…but that’s a story for another time.)
Ambivalence in early parenthood is unavoidable because you are always juggling between giving to your baby and taking to meet your own needs.
- Accept offers of help. Every…single….one.
- Lower your standards. Does it matter if the house is a mess?
- Prioritise your own needs where possible. Especially regular meals, drinks, rest, exercise.
I’m bored and lonely on maternity leave
If we’re being honest, much of early parenthood is tedious. It’s the same actions on a repeat cycle. In your life ‘before’ you might have enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of work. Whereas parenthood, by comparison, can feel like being in an intellectual vacuum. (I know paid work can also be boring, but its typically offset by a sense of belonging and contributing to something useful, along with a salary of course!).
We also weren’t designed to make this journey through parenthood as we do now, alone in small family units. Anthropologically speaking we function better in villages and tribes, supported by other mothers.
- Connect with other people as much as you can – individuals, groups, networks, social media. Create a village around yourself.
- Try to do something out of the house everyday. Make a weekly plan and stick to it.
I’ve no idea who I am anymore now
There’s a saying, ‘when a baby is born so a mother is also born’. You obviously existed as a person before, but you did not exist in this relationship, as a mother to another dependent person. There are seismic physical, psychological, and emotional changes you go through. This is ’matrescence’. Or ‘patrescence’ for fathers, who also change. With all these changes in this perinatal period no wonder parents feel upside down and inside out for a while. It can feel impossible to remember what you enjoyed ‘before’.
- Stay connected to your values. Think about the things you used to enjoy and what it was about them. For example, holidays = ‘adventure’. Is there a way you can connect with being adventurous now?
- Have regular space away from your baby to do something that is just yours.
My relationship has changed since we became parents
Even the strongest couple relationship is affected by parenthood. The first year is typically the most challenging. Levels of conflict increase for lots of reasons… there is less time to consider each others needs whilst also focussing on the needs of your baby. You discover you each have different approaches to parenting and have to make adjustments. You’re both exhausted (goes without saying) and irritable. Also the frequency of sex, and intimacy in general, takes a nosedive for a while after having a baby.
A big contributor here can be an unequal identity shift within the parenting couple. One person takes parental leave and then feels like the ‘default parent’. In current society this is typically the mother. Whereas their partner feels financially responsible and worries they are missing out.
- Talk to understand each others perspectives, about changes to your role AND relationship.
- Often it’s the gift of time each person in a couple values most. Agree you each have a set amount of time to yourselves, each weekend for example.
I had a traumatic journey to parenthood
We know that levels of postnatal distress increase if you have had traumatic experiences on your journey to early parenthood. This might include fertility treatment, hyperemesis, baby loss, birth trauma or breastfeeding trauma.
Until now you might not have thought of this as traumatic. Believing this is a term reserved for life threatening events, which is not so. Trauma is always ‘in the eye of the beholder’. Your feelings are valid and your experience matters.
- Talk to a professional you trust about the experiences you found distressing. Perhaps your GP or Health Visitor?
- Ask for a referral for psychological therapy. (Available in the NHS and independently). With the right kind of support it is possible to process what you have been through and move forward again.
If low mood is affecting your day-to-day functioning you could be experiencing post-natal depression. You might want to read more about this in another of my articles here.
You are not alone. I’m here to help you make sense of your own unique situation. Contact me for more information about how I can support you on your parenthood journey.
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Dr Miriam Inder ~ Helping you have Better Beginnings
I am a highly experienced Clinical Perinatal Psychologist specialising in helping people in the perinatal period. Supporting women who are hoping to be mothers, preparing to be mothers or are mothers already.
I started Better Beginnings after experiencing challenges on my own journey to motherhood. It made me reflect on how hard this period can be. Fortunately, I had a group of friends who were there to support me. But if I felt like this, with my psychologist training, how were other parents coping?
I became passionate about using my expertise as a Perinatal Clinical Psychologist to make a positive difference to other mother’s early parenthood experiences.