MOST OF US EXPECT BECOMING A MOM IS NATURAL AND EFFORTLESS. BUT NATURAL THINGS CAN BE HARD, SOMETIMES EXCEPTIONALLY SO.
Dear moms and moms-to-be, it’s time for some real talk. Motherhood is not always pleasant. There are days when you adore your baby, and there are days when you feel lonely and trapped. Very few moms are prepared for this reality.
“Society and the media have created this image of motherhood as being natural and seamless. It is the pleasure, connection and beauty of motherhood that is highlighted,” says Nicole Canin, President of the Gauteng Association for Infant Mental Health (GAIMH-SA). “These aspects are all true, but they don’t convey the full picture.”
She goes on to say that feelings of ambivalence are normal; you are not going to always adore your baby. And not knowing what to do can be hard. “Historically, motherhood was a mentorship. This no longer exists.” There are many ‘lowlights’ to new motherhood, but the good news is that we all experience some of them at some point. You are not alone when you do, and it doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ mother if you do. It makes you a normal one!
Here are some of the reasons it can be hard, as well as some tips to hopefully help.
MIRACLES ARE WORK
Childbirth – whether natural or by caesarean – takes a toll on your body. Even ‘easy’ ones. Ruwaida Moola, a Registered Nurse and Advanced Midwife, says it takes about six weeks to recover if you had no major complications. Recovery involves dealing with stitches, postnatal bleeding and painful contractions as your uterus returns to its pre-pregnancy size. On top of this, your milk ‘comes in’. Breast-feeding doesn’t always come easily, and possible complications like engorgement and cracked and bleeding nipples can make it harder.
Your hormones also reset, which affects your mood and emotions. Clinical Psychologist Hasmita Hardudh-Dass says, “Most new mothers will experience some form of ‘baby blues’, usually 7–10 days after birth, which includes symptoms of tearfulness, anxiety, tiredness and difficulty sleeping and some irritability. It is not an illness, but simply a way to describe the unpleasant feelings that occur shortly after having a baby and that tend to resolve in a few days where there is sufficient support and care.”
She adds that even though it is not serious in the medical sense, it shouldn’t be dismissed; “Often women fear that they are going mad.”
It’s while grappling with these adjustments, as well as sleep deprivation from three-hourly feeds and nappy changes, that moms need to learn to care for a newborn, manage household duties and host visitors.
CARING FOR THE CARER
Most healthcare experts agree moms need to look after themselves to be able to look after their babies.
Caring for your physical well-being creates a good foundation for your emotional and mental well-being. Ruwaida advises, “It’s always best that mums exercise and maintain a good Body Mass Index through a healthy diet, good supplement and good fluid intake during their pregnancy. This in turn helps for a healthy birth and quick recovery.”
These behaviours should continue post-birth to aid healing, although exercise should only resume four weeks following a natural birth and six weeks following a C-section and should initially be limited to gentle activities such as walking.
She stresses that help is always available if needed, from lactation consultants to doulas, midwives, doctors, chiropractors and more.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME
Another surprise for many new moms is that the mother-baby bond might not be instant. Nicole says this is completely normal. “This happens much more often that we realise, and it certainly is not the ‘fault’ of any mom.”
She goes on to explain that a loving relationship with your baby is possible, but you may need to work at it; “I would suggest that moms be very gentle on themselves. Bonding can take time, and they need to have realistic expectations about this. Moms should also try to be honest with themselves about what they are feeling, and what they are struggling with. It is essential that they reach out for support or professional assistance, if necessary.”
She adds that some babies are fussier than others, due to temperament and how they’re developing. This can make bonding harder, so be prepared for this.
“There will also be times when moms feel frustrated, angry and perhaps even hateful towards baby. As long as this is part of a whole range of feelings, moms should not worry that they should only feel love,” adds Nicole.
EVERYTHING IS A PHASE
Finally, remember that everything with babies (and toddlers and children and teens) is a phase. Some can feel endless when you’re in them, but they will pass. You’ve got this, mamas!