New Mum Advice: Three Postnatal Taboos Smashed!
New mums eh - what are they like? They can bang on for hours in polite company about their sore boobs, stitches and constipation, and, sit in the same room as them for long enough and you’ll soon know how often their baby poos and even what colour it is. TMI or what!
But in this age of over-sharing it seems that some postnatal subjects are still taboo. Some topics simply feel a little too dangerous to speak about and yet they affect very many of us, and not opening up can lead to a sense of isolation and failure, and can even pre-dispose us to postnatal depression.
So here are three common taboo postnatal subjects which need to be smashed down.
1. I DIDN’T LOVE MY BABY AT BIRTH!
It is what we see in films and we read about in books and all our mates tell us to expect it: we will spend long, hard hours in labour but when our baby lands, slippery as an eel, into our arms, we will forget it all and gaze down with a sudden rush of love at this incredible being.
Well some mums really do feel an immediate love for their baby at birth, but some simply don’t and it is actually very common indeed for it to … not happen.
Sometimes when we give birth there is a feeling of “Hello you - I feel like I know you and I already love you with all my heart”. At other times there is a feeling more like, “Hmm! You’re a bit weird-looking. You’re a stranger and I have no feeling for you at all!” These feelings can be very scary when we are told to expect immediate love. Guilt can kick in which can hang around, simmering below the surface, for years. That unspoken sin - “I didn’t fall in love with my own baby at birth! What sort of mother am I?”
Don’t worry. You’re not alone and, in fact, amazing evolution takes care of the fact that many mums don’t feel any love initially for their baby. Even if you look at your baby and think “I’m not really sure what I feel about you”, you will still care for them. You are highly evolved to respond to your baby’s cries even if you don’t feel love for them. Newborn babies have a particular cry that parents cannot interpret as a ‘hungry’ or ‘cold’ or ‘tired’ or ‘dirty nappy’ cry. They all sound the same to begin with. Your friends and your Nan tell you to “stop picking them up - you’ll make a rod for your own back!” so you try to ignore it but the cry gets right into your very bones and you find that you respond … every time. Even when there are no love feelings there yet you can’t help but go to pick up your crying baby. This is how evolution works to keep our babies safe.
You don’t know what the cry means so you pop them to the boob and, when that doesn’t work, you try all the other things - you change them, pat them and snuggle them and those snuggly feeds and cuddles flood you both with love hormones which, day by day, week by week and month by month cause you to imprint on each other until the love grows This natural, highly evolved and automatic process is what is called bonding and it happens whether you love your baby at first sight or not. So relax, - you and your baby are quite safe in the hands of evolution.
2. I HATED MY BIRTH!
Sometimes our births simply don’t go to plan. We plan a drug-free water birth and immediate skin to skin with our newborn baby but end up having every drug we can lay our hands on, have an emergency caesarean section and then our beautiful baby is whisked off to the paediatrician whilst we can only watch, and worry, from a distance with our arms aching for that cuddle.
Although mums will talk about their births and how they didn’t go according to plan, they find that they are quickly shut down by their audience with comments such as “Well at least the baby is safe and well.” and “It is all worth it when you look at your baby, isn’t it?” and “Don’t upset yourself - focus on the positive.” These well-meaning comments are meant to minimise the upset and trauma women feel but it doesn’t work like that. Mums just end up feeling unheard, unvalidated and guilty.
It can even impact on their ability to do the very thing everyone is telling them to do - to focus on and love their baby! Yet, by just being given the space to really talk over and over about their awful birth experience mums are more able to move on and their connection with their baby can deepen.
Just because we hated the birth doesn’t mean we don’t love our baby and are thankful they are safe. Just because we love our baby doesn’t mean that we can simply forget about the birth and the shock it has left in us. The more we acknowledge that both these feelings are true and valid, the easier it is to recover emotionally from a difficult birth - for the good feelings to flourish, the difficult feelings have to be aired and accepted.