Last week I had a first-time mum sobbing in my arms; she felt like she was failing by not being able to provide 100% of the required care to her newborn. She felt she was a bad mother, she felt her son deserved more, she felt that other mothers were judging her negatively and that her husband had lost respect for her due to her inability to act more ‘maternally’. She had recently been diagnosed with postnatal depression and started on antidepressants. Although she had planned to have a natural birth, her baby was born by cesarian section; he was breach, she has a bi-cornate uterus and baby’s growth had started to slow. My clients’ plans to breastfeed hadn’t worked out as shed hoped, instead she was expressing what breastmilk she could and combination feeding with formula. She had battled through thrush and mastitis, but now her baby was now showing signs of reflux and being very unsettled during the day and night. She was exhausted, disappointed, overwhelmed and had invited me to come and help her out day and night for a few weeks although, not happily.
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy raises some pertinent questions in her eye-opening book, Mothers and Others.
The evolutionary anthropologist has observed child-rearing amongst diverse communities across the globe and through time. What strikes me most is her observation that in Hunter/ Gatherer communities it is crucial that multiple care-givers assist mothers in raising their young. Only then, can women (mothers) successfully continue with their roles beyond motherhood. In some communities up to 15 different relatives/ friends will care for any one child.
Certainly in Britain our society is set-up differently to that of the ancient Hunter-Gatherers but the similarities are there. Today, most couples live in duel-income households. The mother is required to work, just as her partner is. She may not be going out to gather berries anymore, but women today are certainly out winning the bread! SO it makes sense to me that that mothers of today would require a team, a tribe of ‘others’ she trust to help raise her baby.
In modern times though, we women are spending less time communally, hanging out with and supporting each other. When I was a baby, my mother formed a childcare collective; 4 local women wit babies of similar age took turns to care for all four babies one day of the week, leaving the other 3 mothers to work for 3 days. It was a barter system, an exchange of time, and it worked. Now, regulations around childminding probably wouldn’t permit an arrangement such as this so women are, in a way, forced to pay for the support. Sometimes, if family members are not able to help out, that support comes in the form of a nursery, a nanny, a maternity nurse, childminder or postnatal doula.
So tell me, where is that shame in that?
And what happened? When did we expect mothers to do it all…alone?
I say it’s time to ditch the mum-guilt and get building a tribe of supportive people that will help you in caring for your newborn.
Think about the practicalities of raising a baby…What is it that can be outsourced? Can a neighbour collect your older children from school a few afternoons a week? Can your best friend batch cook some meals for your freezer? Can you mother-in-law stopped by a couple of afternoons a week and watch the baby whilst you take a nap? Can you afford to hire a cleaner, or increase your existing cleaners hours until you feel ready to do more? Is there a Doula working in your area that can regularly assist you? (you can check here).
How can you ensure your emotional needs are being met? Everyone develops their own style of parenting and yours might be different from your existing friends’ or family. Sometimes that can be divisive and therefore unhelpful as you approach them for emotional support and all they do is judge and tell you your approach is wrong. It’s important to find new parents who have opted for a similar approach to parenting as you have. In pregnancy, NCT and PBM can be a great place to start (I’ll be re-launching PBM – New Forest in September 2018 – stay in touch if you’d like to come along).
Facebook is absolutely chockablock with groups of parents offering support…choose a group that fits with your ethos and has strict guidelines around acceptable posting. A couple that I often use (as a mum, that is) are Co-sleeping and Attachment Parenting Support, Gentle Parenting UK and UK Breastfeeding and Parenting Support
And then there are the professional birth workers who might be able to offer you that next level of support, depending on your needs; Health visitors, midwives, doulas, perinatal psychologists etc.
If you wanna go all out though, you might even stretch to a postnatal retreat for parents. Check out &Breath retreats…! But be warned, once you know about this, it’ll be hard to turn away!