When we think of motherhood, we all think of the beauty of it. It’s a precious time full of love and joy… All of this is true, but this is not all it is. The other side of motherhood is coping with fundamental changes to your body. It includes massive emotional highs and lows, and the tremendous mental pressure that sleep deprivation brings.
Now throw a global pandemic into the mix… What has it been like becoming a mother during lockdown?
For *Abbie, as for so many first time mums, birth was a shock. No amount of reading or conversation can prepare you for it. She had planned to have a home birth, but safely delivered *Cara via an emergency c-section. Her story is common, as she puts it – but is also deeply emotional and traumatic.
Dealing with the overwhelming experience of her story in the isolation of lockdown was very hard. Most her friends don’t have children. And, without access to a community of mums through baby groups, it was harder to find people to process with. Abbie said she eventually sought out “people I could cry with” and shared her story in all its details. This was an essential part of her recovery.
Abbie also dealt with anger. She felt angry at friends that haven’t make the effort to see Cara. Even though she recognised that the situation was to blame rather than her friends, it still hurt. That anger is a valid response to her loss in such a valuable time.
Entering another space
But there were many things for which Abbie was grateful in this season. She learnt what she needed to build good mental health despite the isolation.
Audio books were particularly important for her. It didn’t matter what she was listening to (as long as it wasn’t about parenting); it was taking her brain into another space. The protection of her bubble also escalated her anxieties and fears, turning small issues into huge problems. By getting out of her own four walls, both mentally and physically, she regained perspective for her day.
In many ways, the pandemic pulled support out from under all new mums. The informal support that so many mums have taken for granted wasn’t available for these mothers. No-one coming and cleaning your house, or holding your baby, or booking a playdate. And even formal support predominantly moved online, meaning little physical connection with health visitors or doctors.
For Abbie, this was compounded by her immediate friends not being parents. They didn’t have the experience to anticipate her needs, or recognise the monotony of her days.
She was tremendously blessed by her digital bumps and babies group, including mums like *Holly and *Diane. Although developing relationships and trust was harder than it might have been in person, there is now a wonderful depth of support. It has become a group where Abbie and the other mums can be vulnerable with each other. In fact, they have stood in the gap for her: “these mums have seen Cara grow up more than my closest friends and even some of my family”.
Perhaps most poignantly for Abbie, however, wasn’t the practical support but the validation she got from her own mum. Abbie’s mum allowed Abbie to find her own way as a parent. She didn’t offer advice unless asked and trusted her to know what Cara needed. This increased Abbie’s confidence in herself as a mum, which felt especially important when she didn’t have the company of other mums to encourage her.
The opposite of this validation was the “mum-guilt” Abbie battled. It might be a book about parenting, or an Instagrammer she was following… As parents, we can never tick all the boxes or measure up to all these expectations. Abbie decided to reject the guilt she felt. As she puts it, “you can’t be supermum every day”. She accepted her down days, just as she accepts Cara’s down days.
Throughout our conversation, I was struck by Abbie’s self-awareness. She has been able to recognise and accept her emotions. She’s been mindful of what she needs to keep healthy perspective on her life. And she has developed confidence in her own parenting – she trusts herself.
What about you?
Becoming a parent can lead to a huge amount of anxiety. But you don’t have to live in anxiety. Like Abbie, you can learn to trust yourself. You can develop an awareness of what you need to be a good parent. Norpip is a Northamptonshire service that helps parents build their self-confidence. Their extensive services are available both before and after the birth of your child and support you to become a confident, capable parent.
If you are struggling with anxiety, Relate’s counsellors can help you find your feet as a mum. Find out more about our individual counselling services or contact us now to have a chat with our support team.
This is a true story, told during an interview with three mums for Maternal Mental Health week. *Names changed to protect their identity.