The excitement of a new baby is like no other feeling. Last month I talked about the very special event of a first baby. However, even with a ‘normal’ pregnancy and birth, things can feel difficult for a while. If things are not as smooth as planned, things can feel difficult for more than a while and extra steps might need to be taken to help.
The best-laid plans – this is a phrase that often comes to mind as a labour progresses. Plans for a home birth or a natural birth can lead to hospitalisation or unexpected interventions. Mothers can feel cheated of their hopes, affronted at not being treated like individuals, worried about their bond with their baby. It can be really disappointing when things don’t go according to plan and mothers will need the help and support of relatives and friends to process their feelings around the subject. They will need time to talk, to share their more negative feelings and to reach an acceptance of what happened. No-one quite knows what will happen, and too much unprocessed disappointment can get in the way of you and your baby’s special time together in those first weeks and months.
The next area of the best-laid plans not always working is in feeding. If mothers have their hearts set on breast-feeding, and despite trying every piece of advice and expert help, find it is not for them, they can nonetheless be consumed with guilt. Everyone knows the benefits of breastfeeding but everyone also knows the benefits of a happy, healthy, stress-free mother. Of course mothers will try to do what is best for their baby. No-one questions that.
The emerging theme here seems to be that of perfection. Nothing is perfect, not even that tiny little new-born staring up at you. I have mentioned Winnicott’s phrase before – the good enough mother. Think of the good enough pregnancy, the good enough birth, the good enough feeding experience. This can be helpful.
Sleeping at night is another area of huge concern. Sleep deprivation is difficult at the best of times. Thinking and mood are affected. Self-esteem can lessen. Resentment can build. There are many books written on babies sleeping, and there are many areas of advice. Seek advice, but eventually you will need to find what works for you. Your previous experience and your family story of how you were as a baby will affect the way you are. Some people can’t bear to leave their babies crying, others are more able to do so. Babies too differ – some will sleep well and others will naturally be light sleepers or babies who don’t need as much as the books say. Get to know your baby. Get to know your feelings about the subject. Try to make it work for you.
Some problems are more extreme. Babies or mothers can have health difficulties that impact on the experience. Single mothers or isolated mothers can struggle more. Couples can be affected so that they have to re-negotiate their relationship. More often than we realise, professional help needs to be sought. Health visitors are valuable links into other services if needed. Having a baby is life changing. It is bound to bring up strong and powerful emotions, particularly if a longed-for expectation turns out to be different. Time is a great healer.
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists