The excitement of a new baby is like no other feeling. Even if the baby is not planned, the prospect of a new little being who will need you and be yours alone can be overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Much time and effort is put into preparation. Plans for the child-birth are often made – in hospital, at home, who will be there.
And when the baby arrives, family and friends continue the excitement for the mother or couple. If a difficult or long labour makes for exhausted parents, the glow of the new birth carries them through. Gradually the professionals disappear and leave baby and parents to their new life together.
This can be a scary moment, but one which is also longed-for. This baby is yours to keep – well, at least until he or she is grown-up. A bond develops between the primary carer, usually the mother, and the baby that is like no other bond experienced before. The baby has a built-in survival technique. When he or she cries, mother is there, often awake before baby. Mothers are consumed by their infants’ needs, and their own lives seem to be temporarily put on hold. Fathers support this bond, and very quickly build their own bond with their baby too.
This immense change brings about many different feelings – not just loving feelings but also more negative, resentful ones. The more negative feelings are shocking and most parents find it hard to admit to having them, or find it too painful to allow themselves to have them. They are very normal though, and are a reaction to a huge change, physically, hormonally, emotionally and socially. Add to this nights of not sleeping, days spent hardly being able to get out of dressing gowns, and it is not surprising all is not wonderful all of the time.
An anxious new mum I worked with adored her baby but was struggling with the sheer strength of her emotions. She could not let him go. When her mother offered to take baby for a walk in the pram for half an hour, she cried all the time he was gone. This was a colicky baby, who cried into the small hours. Mother told me one day that she had felt like shaking her baby when he had cried relentlessly in the middle of the night. She was furious with this baby who she adored and couldn’t leave. Together we thought about these strong feelings as being a normal reaction to a new birth and to being a first-
time mum. She allowed herself to gradually trust others with her baby and her levels of anxiety lessened. In addition, she and baby slept more. Time helped and as she felt calmer so did baby.
This mother was a professional who had worked with children and who thought she would sail through the baby years. Anxiety can suddenly emerge in a new world where we cannot control what we do and when we do it, but instead we lose control of all that and our actions are dictated by a tiny baby. Temporary loss of a career is another change, as is moving house, which a surprising amount of new parents do, often with the very practical idea of getting a bigger house or moving nearer to relatives. All of these things bring about more change, and a temporary loss of identity.
There is a six week period post birth that many midwives still refer to. This is how long it takes for adjustments to begin to be made and for routines to begin to be found. If you are a first-time parent, set that first six weeks aside to just be. Then there is more chance that you will be able to enjoy this special time.
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists