Becoming a new mum can be totally overwhelming at the best of times. Add in a global pandemic, and the sense of loss, isolation and sadness is palpable. In my work supporting women with feeding, I am hearing from many mothers who feel like they are the only ones not coping.
A typical call goes like this: “I am sorry I am crying. I am not usually the crying type. I just feel so sad that this is probably my only chance to have a baby and I am not enjoying it. This is really wrong of me because lots of people are having a really hard time right now. First world problems, right? But this isn’t what I wanted. I can’t see my friends and family. The feeding is so hard, I dread it. I barely know my nct group because we never met in person. We have a Whatsapp group but I can’t just post that I am struggling, when the others are sharing joyful pictures of their new babies. Zoom calls don’t work with everyone’s timing, and anyway I can’t imagine talking about my worries to virtual strangers…”
We are reading masses in the press about the cycle of emotions that we may experience in lockdown. We can flip backwards and forwards between disbelief, anger, sadness, acceptance and optimism.
For new mothers, there is almost bound to be a profound sense of loss for the birth and early motherhood experience that you wished for. While you know that you should be grateful for your baby, and perhaps the extended time at home getting to know one another, it is also normal and healthy to feel and express sadness, anxiety, loneliness and the feelings of not coping.
Many new parents are experiencing multiple losses: perhaps of job or income, visits from relatives and friends, perhaps the devastating loss of a loved one, longed for events like a house move or Christening, plus the profound loss of the old way of life before baby arrived. THIS IS A LOT TO DEAL WITH. Add in the lack of sleep, no control over when you will next be needed by your newborn (basically all the time), the new mummy hormones and your physical recovery. You have a bit of perfect storm.
Just because other people are having a rough time too, you should not belittle the feelings that you are going through.
So, what to do?
Perhaps nothing. Perhaps the only thing to do is to remember that this is understandably really hard and to try to be kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can.
Reach out and connect with like-minded people. If you have the emotional strength to pick up the phone and call a family member or friend or another new mum, you are likely to feel better. If not, try to contact a professional. There are lots of support groups out there, on the phone or online.
Be the first one to be honest to members of your support group or antenatal class. It gives everyone else permission to be real too. It was probably two or three months after I had my baby when the first woman was brave enough to say “actually this is shitty and I am on anti-depressants”. Then the floodgates opened and the true picture emerged. We became and remain much better friends.
Fresh air and exercise are a good thing, if you can, even an evening walk can be helpful. Postnatal yoga and pilates groups, or in fact any groups online, help to build up endorphins and give you a sense of agency. If your baby is grouchy or it is sleep time, try putting your baby in a sling and do it anyway.
You might like to get informed about how others are feeling and coping. One of my favourite books is “The Little Book of Self-Care for New Mums” by Becky Hands and Alexis Stickland. There are some wonderful Instagram feeds from women who really know what it is like, you might like to try #fourthtrimester, #matresence, _DrBoyd or dark_side_of_the_mum.
Try to eat well and get rest if you can. Please do not expect much from yourself. Things will get better in time.
Big hugs and empathy to all the new mothers out there.
Mental health apps and websites
Big White Wall www.bigwhitewall.com
Mothers for mothers www.mothersformothers.co.uk
Association for Postnatal Illness www.apni.org
Pandas Foundation www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
National breastfeeding helpline 0300 100 0212
NCT helpline 0300 330 0700
If you are worried about your mental health, or that of someone you know, please reach out to the GP or call 111 for immediate support.