Motherhood, Expectations and Mental Health

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People say to write about what you know. And if motherhood has taught me anything. It’s that I know nothing. I’ve never experienced as big a learning curve as becoming a mother. It turns out motherhood is exactly as and completely different to how I expected. You can’t stand where you’ve never been. Whilst I knew some practical stuff from aunt duty. My expectations of motherhood required a complete re-evaluation.

What is a Mother?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘mother’ as ‘a female parent’. And Collin’s Dictionary defines motherhood as ‘the state of being a mother’. But this doesn’t really tell us anything when you think about it.  Perhaps a better question is what makes a mother? As we know, mothers can be the person who gives birth to you. But it can also be the person who gives you life in a different way. Making a child is not just a biological process or a sharing of genetic material. You make a child when you give them love and comfort. When you support them. And are there for them no matter what. Being a mother is to give of yourself to your child.

I know everything in the above paragraph to be true. After all, I just wrote it. They’re my words, my thoughts and my feelings. And whilst I have written then with a newborn baby in tow. I felt them to be true long before. It has always been my belief that mothers come in all shapes and sizes. Irrespective of whether you gave birth to your child or not. Or are biologically related in any capacity. To me, being a mother has always been about putting ones child first. Whilst remembering that doing what is right for yourself as a mother is one of the best ways to prioritize your child.

These very ideas are born out (pun intended) by Harlow’s study into maternal attachment. The study showed baby monkeys would gravitate towards and spent more time with a terry cloth monkey than a wire monkey with food. Thereby showing that the aforementioned love and comfort is the primary need a mother can fulfil. Not the production of food.

For quick and easy post natal self care tips read here.

Expectations of Motherhood

Questioning Abilities

With the above in the mind, I was surprised by my expectations and understanding of motherhood. Whilst completely normal, since giving birth I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I may be a bad mother. The level of guilt I carry around with me is an unnecessary weight added to the infant in my arms. Because I know I am not a bad mother. If anything, I’m guilty of putting my child first to my own detriment. And need to be reminded that the needs of a mother and child must find middle ground for everyone to be happy. I’m no use to her if I’m overstretched, overtired and overemotional.

Now, it is normal to question one’s abilities as a mother. For one, despite antenatal classes and books and the internet, no one truly teaches you how to be a mother. And certainly not to your specific child. Much of the advice is best case scenarios or for the average baby. But every child is different and so I have found the best approach is a motherhood advice pic ‘n’ mix. Take the parts that you like and work for you and your baby. Leave behind the rest for someone else who likes them more. And remember, just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it should or will work for you. We’re all different mothers with different babies.

Re-evaluating Myself as a Mother

But here’s the thing, despite all of the above and the very normal feelings I’m experiencing. There has been another element of my journey as a mother I never could have expected. My baby was born by emergency c-section. Despite viewing my birth plan as a list of preferences rather than a plan that would happen, I never contemplated a c-section. It wasn’t on my radar and in hindsight that was remiss of me. This was the first thing to happen that shook my expectations of becoming a mother. I’d never conceived (again pun intended) that I would give birth in an operating theatre.

The second thing to cause me to re-evaluate motherhood was my struggle with breastfeeding. I’d never given it much thought. But once I was pregnant it was just there in my mind. Me and my baby breastfeeding. So, when a variety of factors conspired to undermine our breastfeeding journey. I had to introduce bottle feeding and with an unreliable milk supply we were too far down the rabbit hole to return to solely breastfeeding later.

These two elements, a c-section and bottle feeding, have, at times, made me feel like the worst mother. And whilst cognitively or logically I know this is not true. I think we all know that early motherhood is not a person’s most sane time. Lack of sleep, recovery from childbirth and generally questioning everything you do doesn’t make for a clear head. So, whilst I know logically that this doesn’t impact the quality of my parenting. It can 100% feel that way. And it does.

Motherhood & Mental Health

So, what did this mean for my mental health? The combination of a c-section and bottle feeding added to my fears. Both are slightly stigmatized as ‘not the norm’. And added to my worries that I was failing my child. I wasn’t ‘mothering’ as a mother should.

But in the quiet and calm moments, few and far between though they may be, I can challenge these thoughts. Safe in the knowledge that my child needs me to love and cuddle. After all, what is good for mother is good for baby too. But despite all this I’ve needed to process that the c-section and bottle feeding were not my expectations of motherhood. So, I’m learning to accept the journey I am on and try and let go of the one I always imagined. Easier said than done. 

For more on advocating for your prenatal mental health read here.

What was your experience of becoming a parent? Whether a mother or a father? Was it a total shock to the system, as expected or somewhere in between? Let us know below!

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6 thoughts on “Motherhood, Expectations and Mental Health

  1. Trust me, you’re not alone. Mommy guilt is a very real thing and it doesn’t go away. You will always question everything you do because your little one is so perfect and you’re so afraid to get it wrong. Try not to be so hard on yourself. You are doing the best you can at the time. And welcome to the c-section club. You joined a group of strong women who would do anything to deliver their babies safely into the world even when it means going through a painful and traumatic surgery.

    1. Thanks Brooke! As ever such a lovely comment from you! I’m very reassured that even though I’ll keep doubting things that it’s completely normal!

  2. Emma, breast feeding was one of the most painful things I ever did. After some time it got easier, but I have never since then blamed any woman for not doing it, whatever the reason. For months and months I veered between panicking that someone would take my baby away and panicking that no-one would. I hope no-one says it’s an easy thing to do.

    1. Thanks! I definitely think we need to broaden the conversation and encourage people to do what is best for them and their baby.

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