Being a parent is the toughest job anybody can undertake. It can be utterly demanding, rewarding, terrifying and challenging in equal measures and in ways that other occupations just don’t match. It is full-time, and relentless, and exhilarating. Unfortunately, parenthood does not seem to enjoy the respect that it rightly deserves. Yes, becoming a parent is natural, but being a parent in this day and age has challenges that would test the most stoic, capable and resilient among us.
Some people spend a lot of time, and put a lot of thought and effort into doing everything they can to ensure that they and their partner avoid unwanted pregnancy. It’s generally understood that being on the contraceptive pill for instance, can mean that it takes longer to conceive. Although this can be true, it’s a fact that there’s no medical reason why you can’t conceive straight away. Once you decided that you wanted to start a family, did it happen faster than you expected it to, and did this leave you feeling less prepared than you would have liked? Was one of you ready for this but the other not quite on the same page yet? Did you feel pressure to have a child, whether that was pressure you put on yourself, from family, from your partner or indeed from society.
Being pregnant can be an exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, stressful time. Your life will never be the same again. That is not to say that your life is over, just that it will never be quite the same. As with any life-changing event, you will discover things about yourself – hidden strengths, unexpected weaknesses, incredible resilience, irrational fears – that you that you didn’t know before. There are so many things to consider. Worries about the pregnancy, and if it’s progressing the way it should. If you are planning on bringing up your child alone, you may have the added worry around finances.
There are so many things to consider once you decide to have a baby. There are inevitable changes to your lifestyle, and there may be changes you will need to make in terms of health and nutrition. You might be wondering whether breast-feeding or bottle feeding will be more suitable for you and your baby. Many people are not in a position to give up work to bring up their child, which as we all know, is a full-time job in itself, so there are considerations about when, where and how to go back to work when the time comes, and indeed if it is financially viable to do so. There is so much to consider, and at the same time it could be that you feel completely hijacked by your own emotions. Did you get the level of support that you expected? Was this adequate? Did it help you to feel prepared? Did you feel that once people found out about your pregnancy, that you were being treated differently – whether this be a positive or a negative experience – in the workplace, among your friends and family, in society in general? If your partner is pregnant, did you feel included, or was there a feeling that things were happening that you didn’t always feel part of?
Beverley Turner wrote the following in The Telegraph on this subject:
The concept of dignity in childbirth might sound oxymoronic, and admittedly, it’s tough to feel dignified with your legs akimbo in a room full of strangers. But there’s a crucial difference between acting ‘dignified’ and being afforded ‘dignity’.
Yesterday’s inaugural Birthrights's Dignity in Childbirth Conference in London’s Royal College of Physicians sought to distinguish between the two and highlight the fact that British women are being treated with a shocking lack of dignity at the very moment when they should be revered. As President of the Royal College of Midwives, Lesley Page said on her opening address: “Birth is a time in a woman’s life when she is at her most vulnerable but has the potential to be at her most powerful. She needs to feel that her needs are uppermost. If you give her sensitive and understanding care, you set her on the path to motherhood with confidence.”
But according to a survey of 1,100 women, conducted by Mumsnet, the research around which the conference hinged, only 50 per cent of women in the UK are getting the birth they want. Twenty-six per cent had no choice about where to give birth and a shocking 24 per cent did not consent to some of the most intimate procedures available to a naked woman (including forceps deliveries, vaginal examinations or cervical sweeps).
It has become popular to draw up a birthing plan. With the NHS so stressed for resources, beds and time, it is not always possible for a woman to have the kind of birth she has emotionally and practically planned for. Most women are not aware that they could have the option of an independent midwife to assist, not only with the birth, but throughout the pregnancy. Independent midwives are in a better position to hold off medical interventions before both mother and baby are ready for delivery, and to accommodate a birth plan but in NHS hospitals with NHS staff it is sometimes not feasible to let nature take its course. It can take quite an emotional toll if the planned birth has to be abandoned for any reason, and these feelings can be buried beneath everything else that comes with having a new baby, and may never have been explored or even acknowledged. Did you feel you were able to choose what kind of birth you would like? Were you given the option of having an independent midwife? Were you supported in your birthing decisions? Were alternatives, and ‘what ifs’ properly explored? Did you have the birth you had envisaged? Did you feel your individual needs had been recognised?
Many independent midwives would advise that where possible after the birth, you and your baby should spend the first week having complete bed rest, with plenty of skin to skin contact. This will enhance the initial bonding experience with your child. Were you able to voice any feelings about being overwhelmed, or unprepared. Did you feel adequately supported once you had your child(ren)? Were your emotional needs considered? Were your emotional needs met? Did you feel as though you were on your own, even though you had a partner/family/friends around?
The sheer level, range, complexity and intensity of the emotions that you feel during pregnancy and once you’ve given birth can sometimes be unexpected, powerful and overwhelming. Just being able to talk about things with someone who is totally independent could provide some relief.
Childbirth, while being the most natural thing in the world, can also be the most traumatic event for all involved – child, mother, partner, siblings. Would it have been beneficial to have access to a someone that you could call on, especially in that first year, to talk through things like - loneliness, fear, feeling overwhelmed, feeling inadequate, feeling neglected, feeling ill-prepared, feelings of doubt that you are “doing it right” feeling frustrated with conflicting, unsolicited or unwanted advice, feeling you have “lost” who you are/were, wanting to do it all, but finding this impossible, feelings of guilt, conflicted feelings of wanting everyone to leave you alone to get on with it, whilst also wanting your hand to be held through every situation, every first, feeling you just want to cry all the time, feeling unattractive, your self-esteem has taken a nose-dive, worried that that all-consuming love everyone talks about has somehow eluded you, resentment – whether this is at your child, your partner, your childless friends, or the world, just needing some space to come to terms with everything that’s new in your life, now that you have a new baby. Are you relating to your child the way your own parents related to you, or are you determined to do this differently, are you afraid of being just like your mum/dad, or afraid you won’t be as good as your own mum/dad? Are there thoughts that you are reluctant to voice for fear of being labelled a “bad” mother?
It’s important to know that children – especially in the pre-verbal stage – pick up on atmospheres as they try to understand the world around them, so if you are feeling stressed or unhappy, they will respond to this. That’s not to say that you should cover up or mask your feelings – this will send conflicting, confusing messages to your child. Perhaps a better way is to acknowledge the feelings and understand what is causing them, and work with that. Sometimes it could simply be that you feel you have lost your identity as a person in your own right as soon as you became a parent, and it’s about finding the balance between you as a mother or father, and you as an individual.
Every new-born is different, so this is for you, whether it’s your first child or first pregnancy or if you already have children.