Growing Families organiser Emma Jane Sasaru is an NHS infant feeding support worker, blogger and perinatal mental health survivor and campaigner. She campaigns to raise awareness of perinatal PTSD and birth trauma after suffering for many years following the birth of her first daughter. Emma Jane runs Unfold Your Wings, a place of support and hope. She also helps train health professionals on the effects of PTSD and birth trauma on families, as well as working nationally with the #MatExp campaign and with her local trust to improve maternity services and access to perinatal mental health services. Emma Jane has a particular focus on families who experience neonatal care. She blogs about parenting and her journey of recovery from PTSD at Loving Baby, and is co-hosting the Growing Families breakout session on perinatal mental health with clinical psychologist Ruth Butterworth.
Here Emma discusses emotional wellbeing and the weight of expectations upon new mothers.
When it comes to growing our families, having a baby is an especially challenging time, not only is pregnancy a time of change for your body, but hormones are running riot making tears flow over the smallest of things. It is a time of excitement, joy, worry, fear, anticipation and change. If you haven’t had a baby before there is a lot to ponder, worry about the birth may occupy much of your mind, and thinking how you will care for your new arrival will have you making many trips to the store for every known gadget and baby item. Even if you have had a baby before every pregnancy is different and worry over the new addition to your family can add to feelings of anxiety.
After baby arrives your whole world changes again. Pregnancy and birth has taken a toll on you both physically and emotionally. Depending on your birth, physically healing can take time. Birth may have taken many hours, even days, and you will need time to recover. Your body will be surging with hormones preparing itself to nurture your new baby and you may well be feeling the after effects of nurturing and growing your baby for nine months. All this is happening at the same time, as you are getting ready to enter the new phase of caring for your baby.
Let us also not forget the new arrival! Here finally is your beautiful baby, but wow nothing could have prepared you for the impact their arrival has made on your life. Suddenly you’re responsible for another human being. This little human is reliant on you for everything, twenty fours hours a day, seven days a week, at a time when you are physically and mentally exhausted.
So when we think of the journey you have taken to welcome your beautiful baby into the world, and now the journey you are about to start on to care and nurture and grow this precious new life, the question we could ask is, do we expect too much of ourselves and how can we protect out emotional wellbeing?
Lets take physically, we have already said that pregnancy and the birth has taken a toll on your body. Now you are caring for a newborn, if breastfeeding your body will be working hard to produce milk. Also your body will be trying to recover from pregnancy and birth. Sleep doesn’t seem to come hand in hand with a new baby, which again has a massive impact on our health and emotional wellbeing. But often as new mothers we expect too much of ourselves. Despite the demands of a new baby often we try to ‘get back to normal’. We worry about having a clean house, making sure the cooking, washing and ironing is all done. There can be a rush to be out and about soon after birth, I have known moms that have gone to supermarket on the way home from hospital only a few hours after giving birth.
Of course there is also the visitors lining up to see the new bundle. It is only normal that everyone wants to see your new baby and of course you want to show everyone your beautiful baby, but when sleep is in short supply and when trying to get to grips with the demands of being a mother, making conversation and entertaining guests can be overwhelming and exhausting. Expecting you to be able to do everything and see everyone with new baby to care for can be emotionally draining. To recover from pregnancy and birth requires time, rest and support.
As a new mum it is so important that you give yourself time to recover from pregnancy and birth. Rest and sleep are important, as is making sure you are watered and fed. Being realistic about what you can and cant do is hard, but its important you don’t over load yourself and so make yourself even more exhausted. Asking and accepting help will give you the support you need to recover, everyone can lend a hand especially those eager visitors! A cup of tea, a sandwich, washing up those few plates or running the hoover over will all help to make the early weeks easier. Realising that your wellbeing takes priority over the things you normally do can be hard, it requires you to ‘let go’ and allow things to give a little. This may ago against the grain especially if you are a very organised and orderly person. But giving yourself time to recover and time to bond and nurture your newborn will help protect your mental wellbeing.
Why is this important? Because if you demand too much of yourself and try to do everything it can impact on your relationship with your baby. Bonding can be difficult if you are completely exhausted and this can then impact on things such as feeding. I once visited a mom who said she was exhausted from feeding her baby all the time, however after talking to her in some depth it transpired that it wasn’t the feeding that was exhausting her but the fact that in between feeds she wasn’t resting but cleaning, ironing and preparing a meal for over thirty guests! Her baby was five days old. It can be easy if trying to do too much to start to resent the sudden constant demands of this new little person leaving you feeling overwhelmed, anxious and even depressed. Especially in the early days and weeks your greatest asset is patience as it will stop you expecting to much of yourself but instead allow you to be kind to yourself, accepting help which will allow you to do what is most important, which is get to know your lovely new baby.
In what other ways can you expect too much of yourself?
If you walk into a bookshop and go to the parenting section there will be shelves after shelves of books on how to parent. Add to this the advice from health professionals, on-line forums and family and friends then soon how to care for your new baby feels like the most confusing job on the planet.
Is he sleeping through the night, what does he weigh, how much are you feeding him, why is he not weaned yet, he should be walking by now don’t use those nappies, that bottle is too cold, when you were little we used to………..
The list is endless, from nappies to slings, from breastfeeding to formula feeding, from sitting up to walking what is expected of us and our babies is never ending.
Everyone will have there own ideas on what is right and what is wrong for your baby. Bombarded from every direction it is easy to feel like nothing you do for your baby is right. Self-doubt and anxiety can eat away making even the most confident of moms feel despondent and unhappy. Of course there are certain milestones that your baby will be checked against to make sure that developmentally all is progressing well. Also, there is advice and guidelines that are given to protect your baby such as the safe making up of formula or how to make sure your baby is sleeping safely. Often though motherhood can feel like a huge competition, baby groups can be filled with talk of who is eating solid foods first, talking first, walking first and gaining the most weight.
The pressure this puts on you, as a mom, is enormous! All babies are different, all families are different and all ways of parenting are different. Yet the pressure to be doing certain things, by certain times remains. If your little one happens to be small or prefers to crawl and isn’t ready to bravely investigate the world on his feet you can feel like a failure. Trying to make your baby fit in with the expectations of others will only lead to frustration.
The many stages that lay ahead can bring their own challenges and expectations. Introducing solid foods, potty training, tantrums and yes the old ‘is your baby sleeping through the night yet’, can have you convinced you’re doing everything wrong. Everyone else will look like they are perfect parents and they may even tell you so! But no one is. Expecting you to manage every new stage perfectly and in a way that pleases others is a recipe for poor mental wellbeing. A dash of worry, a spot of self-doubt and a spoonful of others expectations then add to this a big dollop of comparing yourself to others and your mental wellbeing will be bitter to taste.
Then before long it’s time to return to work and again things change. After months together you will be expected to leave your little one, sometimes with strangers, while you go off into the big world again. While adjusting to the changes within the workplace, you will also be dealing with the feelings of leaving your baby. Even if you are looking forward to returning to work for adult conversation and time to be YOU again the reality of the new daily schedule can feel overwhelming. Working, looking after a family and making time for you may seem impossible. Some days it can feel impossible trying to juggle all that is expected of you. Expecting yourself to manage this transition with ease is to deny the journey you have been on the last however many months. To leave your tiny person that you have cared for and nurtured without it affecting you is impossible. It is ok for it to take time and there will most likely be tears from you both. Again asking for help, speaking to employers, finding solutions that work for you and accepting it will be hard are ways to protect your wellbeing. At those times in the day when you are struggling most remember the small open arms that will await you at the end of the day.
So, why is expecting too much of yourself a bad thing? Because expecting yourself to be perfect is detrimental to your emotional wellbeing. It’s impossible to do it! Trying to have perfect babies, that do everything just right and at set times, having a house that is always clean and tidy, juggling work and caring for a family while trying to hold down relationships and also be you, with your own identity and life is a massive challenge.
Instead as you grow as a family you have to find what works for you and that will be different for everyone. Don’t compare yourself or your baby to anyone else because you are unique. When I am at work supporting families to feed their babies I always say, ‘these are my suggestions, but it is for you to take the ones that you want and make it into what works for your family’. This is the key, surrounded by information, advice, suggestions and opinions take what works for you and your family. Expecting to do right all the time, pleasing others and keeping up with what others are doing will drain you emotionally. So protect your emotional wellbeing by being kind to yourself, accepting help of those that love you, do what’s right for you as a family. There are no perfect parents; there are no perfect ways to parent. Ultimately what matters most is you and your family are healthy and happy, and your home is a place of love. Yes growing your family can be a challenge, but with love and nurturing, with support and help you can build a family with strong roots that can weather even the hardest storms.
If you would like to know more, please join me in the breakout session on emotional wellbeing. Book your tickets here: https://growingfamilies.co.uk/prices-booking/
Emma Jane Sasaru