The power of group support really should never be underestimated….especially when the purpose of the group is to discuss issues we’d rather not acknowledge.
At a time when everything’s supposed to be perfect in life – you’re welcoming a brand new baby into the world,into your life, into your home, your arms, your bed. Everyone’s excited and delighted to meet to wonderful new life that you have created. A proud moment indeed….but there are many other moments.
This is part of what our first ever perinatal peer group discussed together. Moments – the good, the bad, the ugly. Expectations of ourselves as new parents. Grappling with standards and expectations of ourselves; grappling to find words to pinpoint the emotional turmoil that can engulf all sorts of moments in those early hours, days, nights, weeks and months. Grappling because there really are no words. Perhaps this is why people don’t really speak about emotional adjustment in advance of having a baby. Nobody speaks of the other moments.
In our group we spoke of the darker moments… when the feelings of joy and pride subside, the moments when we find ourselves gripped by impatience, frustration and anger…maybe even rage. Yes, its ok to say rage.
Then guilt – for feeling anything other than positivity and love for your most precious creation…this tiny vulnerable person whom you brought into the world and are now wholly responsible for.
I think it’s called ambivalence. Yes, there are moments of ambivalence when you can feel an array of feelings for your baby. In many ways this is similar to any other relationship you will have in your life. Reality check: Is there a relationship in your life that is 100% only about feeling love for another person? I don’t think there is. It’s not realistic. Yet, in conscious and unconscious ways, some of us apply this standard to the relationship with our baby.
Your baby will feel a whole hosts of feelings for you – and amongst love – you will also feel an array of emotions towards them.
I think we need to talk about ambivalence and humanise this experience. Otherwise we simply deny the reality of the emotional struggles and they are silently perpetuated. We might berate ourselves for ordinary emotional experiences and ultimately make ourselves more vulnerable to experiencing greater distress.
We need to be as strong and resilient as possible at this vulnerable and complicated and demanding time in our lives. We need to know what is ok and ordinary (to feel a range of emotions towards our baby) without depleting our resources further worrying about where our mind and feelings are taking us.
The most likely reason not to acknowledge these experiences is fear…fear of being thought of as weak, fear of being labelled mentally ill, fear of…losing control maybe, fear of not being the mother/father you think you should be.
I don’t think antenatal classes do much to help with emotional adjustment. In mine, I recall my group being told “Just don’t shake your baby…if you feel like you might do that then just take 5 minutes in another room”. They moved on to the next topic – maybe about baby first aid. I can’t remember but I do remember thinking “Why would I want to shake my baby?”; feeling reassured by the thought that I would never do something like that; thinking “this doesn’t apply to me…I’m not like that”.
But what I didn’t know was that I was more “like that” than I thought. I have never shaken my baby…but that doesn’t mean I have never thought about it. The thought left me as soon as it entered my mind, but it left with me ripples of guilt and terror for even feeling such an abhorrent thing.
Some people might call this kind of experience “having intrusive thoughts”. It’s certainly unwelcome and abhorrent, but thinking such thoughts is common and ordinary. Feeling frustration is ordinary, feeling anger is ordinary, feeling desperate is ordinary, feeling shit is ordinary, feeling love, pride and joy is ordinary.
We talked about it today in the group…and it was a great relief.
Thanks to all attendees.