How do these words make you feel: Natural mother? Earth mother? You’ll know what to do when the baby comes. Just trust your intuition and you will be fine.
What?! Really?! Imagine someone wanting you to start your new job as an Architect today. You’ve never had any practical experience or education, but just get in there and design those skyscrapers. Just trust your intuition, you’ll know what you do.
As a new mother with no experience or qualifications in parenthood, how do you know what to do? Most of us model it on our experience of our own mother, but what if you had a poor role model? If you didn’t have a positive experience in childhood, it can be extremely difficult to know how to navigate your own journey into motherhood. Alternatively, if you had a positive role model, it can feel like you never quite reach your own expectations of what a mother should be like.
Post Natal Recovery Plans need to be an essential part of creating a care plan for a mother-to-be. Women usually attend antenatal classes before the birth of the baby, and these are certainly useful as they focus on the birth – having a birth plan, drugs, breathing, and delivery etc. But what if the birth doesn’t go to plan? What if you weren’t prepared to have a C-section and knew nothing of the recovery? Who is there after the birth to assist you to physically and emotionally transition into motherhood? What type of support will you receive in the first 6 weeks after birth? And then for the next year?
Why aren’t we asking the question, ‘What is it that we NEED to know prior to commencing motherhood, and how might it help you throughout the pregnancy, birth and child rearing stage? Education and support are vital in the pregnancy and postnatal period to set women up to thrive in their new role as a mother.
All women have heightened psychological needs after giving birth but some have higher risk factors, which can cause greater difficulties in their adjustment to motherhood. These can include (but are not limited to):
- previous mental health conditions;
- isolation and lack of support (eg FIFO, single parenting);
- premature babies (having a baby in ICU);
- assisted births (IVF);
- traumatic birth experience;
- difficulties with feeding;
- having an unsettled infant, and
- changed relationship with the other parent.
It’s important to remember that mostly, these are modifiable risks. These are things we CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT! So let’s start by providing more education around these issues prior to birth, so we can set mothers up for success.
Historically, many primitive cultures had very specific post partum practices to ensure that mothers made a full recovery from childbirth. Globally, there have been centuries of very deliberate practices in nutritional recovery, spiritual cleansing, and protection of the mother as well as elaborate social supports (Dr Oscar Serrallach, ‘Post Natal Depletion – Even 10 Years Later’, GOOP).
So why isn’t there more focus on these areas now? After birth, you are handed your baby immediately for some very beneficial skin-to-skin time. Then the baby is put next to you in the hospital room. You’re physically trying to recover, dealing with stitches, tears and incontinence, as well as having minimal sleep prior to birth, with the baby blues entering around Day 3. You’re sent home (sometimes 24 hours after) and if you choose not to see another soul from then on, generally that’s what happens (except if you have a visiting midwife). You’re then left to navigate the unchartered waters of motherhood, while experiencing the physical fallout from birth for months, sometimes even years.
Know this: you are not alone. No-one is a ‘born mother’, ‘a natural’ or has any skill in this area when they start out. You don’t need a high level of knowledge or skills to become a mother. You learn along the way. But let’s support mothers before they become mothers by providing as much support, education, awareness and planning for the journey ahead. Ask for help, seek a health professional, call on family and friends, take offers of support and believe in yourself.
You’re doing a great job.
Written by: Eliza Pike