Motherhood was something that I planned and was excited for. My husband and I made the decision that after 10 years together we should take the plunge. We got pregnant first try and then miscarried 2 days before the three-month scan. In short, to me pregnancy shone holes in our relationship, which was now more like a loving sibling friendship and we were separated within 6 months.
Then 18 months later I found myself six weeks pregnant with my boyfriend of eight weeks, living in Ibiza with no family and none of my friends had children! The reality was at 32 and I did not feel I had any other option but to have the baby. The pregnancy was such a low time in my life, the early days of being a mum were lonely and sad, the relationship with the father was awful and I was a single mum just after my daughter was a year old.
I WISH more people had given me good pregnancy advice, as my situation was obviously a challenging one. I wish I had been given Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood by Kate Rope. Being given permission to struggle would have been a game-changer. I now understand that being a new mom can be a really lonely position to be in, even when you have a supportive husband and a strong family so I am very excited to interview her to share that it’s ok not to be ok.
Hi Kate, welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum (or dad) should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! We love that you have upgraded your life and that of many others by championing maintaining mental health should be a top priority.
Your book Strong as a Mother, supports mum’s through pregnancy and beyond, pregnancy books are often focused all on the baby but you focus on the mum. What is your number one advice when it comes to pregnancy self-care and why is self-care so important before the baby comes?
It is so easy to forget to care for yourself when you are responsible for taking care of another human being. My goal is to help pregnant women, or those preparing to adopt, learn how to make taking care of themselves a priority before they bring a baby into their life, so it is easier for them to get back to it once they become mothers. We know that women, moms and families all do best when a mother is strong. So, she deserves real support and love both from herself and others.
Pregnancy after miscarriage is a hugely worrying experience what can pregnant mothers do to ease this fear?
I think the first thing is accepting that this pregnancy is going to feel very different if you have lost a pregnancy before. That anxiety is an understandable part of the territory. You probably can’t get rid of it, but talking with people you trust—whether it’s your partner, a good friend, or a therapist trained in reproductive loss—can help you move through it. Find someone you feel comfortable being really honest with and ask if they can serve as that source of support. Also make sure you have an obstetric provider who understands how you are feeling and treats you in a way that addresses your concerns.
Postpartum everyone always asks how the baby is doing but many mothers find this stage the hardest, the sleep deprivation-induced anxiety of a newborn baby is a very difficult phase. How can new mothers get through this stage without overwhelm?
I think the honest, short answer is that they can’t. Overwhelm is part of the deal when you have given birth to a baby or have brought a new baby into your life. The question is what can you do to move through the overwhelm? The most important thing is trying to get three-hour chunks of sleep. Trade off nighttime duties with a partner, a family member or night nurse, so that you can get away from the baby and sleep for three hours at a time (which will enable you to go through a full sleep cycle and get to the more restorative phases of sleep). That’s priority number one. Priority number two (and, really, they go together) is to ask for and accept help from others. We were never intended to raise human beings alone. The village is what enabled us to develop into the complex homo sapiens we are. Create your village and rely on it. And, finally, if things just don’t feel right, ask for help. Yes, it will feel overwhelming at times. But it shouldn’t feel that way ALL. THE. TIME. If—or when—it does, there is good help available. Read about the symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and how to get help.
Why do you think mothers don’t warn soon-to-be mothers about postpartum depression and anxiety to help prepare and normalise this challenging time?
There is a strong storyline in our society that pregnancy and birth and new parenthood are supposed to be blissful, joy- and gratitude-filled times. When women experience something different, they often worry that something is wrong with them, so they don’t speak up. This is what mental health stigma does. It keeps people quiet. But the bottom line is that all mothers struggle. The question is: what is your struggle? Do you need more help getting good sleep? Do you need a lactation consultant? Do you need to talk to a therapist? Not one of these needs is better than another, just different. And we deserve to have access to whatever support we need to do this incredibly difficult and life changing job.
It is not just mothers that have this experience of depression either, in one of your recent blogs you state “10 percent of fathers experience depression after the birth of a child. They also experience higher levels of anxiety disorders than at other times in their lives.” What can we do help our partners talk about their feelings during this time?
I would start with just asking—and not even necessarily in times of stress, but just in general—how this whole parenthood thing is going. And be open about your own struggles, so that it might be easier for your partner to talk about his or hers. Adoptive parents can also go through what’s called postadoption depression. This is a huge transition. Of course, there will be hard times that come with it. Here are some good resources for dads and adoptive parents.
One of the biggest fears mothers have is returning to work, finding childcare and missing key milestones, like first words. How can new mums handle these fears and make the right decision?
Ok, so, first off, I think a great book on this topic is The Fifth Trimester by Lauren Smith Brody. Brody’s research has shown that almost all moms feel unprepared to return to work and that the transition comes sooner than they are physically or emotionally ready for it. So, just know that if that describes you, you are not alone. On the other hand, some women find that returning to a work setting is a relief (that’s how I felt), because you have a sense of mastery in your job that you probably don’t have yet in motherhood and it can be really nice to have a break from a baby. Whatever your reaction, know you are in good company. And, for any mom who has anxiety about having their child in the care of someone else, think of it as building your child’s village, helping him or her learn from others and learn to rely on others. My mom always told me, “the more people that love your child, the better.” Here are a few other tips:
Brainstorm how mornings and evenings will go once you return to work. If you are raising your child with a partner, make this a 50/50 conversation about how you will divide and conquer the labor of getting a child to daycare and making dinner and doing bedtime at the end of the day. Sure, things will change, but it’s a good idea to think it through before you return.
Do a childcare trial run. Whether you have hired a nanny or will be using a daycare, plan to try it out a few days before you have to go back to work, that will give you time to work out the kinks, get used to the idea (before you have to add work worries), and (BONUS!) you can have just a moment to yourself before your working mom life begins.
Start back midweek if you can. The first week will probably be hard, and if you can swing starting back on a Thursday, you will be closer to the weekend when you can rest and evaluate how things worked logistically so you can make changes before your first full week.
Return gradually if possible. If you have parental leave, consider saving a little to have a more flexible work schedule when you return. Perhaps you can save four days and have the first four Fridays off? That can be especially helpful if you are breastfeeding and working to keep up your supply. It’s also worth seeing if your employer has any flexibility in you working from home one day a week or trying a part-time schedule (if that’s a possibility for you).
Find support among other working moms. If there is already a group meeting in your office, join it. If not, think about inviting a few other working moms or parents out to lunch to talk about the challenges you share, brainstorm solutions, find camaraderie, and, maybe even, help your employer adapt family-friendly policies.
Know that almost everyone goes through a period where they think, “I have to quit.” For some folks, that’s just not an option, and it’s good to know that it can pass as you adjust to your new normal. For others, Brody really recommends waiting out your initial urge to leave your job. That may be what’s best for you, but it’s better to make that decision once you’ve weathered the transition, are more settled into motherhood, and can make the choice from a place of greater calm and perspective.
My partner and I are now planning to have a baby, he is an incredible stepdad to my almost 7 years old and he has been in her life since she was three and a half, but he has no idea what to expect with a newborn how can I prepare him for parenthood?
I’d ask what he’s worried about, what he’s excited about, and what questions he has. And find out what, if anything, he’d like to do to prepare. My husband had never spent any time with babies and really wanted to take a Newborn 101 class at a local birth center. I thought it was a waste of money and time, but even just learning that babies actually don’t require much fancy care in the beginning was reassuring to him, so I’m glad we did it. That said, can you really prepare anyone for parenthood?
Can you give couples any advice for surviving early parenthood as a couple?
First, know that it will be a huge adjustment and will probably be initially hard on your relationship. Research shows that two-thirds of parents have conflict in new parenthood. You are both sleep deprived and learning new skills. That’s a recipe for short fuses and temper tantrums. So, give each other a break when you’re impatient or lose your cool. Know that you are doing the best you can to adjust to a whole new situation together. Communicate how you are feeling and what you need in a proactive way. (Instead of, “you never clean the diaper pail!” try, “can we take turns cleaning the diaper pail, I need a break from the smell!”). Talk about things other than the baby at the end of the day so you can stay in touch with the common interests that brought you together to raise this tiny, wailing human who has captured your hearts and minds. Offer small words of support and encouragement when you can, and, if your partner doesn’t do the same, ask him or her to. Get away from the baby in whatever small ways you can to spend time together. And, when you do, listen and be open to each other as best you can. And, when you sometimes fail, give yourself a break and try again. You are both learning a whole new set of skills and new way to be together. It will take time.
Finally, what is your number one piece of advice for mums who are feeling emotionally overwhelmed?
Talk until someone listens to you and agrees to help.