I used to work in a maternity clinic for a while. Physicians would refer women to meet with me that were struggling in the weeks immediately after giving birth.
During our first session, I would ask these women what was happening for them. Enough of them told me that they were feeling regret about having had the baby that I learned to ask about this with every new mom that I met.
I would say something like, “So. Everyone is telling you that you are the luckiest person in the world to have such a lovely new baby in your life. I’m curious. Is anyone talking to you about the fact that you might want to send the baby back, too?”
This line of questioning would make them laugh. I would then tell them, “It’s okay if you’re feeling regret that you have this new baby. There’s so much change in your life. Your body doesn’t belong to just you anymore because you’re nursing. You have to be available whenever the baby needs to feed. You’re carrying extra weight. Your body shape is wrong. You’re not physically fit. You’re not getting enough sleep. You’re tied to this new creature and have lost your independence. And your professional life is over as you knew it. Of course you have regrets.”
For many women, these opening lines began a series of conversations with me that they wouldn’t have risked having with many other people – and possibly with no one. They knew that others would possibly be scandalized if they heard that a part of these women were thinking that they wanted to reverse their decision to have the baby. With me, they could acknowledge that all the changes that come with having a baby are not good. And that the shock that comes with having this hit home can feel devastating.
And with this acknowledgement, they could grieve their losses as well as enjoying the good things. Having a new baby at home is hard. Admitting this, at least to herself, can make a woman feel saner.
The majority of women who give birth while I work with them today in my private practice are not prepared for what will happen in their lives after the baby comes, especially when it’s their first. These women need a good support system and often the one they have is inadequate. Many will spend time with parents that they don’t have good relationships with because they will need help immediately after the birth to get their feet on the ground. Several tell me things like, “My mom is always angry,” or “My mom is so judgemental.”
The result of all these pressures and the isolation? Sometimes it’s post-partum depression. Sometimes its difficulty bonding with their new baby, especially if the parents they had were not good enough and didn’t teach them what a good bond with a child feels like.
Usually, the women do want the new child they have brought into the world. But having somewhere to acknowledge that all is not roses and that all their dreams have not suddenly come true through the birth of their new baby can make a huge difference to their mental health.
In therapy, they can acknowledge they will likely be left behind professionally during the year they are on maternity leave. They will also possibly be penalized by their employers after they return to work because they’ve been away from the office, and don’t have the freedom to work late or to travel after they have a child.
They also benefit when they have a supportive environment to voice opinions such as that it is not okay to tell a woman she should cover up when she breast feeds, or to breast feed in a toilet stall so no one will see her feeding her child. They benefit when you share their anger with them about society’s craziness that surfaces when they have a child.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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