Have you ever heard the song Summertime Sadness? Now I know I’m late to the party, but I only just heard it for the first time the other day. It got me thinking about the fact that summertime is meant to be this fun, happy time and this wistful song is all about sadness. And the thing is that summertime CAN be full of sadness, of longing, of unfulfilled dreams, but it can be hard to express that because culturally it seems ‘wrong’.
There is a great term for when how you feel and how you believe you should feel are out of whack… It’s called cognitive dissonance. If you don’t feel or behave the way you think you ‘should’ then that causes a kind of anxiety, or cognitive dissonance, which we often tend to try and avoid or reduce.
Many people experience cognitive dissonance when they have a baby. If you don’t ‘fall in love’ with your baby immediately, you worry that there is something wrong. This is especially true if you have had fertility issues. However research shows that over 1/3 of mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies immediately, so it’s actually pretty normal.
There are so many expectations about how you should feel as a mother – grateful, joyful, proud, empowered, nourishing, glowing, fulfilled… and so when you don’t feel like that it can be hard not to believe that something is wrong. And when you don’t check out these feelings with others but keep pretending that you feel the way you think you ‘should’ then the anxiety can become even more overwhelming. It can begin to feel as though something is wrong with YOU.
‘Is this normal?’ is a question that mothers ask their health visitors and GPs and other mothers about their baby’s health. But it’s a question that we’re often too scared to ask about our feelings. “Is it normal to be scared I’ll be too selfish to be a good Mum?” “Is it normal to think that my newborn baby looks pretty ugly?” “Is it normal to be angry with the hospital where I had an emergency section, even though my baby and I are safe?” “Is it normal to occasionally wish I hadn’t become a mother, when I had tried for so long?” “Is it normal to sometimes wish that people would just give me some space with my baby, rather than coming around all the time?”
These are all normal, and if they’re causing you anxiety then you might want to talk to someone. Finding the right person is important, as you don’t want to speak to someone who also thinks that something is ‘wrong’ if you’re not feeling all the ‘right’ things, but when you do find the right person it can be an immense relief. It’s one of the reasons why I offer counselling, as sometimes all you need to know is that what you’re feeling is perfectly OK.