I was recently at an event for parents-to-be and it got me thinking about what might be helpful for them to hear at this stage. Some of the things I found useful were having some of the myths of motherhood debunked, so I thought I would share a few here.
1. There is no such thing as maternal instinct.
Now I realise that is a pretty controversial statement, and I am going to temper it by saying that I am not talking about the sense of protectiveness and responsibility that mothers feel for their baby. A mother's brain changes during pregnancy and can stay altered for up to two years in order to help her be protective of her child.
However, mothers are NOT born with an innate knowledge of how to look after a baby. We learn this. And it has been shown that it actually doesn’t matter what your gender is – you take the same amount of time to learn how to look after a baby whether you are male or female.
It is like a job – you learn by watching other people, hanging out with people doing similar things, reading books or searching the internet, being given advice by people who have been there already or ‘industry experts’.
However, there is no induction, an incredible amount of responsibility early on, poor working hours and an ever changing set of goalposts. Most of us will never ever learn quite so much quite so quickly, from how to manage different drops of kerbs with different buggies, to how your baby likes to be held at different times, to what kinds of groups there are going on around you. It’s a massive learning curve, and most of us know very little about it until we have a child ourselves.
Thinking of it means like that means you can rid yourself of the idea that you ‘should’ know what your baby wants. So when other people expect you to interpret your baby’s cries on day two, you don’t need to feel as though somehow you’re a failure because you don’t know. You just haven’t learnt that part yet…
2. You are not a ‘bad mother’ if you don’t fall in love with your baby at first sight.
We are led to believe than we’re meant to be bowled over by an oxytocin-induced juggernaut of love for our baby the second we lay eyes on them, but that is not the case for everyone (or even the same person with different babies). Research by the NCT suggests that at least 1/3 of new mums do NOT feel an immediate bond with their baby. And there are many things that can affect our ability to bond with our babies as soon as we see them.
Think about it - how many of us fall in love at first sight?
For many people, falling in love is a bit of a slower burn, and bonding takes a bit of time, but the good thing is that there are lots of things you can do to enable bonding. Skin to skin is crucial, and massage, bathing with and cuddling your baby are all brilliant for this. Slings are useful for bonding too. And activities such a Video Interaction Guidance and Newborn Observations are great tools for learning more about your baby and who they are.
The thing about bonding is that it helps you enjoy being a parent more, so it’s worth pursuing even if it isn’t there right at the beginning.
3. It is normal to feel a range of emotions as a parent – being filled with joy all the time is not a prerequisite for being a ‘good’ parent
Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, out of control, frustrated and resentful are all normal parts of being a new parent. Yes, you might be lucky enough to find the process of becoming a parent incredibly joyful and affirming too, but the reality is often less fun than it looks from the outside. Not loving parenthood does not mean you are ‘getting in wrong’, and when people say ‘treasure ever moment’, remind yourself that it’s easy to say that when you’ve got a lot of distance on the situation. You don’t need to feel guilty about occasionally wondering if you’ve made a mistake by becoming a mother.
However if these feelings don’t go away with reassurance or else you start finding yourself anxious about them for any reason, then you need to check them out. Here is a good guide to what feelings are worth speaking to someone about.