What I do know is:
… At this point, just thinking about needing to feed him again has me in tears. I simply cannot do this.”
It was 14 days after delivery and Jemma arrived at my office with a referral from the child health nurse who had concerns around postnatal depression.
I sat comforting Jemma as she poured out her difficulties over the last few weeks. She had idealised becoming a mother, waiting until late 20’s to have her first. Of course she’d expected the experience to be nothing short of wonderful.
But… it was far from wonderful.
Right from the get-go things had not gone to plan. At delivery, Jemma had to have an emergency caesarean section, and this was after an extremely difficult labour. What’s more, since birth baby Tom had been restless and unsettled, with Jemma’s efforts at breastfeeding not working out at all.
She sat in my office fighting to contain her tears, describing her feelings of failing at being a mother.
“What is wrong with me… why can I not do this?”
Jemma was surrounded by other new Mum’s who were doing well and who made it all look so easy.
“I feel horribly guilty,” she confessed… “I resent being a Mum. I just want my old life back.”
The truth of the matter is that Jemma’s story is not an isolated one. Many new mothers find their transition to motherhood exceedingly tough.
One complicating factor is unrealistic expectations about motherhood. It is typically anticipated with excitement and enthusiasm.
A woman approaching motherhood expects to feel happy, fulfilled and content, yet these expectations are often not met. This leads to disappointment.
Societal expectations are also unhelpful because it’s taken for granted that ‘women are natural mothers who possess an innate ability to immediately bond with their baby and quickly become a selfless and caring nurturer.’
This near mythical representation places a great deal of pressure on new mothers to project the appearance that they are meeting these expectations. Even when it’s not the reality. What’s worse is it keeps women from asking for help out of fear of being judged, or misunderstood.
As far as the current system goes, it simply has not been set up to meet the needs of both baby and mother during this critical period following birth. It’s these initial weeks which set the stage for the long-term well-being of both.
Despite its importance, the current system only offers a six-week check.
At this appointment, the emphasis is routinely on the baby’s growth and development, this appointment isn’t focused on assessing the mothers health or mental state.
The delivery of post-natal care (that is, care following baby’s birth) should preferably continue where antenatal care (that is, the care you receive during pregnancy) left off.
Ideally the same healthcare providers you have through your pregnancy will screen, support and help educate you around what you may realistically experience after your baby is born.
It would be ideal also if those caring for you in the early months post-birth, are the same providers you journeyed with during your pregnancy.
It’s no secret that breastfeeding and mood issues are most likely to show up in the first three weeks after giving birth, yet the current system doesn’t facilitate a program for early intervention to match.
Not only this, but most women during this time will experience challenges such as sleep disturbance, heavy fatigue, pain and urinary or bowel incontinence. At the very least it would help these women to receive reassurance and support.
Instead, the system and society is and has been largely silent on the subject. There is minimal support for new mothers in their 3 months following birth – at a time they need it most and are crying out for help.
At One for Women, we refer to this genuine fourth trimester time where there is so much need, as “The Silent Trimester”.
It’s a complicated time when a new mum is experiencing significant changes to her psychological, social and physical self. Not only is she keeping her newborn adequately fed, but she’s also recovering from childbirth, adjusting to changing hormones and figuring out how to care for her baby in general. She’s also needing support with sleep, and tiredness, sexuality and contraception, birth spacing and feeding.
The current system is reactive and if issues had earlier intervention they could be prevented altogether.
A fresh, proactive approach, means women will get care with far better results. For this to happen, a system reset is needed where healthcare practitioners are:
The acknowledgement by many celebrity mums, including Drew Barrymore, about their struggles in the fourth trimester has started to help realign the expectations of mothers-to-be.
At One for Women, we’re pioneering advocates for change, starting with our own care model.
Our vision is for mothers and their babies to be treated as a unit with equal focus, and thrive under a proactive system, which aims at the best possible health and wellbeing outcomes for both!