For #MaternalMentalHealth Week 2018.
Spend more than ten minutes with any new mama and the subject of GUILT is bound to arise. It is something I was wholly unprepared for and, alongside the anxiety I felt postnatally, it hit me like a freight train. At times, it was completely overwhelming – I felt destined for a lifetime of feeling this way. But what does feeling guilty actually achieve? If it’s something that can be changed, it may prompt us to make changes, but what if it’s unwarranted…
We got pregnant as soon as we tried. I felt hugely guilty for a long time – many of our friends were trying to conceive and had been for a while. Sharing our news with these friends made me feel guilty. It took a friend going through IVF telling me that her happiness at our news was in no diminished by what was happening to her for me to realise this. (Happily, she is in labour, or possibly holding her new baby, as I type!)
New Baby Guilt
When we brought Prim home and the reality of the fact we’d become parents hit, I remember asking Phil, “Am I supposed to love her more than I love you now,? Because I don’t at the moment; I haven’t known her for long enough.” I appreciate the ridiculousness of this question now – the two are not mutually exclusive, and love is organic – but, at the time, I was utterly preoccupied with it. Then there was her slow weight gain… all my fault, of COURSE, because I was feeding her. In reality, she was just slow to gain weight but was perfectly healthy and happy but I. Could. Not. See. This.
I fell into the trap of feeling the guilt for almost every move I made…
Guilty for being exhausted and just wanting to sleep? Check.
Guilty for wondering what the bloody hell we’d done? Check.
Guilty for spending time on my phone rather than staring into her eyes all feed, every feed? Check.
Guilty for not wanting anyone other than me or Phil to hold her for too long? Check.
Guilty that I wasn’t a better mother – she deserved someone – anyone – else. Check.
For x-number of years, it was just the two of us. Suddenly, this tiny being was completely dependent on me for survival. Much of the time, there was no room in my head for anything other than taking care of Prim. I didn’t cook for months – Phil did. Housework barely happened. To my mind, I was at home, so I should be doing these things.
Guess who didn’t care? Guess who enjoys cooking and did it most of the time before we had a baby anyway? Guess who does as much of the housework as I do normally? Guess who did absolutely nothing to make me feel like I should be cooking, cleaning and laundering his smalls? Guess who listened to, and reassured, me every day, telling me to take care of Primrose and sod the house? Yep – my husband. And still the guilt rolled on – I felt guilty for wasting time feeling guilty, for Chrissake!
Despite most of my friends being incredibly supportive in my early motherhood, there were a handful who fell into ‘you need to get back to normal’ camp? This caused a sort of double-edged guilt – I felt like wasn’t being the friend I should be, but also didn’t want to get back to ‘normal’. I had a new normal, and that was good for me – I’d chosen to have a baby. If I’d wanted the ‘old’ normal, I wouldn’t have had a baby. But did that mean I couldn’t be the same friend I was before? I still haven’t worked the answer to this out, but I hope my friends know that I do the best I can.
Other Mama Guilt
Baby who loved sleep… Felt guilty that friends had babies who did not. Baby who loved solid food from the get go… Felt guilty about the mums I knew whose babies weren’t initially interested. Deciding not to return to work… Felt guilty for the friends who wanted to stay at home but couldn’t afford to. I’m eye rolling at this now – my guilt in no way improved their situation. Not one bit. I now have a more wakeful second baby and would hate any of my friends to feel bad about having a snoozer! I’d tell them to make the most of it!
I can’t believe I’m even typing this but GOOD LORD, I felt guilty about our cat being usurped. Poor chap went from being a lap cat, getting ALL the cuddles, to being shouted at for getting under our feet. Guiult. Despite showing no jealousy towards Prim, and always sitting close by as she grew, as though he were protecting her, he used to get shooed away all the time. And then he died when Prim was 9m old and I still harbour feelings of guilt that his last few months weren’t full of many cuddles and ear rubs.
First World Guilt
This happens almost every time I moan. About pretty much anything. Because, let’s face it, most of us in the developed world are really bloody fortunate. I live in a warm, secure home in the countryside, my kids breathe fresh air, I have rights; choices. I have access to arguably the best healthcare system in the world; my maternity care was better than many women dream of. We have decent food on the table and clean water on tap. When I moan, it’s usually about something pretty trivial and, almost always, a first world problem. Guilt.
Choosing to have children means putting more humans on a very over-populated planet. Guilt. Despite choosing to buy nearly everything second hand; breastfeeding; shopping local/organic/British made wherever possible; recycling; switching to cloth nappies and washable wipes (part-time!) when Wilf came along; trying to stick to sustainably made toys… I still feel guilty every time I use a disposable nappy, or shop at the supermarket.
The CBT I had when Prim was six months old was a bit of a game changer for me. I learned to let go of these guilty feelings:
– My pregnancy made no difference to whether or not my friends managed to conceive.
– My baby was happy, healthy, secure, warm and loved.
– My relationship would be just fine. The house would not fall down from lack of cleaning.
– Good friends would get it. I was still a good friend.
– I wouldn’t want other mamas to feel guilty, and they would feel the same way!
– My cat would forgive me/didn’t care.
– Folks in less-developed nations weren’t benefiting in any way from my guilt; it wasn’t improving their situation and, anyway, wasn’t it kind of insulting for me to assume my life was ‘better’ than theirs?
– I was doing my bit for the planet.
So, for months I got on top of the guilt. Screw you, I thought. But then…
Second baby guilt
And I thought ‘pet guilt’ was bad!
In all seriousness, you can read about my adjustment to life with a toddler and a newborn here. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wondered if their first born will be scarred for life by the arrival of their second. But I also won’t be alone in knowing that they’ll be just fine; better than fine, in fact, with a sibling in their lives. I’m slowly letting go of the guilt for the second time.
So, let’s say ‘Get lost, guilt’! You do us absolutely no favours, sap our energy and make us feel like crap.
When did you learn to let go of the guilt? Or do you waste too much time on it?
Jo, The Mother Side xx
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