As a first time mum I think I’d underestimated how much was involved in post natal recovery – physically and emotionally. Given ACT has an evidence base as a good approach to coping with chronic pain, it’s a good fit with the post natal period. For me, I had a significant perineum repair to rehabilitate from my forceps delivery which took about seven months. I also had to acclimatise to chronic sore nipples for the first two months. My daughter wouldn’t sleep other than on me for the first few weeks until I gradually weaned her into co-sleeping so I was also permanently exhausted. I remember the hormone overload on day 5 when my milk came in and I couldn’t stop crying all day, which was triggered initially by a midwife trying to show me how to hold my daughter to feed sitting up (I could only feed lying down at this point), and said midwife nearly dropping her when she did her startle reflex unexpectedly. Most significantly for me though, I was holding onto a sense of trauma that my birth reality had been so different from how I’d expected, shock at the reality I had experienced and a feeling of stuckness that I hadn’t had space to unpack and process any of it due to the constant merry go round of checks and assessments from professionals and also from family. I hadn’t prepared for the gap in headspace or how I’d deal with that with my natural resources running on empty and a baby who from the moment she was born would always come first. What helped me most was the lovely midwife I’d had during my pregnancy coming to visit on day 10 and spending her whole morning listening while I poured out all my thoughts and feelings about it to her. She was able to help me out the jigsaw together and validate my experience in a way I could then hold and process emotionally from there with my husband and then in baby groups with other women, where I was amazed how typical my experience was – it seemed the other first time mums were not all enjoying perfect water births either. ACT emphasises how we all as humans have pleasure and pain in our experiences, that we all have joy and we all suffer. That of the 8 basic emotions we experience as humans, only 3 are positive. That about half of us at one point will struggle with our mental health in some form – that of those who don’t, they may well still have to deal with another chronic condition. A good point of reflection is to mentally consider of the people you know well as a mum, who hasnt had some form of pain or suffering to endure – whether in miscarriages, pregnancy complications, relationship struggles, money worries, difficult births, difficulty recovering in the post natal period, difficulty breastfeeding or difficulty with some aspect of parenting at least one of their children. I’d argue that both pain and joy are a universal part of motherhood which is a big reason I wanted to write this blog.
community and connection
Perhaps the most healing aspect of the post natal period for me was expanding my sense of community where I live through connecting with other mothers. So for someone reading this who doesn’t have that yet, these may be helpful questions to consider – where you live, how do you connect with other mothers? Drop in groups, baby clinics, parent and toddler groups, breastfeeding groups? Do you have an ante natal group to catch up with post natally, eg NCT? Do you enjoy online forums to connect like blogs or Mumsnet? Or perhaps Facebook groups – I joined one for example on baby led weaning and another which is a local under 5s parent forum. Or perhaps you have family members or friends who’ve had babies at a similar time you can meet up with?
In the post natal period particularly I found it helpful to defuse from preconceived assumptions and expectations I’d had about how I would be as a mother, how my baby would respond, and how my husband would be as a father. For example, we’d bought a Moses basket which my daughter refused to go into, she had no interest whatsoever in naps and wanted to feed every ten minutes as a new born and certainly not every four hours as a parenting book I’d read pre baby informed me was the traditional feeding pattern. My daughter also did not want to go to anyone other than me for a cuddle as a new born due to the aforementioned wanting to feed constantly issue, so that didn’t match the exoectations of her grandparents for example. I’d thought my husband would be able to help with the housework and baths and baby changes but he wasn’t due to a flare up of a chronic condition causing muscle weakness and double vision. He couldn’t even hold our baby unless I was there in case his arm strength gave way without warning, which often it did. So given how many of my assumptions were unhelpful, I decided to let go of trying to make my family fit the books I’d read, and focus on doing what worked for us, and what it took to safely get us through one day at a time with the hope that the hard moments would pass and happier ones would come along soon. Three years later, that approach is still much more useful to me than any parenting book I’ve read or anyone elses advice. It’s worth remembering that there’s not really much evidence behind a lot of the published parenting books on sale for new mums – most of it is just information about what worked for others which may or may not for you.
Useful Defusion questions
What assumptions about birth, post natal recovery and post natal relationships might you have been fused with before having a baby? Of these, how many match up ro your experience? Have these assumptions helped or hindered your mental health? Your relationship with your baby? Your relationship with your partner (if you have one)?
Some useful defusion strategies if you decide you need them
Share any book advice that doesn’t suit your baby with a group of other mums of babies – online or in person. what do they have to say about their experience of that advice?
Pass any books that don’t help you onto a sale – or burn the book if you prefer
talk to your partner or best friend or mum about it – what’s their perspective?
Write unhelpful assumptions down on paper and rip them up
Type up unhelpful assumptions and play around with the font then delete them when your done
Try making up a poem about them
Lie on the grass and picture them all floating away on fluffy clouds
If things are different from you expected before becoming a mum it might be helpful to review your parenting values and priorities
What really matters to me and to my partner right now?
How can we get more of what matters into our parenting journey?
Do we need to make compromises – if so can we agree what?
Is my baby different from how I expected? Do I need to be a different parent than I expected? How does that sit with my parenting values?