Happy Mother's Day (Or Maybe Not)

For some women, this week is trigger city - and what's triggered? Fear, rage, grief... it's all in there - along with love.

My newsfeed is filling up with Mother’s Day memes that'd make a hard, cold stone cry warm, happy tears. Yours?
And then there are those beautifully wonky homemade cards and flowers - so cute, so precious. Aaah, it's lovely. A heartfelt and deserved celebration of motherhood, which truly is a beautiful thing.
But it’s not like that for everyone. For some women, these cards with their crayon love hearts are aching reminders that while they love their children dearly, they are not entirely happy parenting them.
For some women, this week is trigger city - and what's triggered? Fear, rage, grief... it's all in there - along with love. Nothing is as "straightforward" as it seems - remember Christmas?? Mother's Day, like mothering itself, is no exception!
A few years ago, I heard a woman's email being read out on a chat show and it really stayed with me: she was a mother, she loved her kids, and she was miserable.
As a woman, and as a therapist, I hear almost daily the pressures that women experience once they transform from ‘woman’ to ‘mother’ - and always minus the imaginary wisdom-filled manual!
In my position I am privileged to hear the things we have all either heard, imagined or felt, but rarely talk about. There is still an expectation that women 'take to motherhood' much like proverbial ducks to water. But, honestly now, has it been that easy?
Has it been endless hours of fun and "instajoy" as you revel in that high pitch scream your bundle of joy emits just as you finally managed to drift…off… to... sleep…?
The truth is that not every woman enjoys motherhood and it can be experienced as traumatic when that truth dawns. Then the guilt sets in and the feeling of being weird and abnormal. Of being less than. Why? Because maybe no one really explained to you that they felt the same. Or if they did, they might have called it "a bit postnatal" - and so you thought well, that's not "normal" then.
Or maybe you didn’t really take them seriously because they certainly appeared to be coping well... I mean, their pics are adorable! Plus their eyeliner is on straight and they've lost all that weight...
Yes, few things annoy me more than celebrity photoshoots with serene newborns and toned arses.
For many - most even - of course there will be many moments of intense joy!
For some though, bonding with a newborn feels impossible, or at best, difficult. This does not mean you are faulty. It means you are finding this tough.
Women are literally at their most vulnerable giving birth. And...
  • Your body may be in shock
  • Maybe the birth didn’t go as planned
  • Maybe the birth triggered old feelings of loss of control
  • Maybe you're terrified your baby will become sick or even die
  • Maybe you're afraid your baby won't like you
  • Maybe the birth triggered grief or bereavement that you were previously only barely conscious of - or thought you'd recovered from.
  • Maybe the birth triggered an awareness that all is not well with your partner.
  • Maybe it's dawned that you are no longer clocking off at 5.
  • Maybe you're thinking: This. Is. It. And you feel trapped.
These are the things that interfere with our ability, or even desire, to bond with a tiny dependent, squeaky, noisy, demanding, new person... but doesn’t that make perfect sense?
So we need to acknowledge these feelings as normal. Unpleasant yes, but normal.
Note: I've mentioned before that it is really important to know that loving your children and loving (or not) parenting them are two entirely separate things. It is utterly plausible that you can fiercely love your child but dread spending the day with them.
Parenting is absolutely rewarding and joyful for many women. Equally though, it feels like grief for others because so much has changed. For some women it's both: swinging wildly from one to the other in the space of minutes. (Same goes for men of course, but this piece is for Mother’s Day!)
So what can we do?
We could stop judging. Mothers are not superwomen nor do they need to be to raise healthy, functioning children. They are women. They'll make mistakes, they won't always have clean hair and there might be vomit on their shoulder.
We can support rather than diagnose mothers. Let's avoid the temptation to overuse the labels 'depression' and ‘post-natal’.
Very often, a woman is reacting normally to what is, for her, an abnormal situation. A skilled therapist will know the very real difference between feeling depressed, clinical depression or postpartum psychosis.
If this piece resonates with you, and it feels safe to do so, check with your friends to see if this resonates with them. Talking it out with them will probably help. Seeking support, help, advice from a friend, parent, mentor, therapist - it’s all good.
If you are deeply concerned about your behaviour or if you feel you are at real risk of actually hurting yourself or your children then definitely seek professional support. You do not have to go through this alone and people are trained to help you. They’ll have seen this before - there will be no judgement.
And contrary to what you might believe, it’s a sign of strength to seek help. It is, in fact, good parenting and good modeling for your children.
Sally O’Reilly is the Family Psychology Experthere at FamilyFriendlyHQ. She's a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ fulltimeexperience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site sallyoreilly.comor on Twitter @psychosalor Facebookat Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy. 

Sally O'Reilly

Person, Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor with special interest in adolescence. Love all chocolate equally, hate all blue cheeses - equally.

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