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Motherhood in perspective

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The thought of having a baby is often quite exhilarating. Many hold that expectation of personal fulfillment and the refreshing glow that comes with the amazing miracle of life. We often hear stories of abounding joy and delight, as mothers seemingly glide through the various phases and tasks with which they are confronted. It is believed that women beam when they’re pregnant, and that they will bond instantly when they hold their baby for the very first time, and they will evolve naturally and gracefully through this transition into motherhood.{{more}}

Oh, how many wish the above description of the transition to motherhood was applicable to all; but the reality is, that is not the case.

We live in a culture that romanticizes motherhood. Even today, when we find ourselves surrounded by enlightened and progressive thinkers, the myth of the perfect mother persists. That is, the good mother is, with absolute commitment, self-sacrificing and nurturing. She provides unconditional devotion to her family and is motivated by endless self-denial, that will ultimately fortify her children’s emotional well-being.

All of this sounds good on paper.

A woman may hear how motherhood will change her life forever. Indeed. But what is often not said is that some of these changes will be profoundly disquieting, often launching her into a crisis, the likes of which she has never known.

What does a mother do with the burden of ambivalence she feels toward the baby she has longed for? How does she reconcile her desire to be the best mother she can be with her yearning for the life she had before her baby? To whom does she dare admit her secret wish that she never had this baby?

How can she sleep at night, as she tries to balance the unsettling thoughts that constantly race through her mind and the imposing guilt that follows? Can she be a good mother if she struggles, at times, with abrupt feelings of discontent, resentment, and anger toward her baby? How does she resist the temptation to surrender to the loss of control and the assault to her self-esteem and identity? Will she ever again reclaim her feelings of sexuality and passion for her former self?

Is this what being a mother is all about, or will she ever truly feel like herself again?

Often the changes and losses which take place after having a baby are never discussed. Nothing can fully prepare a woman for being a mother. No amount of reading or research or observation or discussion with women who are already mothers can adequately convey the power of the experience. Yet, the ability to mother is as much an instinctual skill as it is an acquired one. For humans, the mothering instinct seems to kick in automatically the moment a woman gives birth. From the first smell and the first cry, each baby’s uniqueness is imprinted upon its mother – a permanent connection, an extraordinary bond.

In the months following birth, this instinctive nature becomes the “voice of your mothering”, informing you what your baby needs. When your child seems comfortable and contented, you feel a sense of competency and great accomplishment. The day-to-day extraordinary ordinary moments measure the unfolding of a new being: new skills and milestones achieved.

It takes time to find your way through this new role of mother. But rest assured, eventually you will learn patience, learn to deal with uncertainty, learn to keep your cool, learn to ask for help if you need it, and learn to feel secure enough to know that you are doing the best you can. Over time, you and your baby will develop your own “language” together, that intimate way of relating that reflects a growing understanding between the two of you.

Whatever you need that doesn’t come naturally, you’ll pick up along the way. Eventually, you’ll learn to trust your inner knowing, to combine it with knowledge gained from experience, and to utilize these tools in every aspect of your life.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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