Having a baby is a joyful and rewarding experience, but it’s also an enormous challenge. Sarah Wheatley (pictured) is an Edinburgh-based registered counsellor, specialising in working with new parents. Here, in the first of three articles, she talks about why it’s okay to ask for help – and where to seek it.
Amongst the women I work with, there is a recurring theme of a lack of support, and a lot of chat about how the support that they receive from the NHS is generally not enough. And it can’t be. The NHS does not have the resources to provide the kind of wrap-around care that new parents need.
Recent evidence from researchers based at Glasgow University show that “lack of support from either formal or informal sources explains about half of the parenting stress experienced by… mothers.”
That’s half of parenting stress explained by lack of support, especially from family and friends.
Unfortunately many new parents don’t realise how crucial this kind of support is, and since many of us become increasingly used to being self-reliant as we grow older, it can feel strange and clunky to ask for help. Or help just might not be easily available.
However it is crucial to the wellbeing of the mother and her child (and therefore to the partner too, if the mother has one). It has been known for a long while that parenting stress is one of the things that can lead to postnatal depression and decreased enjoyment of the parenting role.
Getting the right kind of support is important.
It’s all very well to know this, but what does that mean for people who have little support around them, or who find it difficult to ask for help?
There are so many options out there, and I’m wary of being prescriptive because every person’s situation is unique, but here are some ideas:
- Learn to get comfortable with asking for help.
This can be harder if you’re not used to it, especially since it means that you might have to hear someone say ‘no’. But it’s something that can be practised. Ask for the little things first (a meal perhaps) and then work up to the bigger stuff (a night out, or having your house cleaned).
- Get a postnatal doula/ maternity nurse.
If you can afford it, this is a great one as it can provide that kind of ‘mothering’ than new mothers need, in a way that is within your control.
- If you have a partner, recognise that even though there are two of you, that still might not be enough.
Expecting either yourself or your partner to do much more than you already do, when you’re both sleep deprived and learning about your new baby, is not realistic. You BOTH need some support, and expecting each other to be able to offer more can be damaging to your relationship, if you end up feeling disappointed or resentful.
- Find someone to talk to who you feel won’t judge you or offer unwanted advice.
Again, this can be tricky, but if you’re feeling vulnerable the last thing you need is judgement. Rather than trying to get that support from the people that you think ‘should’ be able to offer you that space, if they can’t do it then move on. Find someone who can. Being disappointed and moving on is much better than keeping on trying to get that support from someone who can’t give it.
- Find the right groups for you.
Many women I talk to have found that mother and baby groups are not their favourite forum for talking about more emotional issues. It’s one of the reasons why I set up the ‘Mother Kind’ group in Edinburgh (inspired by the wonderful ‘Mother’s Talking’ group in London).
What if asking for help feels impossible?
There can be a real sense of shame (or denial) about needing help. And this can be for a variety of reasons, including your own relationship with your parents or else what you think that everyone else is doing.
If that is the case for you, then talking to a counsellor can help you figure out what might be blocking you from accessing support and enjoying motherhood more.
For more information, see Sarah’s website at www.birthandbeyond.co.uk
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