It’s time to embrace reinvention in motherhood
‘Bouncing back’ is one phrase I want to ban in motherhood. I never want to hear it used again to describe a postnatal woman. The media love to talk about how women miraculously give birth one minute, and the next they are up and about as though nothing happened. This hastiness to return to ‘normal’ is unhelpful and damaging.
It’s something I’ve experienced first-hand. I began freelancing after returning from maternity leave. I was determined to head back to work and continue right where I had left off. At the time, however, my son slept terribly. So, I found myself juggling sleep deprivation with the pressures of a new style of work. I took longer to make decisions and questioned everything. My expectations of myself were high. I didn’t take the time to acknowledge the enormity of it all.
The problem is that it’s easy to forget all that happens when you have a baby. Firstly, physically, nothing bounces back anywhere. It slowly, progressively heals and becomes the new you. Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding play havoc with your body. When carrying your baby, your body comes under the same level of stress as an ultra-marathon; the internal organs squished up under your rib cage. Labour is one of the toughest endurance activities anyone could undertake. And, within seconds of giving birth, you must try to breastfeed, which can be painful and challenging to master.
The need for greater support
The support women receive postnatally is dependent on several factors, but many feel they need more of it (something I want to delve deeper into soon). Currently, the pandemic is preventing women from having their face-to-face day two and day five midwife appointments. I argue these are some of the most critical milestones for a woman adjusting to motherhood. And, because of the postponement of the six-week physical check, women could find themselves struggling with incontinence for the rest of their life or returning to exercise without guidance, potentially resulting in long-term injury. Reinstating these checks needs to happen as quickly as possible. But the work doesn’t end at this six-week window. Pelvic floor muscles require constant work post-pregnancy. Exercise routines should be post-natal friendly for at least a year. In short, recovering from pregnancy takes time.
And, while the fourth trimester (0-3 months post-delivery) is now rightly considered a vital time for mums to receive support, realistically, this help is needed for much longer. My sleep deprivation hit me hardest when my son was ten to fifteen months old. And my lack of confidence is only starting to register now; two years after my son arrived. Now, after a year of freelancing, I recognise I need help moving between the different worlds and adjusting to my new head-space. I’m lucky enough to afford to work with a coach, and it’s something I now advocate for all mothers, if they can. Primarily, so that you can say out loud the things you worry about telling partners or family: ‘I want some time away from my baby’; ‘I miss having no responsibility’; ‘I’m not sure I can handle going back to work’.
Support does not equal failure
Putting the focus on support should not mean that mothers feel like they are a failure, or that they are weak, or a burden. It is about acknowledging that their priorities have changed. Their internal ‘to do’ list has doubled, if not tripled. It is natural for anyone to need help navigating this increased volume of traffic after such a life-changing event. A child adds new worries, new considerations, new demands. By better-supporting mothers, they will come back more empowered, more resilient, and more productive than ever.
So, let’s ban the phrase ‘bouncing back’ in motherhood. Instead, we should focus on the immensity of motherhood and the opportunities that result from this extraordinary experience. ‘Nurturing the change’ or ’embracing reinvention’ is what needs to happen instead.