The Secret Fears of New Mothers

Photography: Poppy Peterson

By Megan Connolly

I still remember the moment, my 6-pound, 4-day old child wrapped up next to my chest, standing in a dark, damp tunnel filled with strangers, that I first felt that fear.

I was doing what I had been told to do by my midwife. A medical professional who cared about us. Travel to a breastfeeding ‘cafe’ in a neighbouring borough in London. There she would be on hand with some needed coaching and advice. I told her I didn’t drive. She said public transportation would be absolutely fine for the baby due to all of the antibodies in my breast milk.

I entered the lift to take me down to the platform of the Underground station. While I was waiting people started to notice us. They were the kind comments of well meaning strangers. Nevertheless, I started to wonder if this was really a good idea. Walking through the tunnels, to my platform, I could feel the cold mist in my lungs. Damp. Dickensian. Far down the platform from me, I heard a man cough. I froze. And turned around. And went right back up to street level. There was no way I was going back in that tunnel with my newborn.

I arrived home in tears. I rang the midwife, explained the situation, apologised. I was too nervous. She said it was fine. Probably just my ‘progesterone’. She would see me the next day.

Nevertheless, I felt like a failure. No one told me there would be days like this.

Our question at Well Made Mama is: Why Not?

In more than one study of how well antenatal education classes (those classes you take to help prepare you for your baby’s arrival) prepare new parents for parenthood, attendees have noted that, while the information provided on the birth itself was extensive, they would have appreciated more information on the time after baby has arrived. Specifically, tactical concerns such as how to care for the baby, but also social and emotional concerns, such as adapting to life as a parent.

You could add us to that list. We had a lot of information about the birth of the child. Almost no information about our new lives as mothers. And so at WMM, we are working to change that for the world’s mothers. Because we believe it is a crucial, yet typically overlooked, component of your preparation.

We are approaching our task scientifically, by first understanding what type of information can help mothers adapt to their roles. And based on that, trying to either improve on existing designs or help make proven models more widely available to new mothers.

Depending on what study you look at, antenatal training does – and doesn’t – set out to do what it intends to. It doesn’t actually reduce the pain of labour or the number of epidurals requested. But it does help mothers feel more informed about the birthing process, and possibly more in control. As long as the advice given is followed, it does appear to be helpful for certain health-related behaviours, such as reducing smoking, attending doctor’s appointments and the follow-on impact of reducing the incidence of low-birth weight babies.

Yet what ‘antenatal training’ is can vary. There is no one set standard antenatal curriculum. As a result, tracking ‘its’ impact on the outcomes of new parents is difficult to do, unless one is very specific about exactly what outcome they are tracking. For our purposes, let’s dive into the available research on those training sessions that expressly set out to improve a mother’s mental adaptation to her role. (Resulting in less anxiety, less depression, more confidence, improved relationships, etc.)

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