By Ariane Beeston
For the first twelve months of my son’s life the guilt was strong in this one.
I had the guilts about just about everything. You name it – I felt guilty about it.
Five years later, although I’m not guilt-free by any stretch, I no longer experience “mother-guilt” in quite the same way. I strive to be what paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called a “good enough” mum and that’s good-enough for me.
While we’re talking about the past though, let me take you down guilt-lane. And please, be gentle. As you’ll discover, I was very unwell and many of my thoughts weren’t rational. And yet, you might relate to a few of these yourself…
1. Not breastfeeding for 12 months: I had planned to breastfeed for at least a year. During my pregnancy I had visions of lazy afternoons in bed with my suckling babe as the sun spilled across my bed and I gazed loving into his eyes. The reality, however, was a shock. I experienced two wonderful weeks feeling like a breastfeeding goddess before it all went downhill. I tried everything: Motilium, expressing, lactation consultants, and breastfeeding clinics. No deal.
By the time an early childhood nurse realised my baby had a tongue-tie I’d switched to pumping and then to formula. And the guilt was excruciating. I wish I could go back and give my tired self, permission to bottle feed, guilt-free. I had no reason to feel anything but pride at how hard we persevered against a backdrop of conflicting – and often just plain bad – advice. There should be no guilt whatsoever about how you choose to feed your child.
2. Not bonding with my son straight away: That rush of love you’re “supposed” to feel after the birth of your baby? It didn’t happen. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was later diagnosed with postnatal psychosis, and it greatly impaired my ability to bond with my baby. The love came late – much much later than the mothers around me. And the guilt was immense. I often wondered if people could tell, just by looking at me, how much of a fraud I was. Gradually, as I got better, the love arrived and the relief was magical. And now, I love my little boy more every day.
Understanding that my inability to bond with my baby wasn’t because I was a monster, but deeply unwell, helped me to let go of the guilt and shame I felt around this.
3. Being admitted to hospital with my son: At eight months old, my son and I were admitted to a mum and baby psychiatric unit. “But it will be so disruptive for his routine,” I said. “But he’ll miss his dad,” I sobbed. “But I’m the sick one. Why should he have to suffer because of me?”
Oh my dear, if only you knew then, how life saving those few weeks would be. I don’t feel a shred of guilt about being hospitalised – and nor should I.
4. Not enjoying every minute: This is just bad advice. Please, don’t feel guilty if you’re not loving every moment. (If you are, that’s great too.) Our experiences are all so very different.
5. Bouncing back after birth: “How did you get you body back so fast?” “You don’t even look like you had a baby.” Yep, I even felt guilty about not struggling to lose the baby weight. Here’s the thing though, I might have been back in my jeans a few days after the birth (pure genetics, my mum was the same) but I lost my brain for about three years. You win some. You lose some. (Literally.)
6. Not pureeing every meal: My son ate a lot of those squeezy food pouches. A lot. I felt pretty guilt about it when I heard and read about other mothers pureeing all their babies’ food and freezing weeks’ worth into ice cube trays. But you know what? I was lucky to be getting out of bed and still meeting my son’s every need. You do whatever it takes.
7. Not keeping a baby book: In the scheme of things this really shouldn’t matter. And yet, I had grand plans of keeping a detailed journal of that first year. I wanted to capture the milestones, the memories and my reflections on motherhood. And while I didn’t do that (who does) I have about 10,000 photos of all the important and mundane moments. And that’s just fine.
8. Not giving my son a sibling when he was young: I’d planned to have two kids close together. But life, of course, had other ideas. I’ll admit, there are still times when I feel a tinge of guilt that I’ve haven’t given my son a sibling yet. And then I remember that I’m here, that I’m well and that I’m happy. And that’s the most important thing.
And so, if you’re feeling guilty about any of the above (and more!) know that you’ll most probably feel differently about it in the months and years to come. Time and hindsight certainly softened those “guilty feelings” for me.
I know now that I did the best I could. How can I possibly feel any guilt about that?
Find more information and support for postnatal depression on the COPE website.