Joy, fear, excitement and anticipation are just a few of the emotions which pregnant women have shared with me. There’s nothing like the journey to becoming a parent (for the first or multiple times) to provoke a whole spectrum of emotions, experienced over the course of months, weeks, days, hours and even minutes. The experience of being pregnant or giving birth in a country which is not your passport country, can often seem to intensify this due to numerous factors such as not knowing the medical system, being far away from family amongst others. There are families whose pregnancies are ‘easy’ and full of positive experiences, those whose journeys present them with challenges seemingly from the beginning right through to the end, and those whose experiences fall somewhere in between.
No matter where a parenting journey has landed within that spectrum, something all new parents seem to have in common, is the impact their journeys have have upon their lives. Pregnancy, birth and new parenting are hugely significant and transformative experiences. Ones that irrespective of how much time has passed, often stay fixed in our minds forever.
Preparing and adjusting to becoming a parent, changes everything. As soon as our beautiful babies are born, our thinking, love and attention shifts to caring for this new little bundle. It doesn’t matter whether this was a much longed for and carefully planned baby or an unexpected surprise. Each parenting journey looks different and is full of a huge spectrum of experience of emotions, from overwhelming love for your new addition to the fear of, ‘Am I doing this right’, compounded by the exhaustion of seemingly unending sleepless nights with a hungry baby (they will end, I promise!). Some mothers can experience antenatal or postnatal anxiety, depression, stress or face other mental health challenges.
So what is the best way to cope with these emotions and experiences?
Connection is hugely important to all of us. As some of the parents who have so kindly contributed to this blog have highlighted; connection, feeling heard, supported and loved is of huge significance. Without it, isolation is a serious risk. We all need someone we can confide in and share our lives with. Someone who can share in our joys and our frustrations and someone who can help us access support whether emotional, physical or for our mental health, if we need it. There’s something about sharing, that makes us feel known, that deepens friendships and that makes us feel supported.
It doesn’t have to be a large number of friends, although it could be, but make sure you have at least one friend who you can trust to share this journey with you. It could be someone the same age who is in a similar situation to you, or maybe it could be someone who is a few years ahead, who has been there and done it and can provide some wisdom and some of their experience with you. Someone who can guide you, help you with learning how to bath a baby, helping you get the hang of breastfeeding or bottle feeding, who plies you with food when you just don’t feel up to cooking yourself and who looks after your baby so you can have a nap. You need someone who understands the excitement of managing to have a shower at 11:30am because your baby is contentedly sleeping. Someone who appreciates and isn’t grossed out by you sharing about your babies poo explosion or poonami as they are referred to in the U.K.!
Connection with health professionals is also hugely significant. As Aggie mentioned in her story, her positive relationship with her midwives made her feel cared for, listened to, safe and supported. Having a positive relationship with midwives and doctors, is massively important at the best of times, but is of particular significance now, under the challenges of lockdown that a lot of us are facing. We need to know that we are being cared for by professionals who are acting in our best interest, who are fighting in our corner, walking this journey with us and who we can trust enough to ask for help if we need it. For me as a midwife, I loved building this kind of relationships with my clients. So wherever you are in the world, seek to find a midwife or a doctor you can form this relationship with.
When you’re abroad, connection often looks different. You may not have the same people around you as if you were in your home country. Particularly at the moment, with various borders being shut and lockdown measures being in place, it may not be possible for friends and relatives to come to visit and to provide physical support at such a crucial time. Support systems might have to look a bit different right now. It might be about whatsapp groups, video calls, online support groups and the dropping off of food supplies on our doorsteps.
The bonus of the lockdown measures all around the world, is the whole range of groups and courses which have started online, meaning they can be accessed all over the world. Check them out, and see if any of them would be helpful and encouraging for you.
Pregnancy is the perfect time to be preparing, to be putting things in place. If you can, try and take time to think about how connection looks for you right now, wherever you are and whatever lockdown restrictions you are currently facing. How can you ensure you will be connected? Sometimes we are required to be a bit creative, but connection is still there, it just looks a bit different.