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Tuesday, 9 May 2017
For years, psychologists have recognised the existence of maternal ambivalence . In my experience, it's not often talked about. But it's surprisingly common and many new mothers will talk about the they were surprised to experience such ambivalence just after the birth of their child.
'I had an urge when I was out shopping with my new baby to leave her in the buggy in the changing room.... and walk away. I didn't of course... but to be honest, I'm surprised that more babies are left all over the place, the feeling is so strong.' - A new mother attending a local mum and baby group.
I remember a few days after I gave birth to my son I had an overwhelming sense that I had made a terrible mistake. I was completely unprepared for this feeling, this ambivalence to being a mother and for having all this responsibility thrust upon me.
Naomi Stadlen is one of the leading professionals ambivalence and identity of new mothers I always recommend her book 'What Mother's Do...Even When it Looks like Nothing.' to women who are having or who have just had children. This quote below perfectly sums up my experience:
'First-time mothers usually collect information about babies. They..... go to preparation classes. But for many women, even though they have attended preparation classes, the reality feels excessive. Surely someone along the road would have stepped in to warn them? They had expected a slight shock at having a baby but what they experienced was a massive shock.'
Stadlen's version of maternal ambivalence is kinder and more compassionate to women than earlier psychologists view. When we consider the full reality of motherhood and the shift that many new mothers feel in going from a fully independent person who is able to head out the door to see friends, go to the cinema and even for a pint of milk with no encumbrance. Yet a new mother suddenly finds that she has another person who is constantly dependent on her, and completely vulnerable.
This points to polarity struggle that I sometimes work with my coaching clients - that of independence vs dependence. If we are used to being and living mainly in the pole of independence, I think the shock of having a baby who is completely dependent on you AND who your ability to move and live is also dependent on, it can feel unbearable.
As I write this, I hope this is helpful for you, my readers who are coming to this blog trying to decide whether you want to be a mother or not. I think it's important to know that even if you do make the decision to have children, that decision can still contain ambivalence .... at least for those initial weeks and that it is normal.