Aquarius: Thanks for joining us this evening. We had such a good response to this topic. It obviously strikes a chord with a lot of women. Angelica, you specialise in prenatal and post-natal coaching. In your experience, why is it so hard to get back to ‘normal’ – emotionally and mentally – after having a baby?
Angelica: I have been working with men and women as a trainer and wellness coach for more than a decade. From what I’ve seen with my clients, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of pressure on women to be wives, mothers, career-minded women, fit, beautiful... and it’s really hard. I don’t think men will ever truly understand how hard it is for women. As soon as women find out they are pregnant, they are conscious of how the baby is changing their lives.
But for the men, even if they make a real effort they usually just focus on the financial implications of parenthood. Then when the baby is born, it takes them a while to adjust to thinking of you as a mother who needs their support because they’ve always known you as a strong, independent woman. At the same time, it can take mothers a while to adjust to this change too. They have prided themselves on being powerful and it can come as a shock to need help.
Carmen: Finding out I was pregnant was a big surprise. I had been trying for ten years and had given up hope. I was focusing on my career. When I found out, my whole life changed in an instant. I was so sick. For three months I could barely get out of my pyjamas, let alone go to work. It was shocking. Before, I was a workaholic – I was married to my work – but once I had my daughter it all changed. She was very ill when she was first born and I wanted to be with her all the time. Now I miss my work a lot. I used to love it. I loved having my own money. I loved being independent. I hate having to ask for money when I want something. I’d love to go back to work part-time, but it is impossible here. I’ve transferred that energy to fitness now. I guess it’s good I’m looking after myself.
Angelica: Being a mother is the toughest job you could possibly do, so don’t be shy to ask for a ‘salary’ from your husband. Also, look out for other job options – even if they are outside the field you used to work in.
Maisie: My baby is less than a year old and it’s been a roller coaster. I struggled to get pregnant and when I did, I was also really ill. I love my baby and I love being a mother, but I can’t help feeling that once you become a mother, you don’t ever really feel like yourself again. Before I had the baby, I was on the ball... I had a vision board and I was ticking stuff off left, right and centre – travelling, career, husband... I was living the dream. But then once you have a baby, all that freedom disappears. You can’t go out in flip flops and then decide later you want to go to a club, and pop into a mall to buy a dress and some shoes. You can’t be spontaneous.
I’ve struggled going back to work as well. I don’t know why I’ve been so insistent on carrying on working. It’s not about other people’s judgement, it’s about me. I’ve always been independent. I guess I never wanted to answer to anyone financially.
Carmen: Yes, I felt the same way. When you give up financial independence, it’s like you lose your power. If I were to work, I’d be doing both jobs. I’d be the primary caregiver and a breadwinner. So I’m allowing myself this time to enjoy my daughter and spend some time on myself. The only issue for me is that sometimes I feel as if you lose your husband’s respect when you stop working. He fell in love with an independent ambitious woman and then he finds himself married to a woman who needs money from him all the time and who relies on him.
Angelica: Financial independence gives a person feelings of power and control. Once they stop working, they feel powerless, dependent on their husbands and weak. It’s totally normal for women to feel they want to regain their power and feel independent again. Giving up their careers can often leave women feeling needy, unhappy, worthless, angry, sad and depressed. It leaves them with low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and they don’t feel attractive or sexy at all. This can be really hard.
Fiona: I have four children – all big babies – and my body suffered physically from that. I suffered from the pregnancies, the births and the lack of sleep. Mentally and physically you can’t rest during pregnancy. I think it’s your body’s way of preparing you for having a newborn – getting you ready for tiredness.
Aquarius: But what about how it tires you out emotionally? Long-term sleep deprivation definitely affects your personality and your relationship.
Maisie: I’ve really suffered with anger since my baby was born and I take it out on my husband. Acupuncture helps, I think because I sleep better. Before I started acupuncture, I didn’t feel like myself. I’d be tired when I woke up and wrecked when I got home from work. Then I’d go to bed and my mind would be racing. I had no energy. This anger just came from nowhere. It definitely had an effect on my relationship.
Men seem to think that it will only take a couple of months for their wives to get back to ‘normal’. I’m nearly a year into it and I’m not feeling normal at all. Sometimes I feel he gets frustrated with me. A midwife told me, ‘You’re going with the flow because you have to. But men throw themselves into their work because it’s the only thing they can control – being the provider.’
Aquarius: That’s all well and good that they are busy providing – and I think as mothers we all appreciate that – but we could also do with some emotional support and understanding from them too.
Angelica: One of the main aspects of my job as a post-natal coach is helping mothers get rid of their negative emotions – their anger, their sadness and their fear. Men very rarely help us deal with these emotions, so women often need to seek help elsewhere. And in Dubai, where so many are far from their extended families and old friends, this can be even harder.
Another factor here is that just one generation ago we didn’t have the emotional tools we have today. So we weren’t taught how to use them. In my experience, mothers just want to be better mothers. But on the journey, they somehow lose sight of themselves. That’s when the anger and resentment kicks in.
Fiona: I’m at another phase of parenthood where my husband and I have been together for 18 years and I feel jealous of the attention he gives our kids. He gives them so much attention and he is an excellent father, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get any.
I had to go for a small surgery recently and he didn’t come to see me in the hospital because he was making Chinese food for the kids. I appreciate that he was being a great father and making them their favourite food, but I would have appreciated it even more if he had just bought them take-out and come to support me. It made me feel very unloved and unwanted.
Angelica: If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, the best thing to do is to not let that person have that power. Women are so hard on themselves. We are complex even for ourselves to understand, let alone for anyone else to understand. But before understanding, we first need to accept ourselves. We’ve heard so many times that it is OK to admit that we are not superwomen, but still many women find it hard to do that.
Another thing I find women struggle with is looking after themselves after they have had a baby. In the past, women used to rest for 40 days after giving birth, but these days we don’t do that. One of my clients said that after her first pregnancy she got right up and said, ‘I’m fine’. But after she had her second baby, she finally had to admit, ‘OK, I need help’.
Women struggle to make time for themselves. They feel there isn’t any time left in the day for their needs. And don’t forget what I mentioned before about the low self-esteem – they don’t feel highly enough of themselves to make their own needs a priority. I actually believe mothers all go through some form of depression, but it’s different for every woman. For some it can be severe, for others mild. For some it can be short, for others it can last longer. It stops when you decide to stop complaining and start taking – and getting – what you want from life.
Maisie: I had a very difficult pregnancy and birth. And then once my baby was born, we were both really sick for a long time. I was feeling pretty down. A doctor told me I had post-traumatic stress rather than post-natal depression.
Angelica: It really is a trauma. We live our lives like machines. We go to school, then university, then we start working, then we get a husband, then we have children... And throughout this entire process, you’re meant to be like a machine – just working your way through the path of achievements. Women are like soldiers, plodding along, doing what they have to do. Nobody asks them how they actually feel about it, or what the experience is like for them. But women should remember they are not soldiers – they don’t have to be silent and struggle. Whatever helps you find your way is a good thing. Find someone you feel comfortable speaking to about it.
Aquarius: That’s easier said than done for many women, though. It’s hard not to feel judged when you have negative feelings or when you aren’t enjoying the experience as much as you feel you should.
Maisie: Yes, I have a cousin who I am really close to. She is like Mother Nature – she had kids way before me and breastfed them for a really long time. When I stopped breastfeeding, I felt really judged by her. I think as a mother you feel judged by everyone. And you feel like all eyes are on you.
Aquarius: Feeling judged is really hard to deal with and it just makes you second-guess and doubt yourself. But really, everyone – and every parent – does things differently.
Angelica: I see it with my friends who are parents. They work hard all day then finish the day feeling undervalued. I always say to them, “Imagine yourself sitting on another chair in the room and then ask yourself, ‘What does she feel right now?’ and ‘What does she need right now?’ Then choose how you want to feel today. Do you want to feel judged? Do you want to feel undervalued?”
No book or person can prepare you for the life-transforming experience that occurs after you give birth.
Don’t feel guilty about what you feel. Talk about it to your mum or another woman you are close to – regardless of whether or not they have children. The most important thing is to stop feeling guilty about those feelings. When you share your experiences with other women, you’ll see that you are not alone and you’ll feel better about yourself. So don’t isolate yourself, as everything you feel and experience alone feels 10,000 times worse than it actually it is. Open up to other mothers and share your experiences. And don’t forget to plan some me-time.